by Dennis Crouch
In re Haase (Fed. Cir. 2013)
In a nonprecedential decision, the Federal Circuit has affirmed a PTO rejection of Richard Haase's pending water purification patent application No. 10/413,849. Although representing himself pro se in this case, Haase is no amateur patent sleuth. Rather, Hass has filed more than fifty patents applications related to water purification. See, for example, Patent Nos. 8,268,269, 8,161,748, and 8,123,944. Mr. Haase is also a graduate of the University of Missouri (ChemE + Mathematics + Economics). His company, ClearValue has filed several infringement lawsuits – most recently winning a multi-million dollar jury verdict that was then overturned on appeal. Haase also has a malpractice action pending against his former attorneys. Haase v. Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Sorrels, Agosto & Friend, LLP, 404 S.W.3d 75 (Tex. App. 2013).
The patent here is directed toward a method of clarifying waste water, using chemical coagulants to remove solid contaminants.
In the end, this case follows the typical path of appeals from the PTAB to the Federal Circuit. Under the rules of administrative law, factual determinations by the PTAB are affirmed when supported by 'substantial evidence.' Under that rule, the PTAB factual determination will be affirmed so long as supported by "more than a mere scintilla" of evidence. In general, this is an easy threshold for the USPTO to meet. So, to be clear, the appellate court will affirm a factual determination even when that determination is likely wrong so long as some amount of evidence support the determination. We've all heard the adage that 'reasonable minds can differ.' I think of the substantial evidence rule as a relaxed version that 'somewhat reasonable minds can differ.' Or, in other words, the PTO's factual determinations will be affirmed if somewhat reasonable.
What is a factual determination: It is important to pause for a moment to recognize that a factual determination is quite different from mere evidence. Rather, a factual determination is generally an abstraction based upon the evidence presented.
Here, the PTAB read the evidence (a prior art reference) and made a factual determination that the evidence disclosed the elements of Haase's claims. On appeal, the Federal Circuit looked at that factual determination and found it at least somewhat reasonable (i.e. supported by substantial evidence).