Belden v. Berk-Tek (Fed. Cir. 2015) on appeal from IPR2013-00057 (Patent Trial & Appeal Board) .
In an inter partes review appeal, the Federal Circuit has sided with the patent challenger – finding that the PTAB had erred by upholding the patentability of two of Belden’s claims. This case is important largely for its result. The case is also one to be studied for some attempt to tease out the Federal Circuit’s purported legal analysis.
In the IPR of U.S. Patent No. 6,074,503, the PTAB cancelled claims 1-4 as obvious over a combination of prior art references but upheld claims 5-6. In this process, the Federal Circuit must give substantial deference to PTAB factual findings (such as the factual underpinnings of the obviousness analysis) but reviews questions of law (such as the ultimate determination of obviousness) de novo on appeal. Thus, all other things being equal, it is a much less daunting process to base your appeal on an issue of law rather than upon a factual dispute.
In reversing the PTAB’s decision upholding claims 5-6, the Federal Circuit wrote that the Board’s “contrary finding rests on legal errors.” However, the analysis in the analysis that followed, the court appeared to point out a series of incorrect factual conclusions and perhaps suggests that ‘motivation to combine’ should truly be considered a question of law rather than of fact.
There is no meaningful dispute here, and the Board did not deny, that the two pieces of prior art in combination teach or suggest the methods of claims 5 and 6. The dispute concerns motivation to combine. The Petition and the Institution Decision reveal the two related ways in which that issue was presented and considered: whether a skilled artisan would substitute the twisted pairs of CA ’046 into the method of JP ’910; alternatively, whether a skilled artisan making the cable of CA ’046 would look to the JP ’910 method to make it. The brief discussion in the Petition suggests both views of the matter. …
As the Board found, it is “undisputed that CA ’046 discloses ‘a helically twisted cable.’” There is no dispute that the twisted pairs in CA ’046 need to fit into the notches of (i.e., be aligned with) the separator, as shown in the two figures from CA ’046 reproduced above, for the resulting cable to be made. And the Board correctly recognized in its discussion of claims 1 and 2 that JP ’910 clearly teaches the importance of aligning conductors with a separator (core), and suggests doing so with a die to prevent twisting of the separator, before they are all bunched together for twisting in a stranding device. That evidence points clearly toward a motivation of a skilled artisan to arrive at the methods of claims 5 and 6 based on JP ’910 and CA ’046, as the Board reasoned in its preliminary determination in the Institution Decision.
None of the Board’s reasons for concluding otherwise in its Final Written Decision withstands scrutiny through the lens of governing law. The Board’s first reason was that JP ’910 shows only conductors that are not individually insulated, so that “one of ordinary skill…would not have been motivated … simply to substitute twisted pairs of insulated conductors for the bare metal conductors.” But JP ’910 plainly discloses the need to align the conducting wires with the core and how to do so, as the Board recognized in its analysis of claims 1 and 4. The alignment problem and solution do not depend on whether the wires are insulated. The Board’s disregard of the insulation-independent alignment teaching of JP ’910 violates the principle that “[a] reference must be considered for everything it teaches by way of technology and is not limited to the particular invention it is describing and attempting to protect.” EWP Corp. v. Reliance Universal Inc., 755 F.2d 898, 907 (Fed. Cir. 1985) (emphases in original); see In re Applied Materials, Inc., 692 F.3d 1289, 1298 (Fed. Cir. 2012). . . .
The Board, returning to its focus on insulation of individual conductors, further reasoned: “Berk-Tek also has not explained why a person of ordinary skill in the art would have had sufficient reason to use the final jacketing/extrusion step of JP ’910, which serves to insulate electrically the bare-metal conductors of JP ’910, to manufacture a cable comprising twisted pairs of individually insulated conductors that do not require additional electrical insulation.” The Board found no answer to Belden’s statement that the final jacketing step, if the conductors themselves were insulated, would be “‘redundant.’ ” But that logic misconstrues the claim language and overlooks on-point evidence. . . .
In short, the record is one-sided on the proper question of whether JP ’910 taught a solution to the problem of aligning cable components that a skilled artisan would have been motivated to use in making CA ’046’s cables. The Board erred in determining that Berk-Tek had not proven the obviousness of the methods of claims 5 and 6 of the ’503 patent by a preponderance of the evidence.
Read the decision here: http://www.cafc.uscourts.gov/sites/default/files/opinions-orders/14-1575.Opinion.11-3-2015.1.PDF.