by Dennis Crouch
In re Fought (Fed. Cir. 2019)
This is a nice short USPTO claim construction case. Heartland RV (Thor Indus.) filed its patent application back in 2012 claiming a movable-wall-structure for a travel trailer. In the example given in the patent, the wall might divide the back “garage portion” of the trailer from the front “living quarters.” The wall can then be adjusted according to the size of your ride.
Two pending claims:
1. A travel trailer having a first and second compartment therein separated by a wall assembly which is movable so as to alter the relative dimensions of the first and second compartments without altering the exterior appearance of the travel trailer.
2. A travel trailer having a front wall, rear wall, and two side walls with a first and a second compartment therein, those compartments being separated by a wall assembly, the wall assembly having a forward wall and at least one side member, the side member being located adjacent to and movable in parallel with respect to a side wall of the trailer, and the wall assembly being moved along the longitudinal length of the trailer by drive means positioned between the side member and the side wall.
The examiner rejected issued initial and final rejections in 2014 and 2015 respectively. The PTAB then sided with the examiner in its 2018 decision — holding that the claims were anticipated by two old prior art references. Claim 1 by U.S. Patent No. 4,049,311 (Dietrich); and Claim 2 by U.S. Patent No. 2,752,864 (McDougal).
The problem, is that neither prior art reference is directed to a “travel trailer” but rather to more conventional shipping compartments as shown below.
Although the are directed to a modified “travel trailer,” the PTAB gave no weight to that preamble term — finding that the broadest reasonable interpretation of the claims left that term as a mere non-limiting intended use.
On appeal, the Federal Circuit has reversed and remanded — holding that the preamble term is limiting because it serves as an antecedent basis for terms found in the claims. The Federal Circuit also noted that a “travel trailer” is known in the industry as a particular type of towable RV — not simply an intended use of a trailer.
Probably the single most-popular class of towable RV is the Travel Trailer. Spanning 13 to 35 feet long, travel trailers are designed to be towed by cars, vans, and pickup trucks with only the addition of a frame or bumper mounted hitch. Single axles are common, but dual and even triple axles may be found on larger units to carry the load.
Quote from Woodall’s RV Buyer’s Guide.
On remand, the Board will now have to decide whether to move forward with an obviousness rejection sua sponte or send the case back to the examiner for review.
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The court noted two other claim construction tidbits:
PHOSITA: Claims are construed from the frame of reference of a person of ordinary skill in the art. As per its usual approach, the Board did not articulare the level of skill in the art that should be applied in this case. On appeal, the Federal Circuit found no error with that approach. “Unless the patentee places the level of ordinary skill in the art in dispute and explains with particularity how the dispute would alter the outcome, neither the Board nor the examiner need articulate the level of ordinary skill in the art.”
PREAMBLE: Note the claim above is not written in the traditional form: [Preamble] comprising [Body]. Here, the applicant argued that the claim does not include a preamble at all because there is no transition phrase. On appeal, the Federal Circuit quickly rejected that suggestion. “Though this claim does not use the typical claim language (comprising) which denotes the transition between the preamble and the body, the word “having” performs the same role here.”