The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed the Patent Trial & Appeal Board’s non-obviousness determination, finding that the Board erred in determining that an operating manual did not qualify as printed publication prior art. Weber, Inc. v. Provisur Technologies, Inc., Case Nos. 22-1751; -1813 (Fed. Cir. Feb. 8, 2024) (Reyna, Hughes, Stark, JJ.)
Provisur owns two patents related to advanced high-speed mechanical slicers used in food processing facilities that precisely slice and package food items such as meats and cheeses. The key components recited in the patent claims are a “loading apparatus” designed to load food items, a “feeding apparatus” responsible for supplying food items to a slicer, and a “stop gate” intended to regulate the assembly of food items prior to their entry into the slicing mechanism.
Weber filed inter partes review (IPR) petitions challenging the validity of several claims of the patents based on certain operating manuals. During the IPR proceedings, the Board determined that Weber’s operating manuals did not qualify as prior art printed publications because they were distributed selectively and subject to confidentiality restrictions. The Board also concluded that the prior art combinations, which included Weber, failed to disclose crucial claim limitations, notably the “disposed over” and “stop gate” limitations. The Board found the challenged claims not unpatentable. Weber appealed.
Weber argued that the Board erred in determining that the operating manuals were insufficiently accessible to constitute printed publications, specifically contending that the Board misapplied the Federal Circuit’s 2009 decision in Cordis Corp. v. Boston Scientific Corp. The Court agreed. It explained that unlike Cordis, where academic monographs were limited to distribution among a select few, Weber’s operating manuals were intended for distribution to purchasers of the machines and others to provide instructions on food slicer usage and maintenance. The Court explained that the evidence in the form of delivery records and email exchanges showed that manuals were available to customers upon purchase or request. The Federal Circuit also noted that the manuals were not bound by any confidentiality restrictions. The Court thus concluded that the operating manuals qualified as printed publications.
Turning to claim construction, the Federal Circuit reversed the Board’s interpretation of the “disposed over” and “stop gate” limitations. Consistent with long-standing precedent, the Court emphasized the importance of examining intrinsic evidence, including the claims themselves, the specification and the patent’s prosecution history. Weber argued that the claims’ language implied a broader feed apparatus positioning over the loading apparatus without strict alignment requirements. Supported by expert opinions, Weber contended that neither the claim language nor the specification mandated direct alignment. The Court agreed with Weber. The Court emphasized that “disposed over” demanded only a general positioning of the feed apparatus above the loading apparatus, not a direct positioning as the Board had construed.
Similarly, concerning the “stop gate” limitation, the Federal Circuit agreed that the Board’s determination was not supported by substantial evidence because evidence, such as the manuals, disclosed the claimed conveyer mechanism in a manner sufficient to establish its [...]