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Wasica Finance Gmbh v. Continental Automotive Systems, Inc.

United States Court of Appeals, Federal Circuit

April 4, 2017

WASICA FINANCE GMBH, BLUEARC FINANCE AG, Appellants
v.
CONTINENTAL AUTOMOTIVE SYSTEMS, INC., SCHRADER-BRIDGEPORT INTERNATIONAL, INC., SENSATA TECHNOLOGIES HOLDING NV, SI INTERNATIONAL (TOPCO), INC., Cross-Appellants

         Appeals from the United States Patent and Trademark Office, Patent Trial and Appeal Board in Nos. IPR2014-00295, IPR2014-00476.

          Michael J. Kane, Fish & Richardson, PC, Minneapolis, MN, argued for appellants. Also represented by Craig E. Countryman, San Diego, CA.

          Gary M. Ropski, Brinks Gilson & Lione, Chicago, IL, argued for cross-appellant Continental Automotive Systems, Inc. Also represented by Laura A. Lydigsen, Joshua Patrick Smith; James K. Cleland, John A. Lingl, Ann Arbor, MI; Themi Anagnos, Continental Automotive Systems, Inc., Deer Park, IL.

          Bryan Patrick Collins, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP, McLean, VA, argued for cross-appellants Schrader-Bridgeport International, Inc., Sensata Technologies Holding NV, SI International (TOPCO), Inc. Also represented by Robert M. Fuhrer.

          Before Prost, Chief Judge, Schall, and Chen, Circuit Judges.

          Schall, Circuit Judge.

         These consolidated appeals come to us following two related inter partes review proceedings before the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office's Patent Trial and Appeal Board ("Board"). Both proceedings involve now-expired U.S. Patent No. 5, 602, 524 ("the '524 patent") owned by Wasica Finance GmbH and Bluearc Finance AG ("Wasica"). The '524 patent has 21 claims. Claim 1 is the sole independent claim. The first proceeding, IPR2014-00295, arose from a petition filed by Continental Automotive Systems, Inc. ("Continental") ("the '295 proceeding"). In the '295 proceeding, the Board found claims 1-3, 5, 10-19, and 21 of the '524 patent unpatentable as anticipated or obvious and claims 6-9 and 20 patentable. The Board declined to institute review of claim 4. Cont'l Auto. Sys., Inc. v. Wasica Fin. GmbH, No. IPR2014-00295, 2015 WL 3811738, at *1, *19 (June 17, 2015) ("Continental Decision"). The second proceeding, IPR2014-00476, arose from a petition filed by Schrader-Bridgeport International, Inc., Sensata Technologies Holdings NV, and SI International (TOPCO), Inc. (collectively, "Schrader") ("the '476 proceeding"). In the '476 proceeding, the Board found claims 1-5, 10, 12-19, and 21 of the '524 patent unpatentable as anticipated or obvious and claims 6 and 9 patentable. The Board declined to institute review of claim 11.[1] Schrader-Bridgeport Int'l v. Wasica Fin. GmbH, No. IPR2014-00476, 2015 WL 4500655, at *1, *20 (July 22, 2015) ("Schrader Decision").

         Wasica now appeals those portions of the Board's decisions in the '295 and '476 proceedings finding claims 1- 5, 10-19, and 21 unpatentable. For their part, Continental and Schrader cross-appeal, respectively, those portions of the Board's decisions in the '295 and '476 proceedings finding claims 6-9 and 20 patentable.

         For the reasons set forth below, we affirm the decisions of the Board in the '295 and '476 proceedings that claims 1-5, 10-19, and 21 of the '524 patent are un-patentable as anticipated or obvious. We also affirm the decisions of the Board in the '295 and '476 proceedings that claims 6-8 and 20 of the '524 patent are patentable. We reverse, however, the decisions of the Board in the '295 and '476 proceedings that claim 9 of the '524 patent is patentable.

         Background

         I. The '524 Patent

         Wasica owns the '524 patent, which describes systems for monitoring tire pressure in vehicles. See '524 patent, Abstract. Typically, these systems communicate pressure readings through electromagnetic signals. Id., 1:52-59. According to the patent, prior art systems fail to relay accurate pressure data due to interference from internal and external sources. Id., 1:59-67. As a result, the patent asserts, drivers experience under- and over-reporting of tire pressure warnings. Id., 2:1-10.

         The '524 patent purports to address this problem by synchronizing components of the tire pressure system. As illustrated below, each tire (R1-R4) includes a pressure measuring device and a transmitter (S1-S4). The transmitter sends pressure data received from the pressure measuring device to a corresponding receiver (E1-E4):

         (IMAGE OMITTED)

Id., Fig.1; see also id., 6:1-2, 6:12-15, Fig.2. To distinguish signals from different transmitters, transmissions to each receiver include an "identification signal" specifying the originating transmitter. Id., 6:61-7:9. The receiver stores this identifying information and processes pressure data only from the designated transmitter. Id., 3:4-15. The system can further synchronize its units by entering a "pairing mode." Id., 10:1-7. In this mode, a transmitter couples with the receiver to which it broadcasts the strongest signal. Id. Tire pressure data is displayed to the driver of the vehicle by means of a "display device." Id., 13:34-38.

         As noted, the '524 patent includes 21 claims. Claim 1 is the sole independent claim and recites as follows:

1. A device for monitoring the air pressure in the air chamber of pneumatic tires fitted on vehicle wheels comprising:
a pressure measuring device mounted on a vehicle wheel which measures the air pressure in the air chamber of the wheel end outputs an electrical pressure signal representative of the air pressure in the vehicle wheel;
a transmitter mounted to the vehicle wheel which receives the electrical pressure signal output from the pressure measuring device and sends out a pressure transmitting signal corresponding to said air pressure;
a receiver associated with the transmitter and mounted at a distance to the vehicle wheel which receives the pressure transmitting signal transmitted from the associated transmitters[;]
a display device which is connected with the receiver and displays data as numbers or symbols which have been taken from the pressure transmitting signal received from the receiver;
wherein the transmitter comprises an emitter-control device which controls the emittance of the pressure transmitting signal and a signal-generating device which generates an identification signal which is unique for the transmitter and clearly identifies same;
the emitter-control device works such that the identification signal is transmitted at least once before or after the emittance of the pressure transmitting signal;
the receiver comprises at least a memory in which is stored an identification reference signal related to the associated transmitter in accordance with a predetermined relationship criteria;
the receiver comprises a comparison device which checks if an identification signal transmitted from a transmitter has the relationship criteria to identification reference signal stored in the receiver, and that further processing of the pressure transmission signal taken from the receiver only takes places if the identification signal received by the receiver and the identification reference signal stored in the receiver fulfill the relationship criteria;
the identification reference signal stored in the receiver is changeable in order that the identification signal from the associated transmitter matches the identification reference signal of the receiver; and
the receiver is connected with a switching device which enables the receiver to switch over from normal operating mode, in which the air pressure is monitored, to pairing mode, in which the receiver collects the identification signal of the transmitter and stores this as an identification signal.

Id., 13:19-14:3.

         II. Proceedings Before the Board

         Continental and Schrader each filed inter partes review ("IPR") petitions challenging the patentability of the '524 patent. In the '295 proceeding, Continental challenged all 21 claims as anticipated by Italian Patent No. 1, 219, 753 ("Oselin") and/or as obvious over some combination of Oselin and U.S. Patent Nos. 5, 109, 213 ("Williams"), 5, 803, 457 ("Schultz"), 4, 067, 376 ("Barabino"), 4, 912, 463 ("Li"), and 4, 750, 118. In the '476 proceeding, Schrader challenged claims 1-6, 9-19, and 21 as anticipated by Oselin and/or as obvious over some combination of Oselin, Schultz, Barabino, and U.S. Patent No. 5, 285, 189 ("Nowicki"). The Board subsequently instituted separate trials on the two petitions.

         Both trials focused primarily on the Oselin reference. That reference, like the '524 patent, relates to vehicular systems for monitoring tire pressure. J.A. 939.[2] In their petitions to the Board, both Continental and Schrader argued that Oselin discloses or suggests most of the features in the challenged claims.

         Wasica disputed the petitioners' reading of Oselin, contending that Oselin does not disclose or suggest all of the limitations of independent claim 1. Specifically, Wasica argued that Oselin fails to teach a "pressure measuring device, " an "electrical pressure signal, " and a "pressure transmitting signal, " as Wasica construed those terms. Wasica also separately argued the patentability of various dependent claims by relying on its constructions of the terms "bit sequence" and "emittance."

         III. The Board's Decisions

         The '295 and '476 proceedings culminated in two Final Written Decisions from the Board. In those decisions, the Board first construed the terms "pressure measuring device" from independent claim 1, "bit sequence" from claim 9, and "emittance" from claim 17. Continental Decision, 2015 WL 3811738, at *4-7; Schrader Decision, 2015 WL 4500655, at *5-7. Armed with those constructions, the Board found that Oselin anticipated claims 1, 2, 5, 10, 13, 15, 17-19, and 21. Continental Decision, 2015 WL 3811738, at *19-20; Schrader Decision, 2015 WL 4500655, at *20. The Board also found that Oselin-alone or in combination with Williams, Schultz, Nowicki, Barabino, and/or Li-rendered claims 3, 4, 10-12, 14, 16, and 17 obvious.[3] The Board further determined, however, that Continental and Schrader had failed to establish how Oselin (alone or in combination with Williams) rendered claims 6-9 and 20 unpatentable. Continental Decision, 2015 WL 3811738, at *13-14, *17; Schrader Decision, 2015 WL 4500655, at *10-12 (claims 6 and 9).

         Wasica appeals the Board's decisions that claims 1-5, 10-19, and 21 are unpatentable. Continental and Schrader each cross-appeal the Board's decisions that claims 6-9 and 20 are patentable. We have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1295(a)(4)(A) and 35 U.S.C. § 141(c).

         Discussion

         I. Standard of Review

         In an appeal from an IPR decision, we review the Board's legal conclusions de novo and its factual findings for substantial evidence. 5 U.S.C. § 706(2); Synopsys, Inc. v. Mentor Graphics Corp., 814 F.3d 1309, 1314 (Fed. Cir. 2016). Anticipation is a question of fact reviewed for substantial evidence. Synopsys, 814 F.3d at 1317; In re Rambus Inc., 694 F.3d 42, 46 (Fed. Cir. 2012). Obviousness is a question of law based on underlying facts. In re Magnum Oil Tools Int'l, Ltd., 829 F.3d 1364, 1373 (Fed. Cir. 2016). ...


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