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K/S HIMPP v. Hear-Wear Techs., LLC

United States Court of Appeals, Federal Circuit

May 27, 2014

K/S HIMPP, Appellant,
v.
HEAR-WEAR TECHNOLOGIES, LLC, Appellee

As Amended May 30, 2014.

Appeal from the United States Patent and Trademark Office, Patent Trial and Appeal Board in Reexamination No. 95/001,022.

ROBERT GREENE STERNE, Sterne, Kessler, Goldstein & Fox PLLC, of Washington, DC, argued for appellant. With him on the brief were JON E. WRIGHT and JASON EISENBERG.

SHEILA KADURA, Fulbright & Jaworski L.L.P., of Austin, Texas, argued for appellee. With her on the brief was JONATHAN S. FRANKLIN, of Washington, DC.

Before LOURIE, DYK, and WALLACH, Circuit Judges. Opinion for the court filed by Circuit Judge LOURIE. Dissenting Opinion filed by Circuit Judge DYK.

OPINION

Page 1363

Lourie, Circuit Judge.

K/S HIMPP (" HIMPP" ) appeals from the decision of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (" PTO" ) Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences (" Board" ) in an inter partes reexamination affirming the Central Reexamination Unit (" CRU" ) Examiner's decision not to reject claims 3 and 9 of U.S. Patent 7,016,512 (the " '512 patent" ) owned by Hear-Wear Technologies, L.L.C. (" Hear-Wear" ).[*] See K/S HIMPP v. Hear-Wear Techs., L.L.C., No. 2012-004028, 2012 WL 2929630 (B.P.A.I. July 13, 2012) (" Board Opinion " ). Because the Board did not err in holding that claims 3 and 9 would not have been obvious, we affirm.

Background

Hear-Wear owns the '512 patent, which is directed to a hearing aid with three main parts: a behind-the-ear audio processing module, an in-the-canal module, and a connector between the modules. '512 patent col. 1 ll. 17-20.

Dependent claims 3 and 9, directed to the connector between the modules, are the only claims on appeal and read as follows:

3. The at least partially in-the-canal module for a hearing aid of claim 2 wherein said insulated wiring portion is terminated by a plurality of prongs that provide a detachable mechanical and electrical connection to an audio processing module.
9. The hearing aid of claim 8 wherein said insulated wiring portion is terminated by a plurality of prongs that provide a detachable mechanical and electrical connection to said behind-the-ear module.

Id. col. 23 ll. 41-45; col. 24 ll. 36-39.

During prosecution of the '512 patent, the Examiner initially rejected claims 3 and 9 because they would have been obvious. For claim 3, the Examiner found that " providing a plurality of prongs for the electrical connections or for the plugs is known in the art." J.A. 4282. Hear-Wear never challenged the Examiner's finding of " known in the art," but instead focused on the independent claims. All claims were allowed.

Page 1364

The PTO then granted a third party request by HIMPP for inter partes reexamination of the '512 patent. HIMPP argued in its request that claims 3 and 9 would have been obvious because " such detachable connections were known at the time of the alleged invention as concluded by the Examiner during prosecution." Id. at 138-40. HIMPP also argued that modifying Patent Cooperation Treaty Publication Number WO 99/07182 of Shennib (" Shennib" ), a primary reference, to include detachable connections for a signal cable " would have been no more than the predictable use of prior art elements according to their established functions." Id. at 138-41. The CRU Examiner refused to adopt HIMPP's proposed rejection because HIMPP failed to provide evidence in support of that contention. The CRU Examiner ultimately maintained the patentability of claims 3 and 9, inter alia. Id. at 709.

After the CRU Examiner issued the Right of Appeal Notice in the inter partes reexamination, HIMPP filed a request for ex parte reexamination of claims 3 and 9. HIMPP asserted that one basis for the ex parte reexamination was U.S. Patent 3,123,678 of Prentiss (" Prentiss" ), which HIMPP contended explicitly taught all of the features recited in claims 3 and 9. HIMPP tried to merge the inter partes reexamination with the ex parte reexamination, but the PTO declined to merge the two proceedings, noting that the inter partes reexamination had already advanced to the appeal stage.

Hear-Wear appealed to the Board from the inter partes reexamination under 35 U.S.C. § § 134(b) and 315(a) and HIMPP cross-appealed under 35 U.S.C. § § 134(c) and 315(b). Board Opinion at 2. Only HIMPP's cross-appeal of claims 3 and 9 in the inter partes reexamination is at issue here. The Board found that although HIMPP argued that the content of claims 3 and 9 was " well known," HIMPP failed to direct the Board " to any portion of the record for underlying factual support for the assertion." Id. at 24. The Board stated that it was " not persuaded that the record before [it] adequately conveys that the particular distinct connection structures set forth in those claims are disclosed." Id. The Board also found that during the original prosecution the Examiner never took official notice with respect to the " plurality of prongs" feature of claims 3 and 9, and that there was no further indication that Hear-Wear acquiesced to the alleged position of official notice so as to qualify the limitations of the claims as admitted prior art. Id. at 23-24. Thus, the Board did not agree with HIMPP that there was a suitable basis for concluding that the particular structural features of claims 3 and 9 were known prior art elements. Id. at 24. Accordingly, the Board affirmed the CRU Examiner's decision not to adopt HIMPP's proposed obviousness rejections of claims 3 and 9. Id.

HIMPP timely appealed. We have jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. ...


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