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Knowles Electronics LLC v. Iancu

United States Court of Appeals, Federal Circuit

April 6, 2018

KNOWLES ELECTRONICS LLC, Appellant
v.
ANDREI IANCU, UNDER SECRETARY OF COMMERCE FOR INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY AND DIRECTOR OF THE UNITED STATES PATENT AND TRADEMARK OFFICE, Intervenor

          Appeal from the United States Patent and Trademark Office, Patent Trial and Appeal Board in No. 95/001, 850.

          Richard L. Rainey, Covington & Burling LLP, Washington, DC, argued for appellant. Also represented by Brian Gerard Bieluch, Michael S. Sawyer, Cyril Djoukeng.

          Molly R. Silfen, Office of the Solicitor, United States Patent and Trademark Office, Alexandria, VA, argued for intervenor. Also represented by Nathan K. Kelley, Thomas W. Krause, Meredith Hope Schoenfeld; Mark R. Freeman, Appellate Staff, Civil Division, United States Department of Justice, Washington, DC.

          Before Newman, Clevenger, and Wallach, Circuit Judges.

          OPINION

          WALLACH CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         Appellant Knowles Electronics LLC ("Knowles") appeals the inter partes reexamination decision of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's ("USPTO") Patent Trial and Appeal Board ("PTAB") that affirmed an examiner's findings that (1) claims 1-2, 5-6, 9, 11-12, 15-16, and 19 of U.S. Patent No. 8, 018, 049 ("the '049 patent") are un-patentable as anticipated; and (2) claims 21-23 and 25-26 of the '049 patent would have been obvious over various prior art references. Analog Devices, Inc. v. Knowles Elecs. LLC (Analog Devices I), No. 2015-004989, 2015 WL 5144183, at *7, *9 (P.T.A.B. Aug. 28, 2015); see Analog Devices, Inc. v. Knowles Elecs. LLC (Analog Devices II), No. 2015-004989, 2016 WL 675856, at *7 (P.T.A.B. Feb. 17, 2016) (denying request for rehearing).[1] We have jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1295(a)(4)(A) (2012).[2]We affirm.

         Background

         I. The '049 Patent

         The '049 patent, entitled "Silicon Condenser Microphone and Manufacturing Method, " generally discloses a silicon condenser microphone apparatus, including a housing for shielding a transducer, used in certain types of hearing aids to protect the transducer from outside interferences. See '049 patent, Abstract; id. col. 1 ll. 17- 19, 26-30, 46-51. The components of the microphone apparatus, i.e., "package, " may specifically be processed "in panel form" that can be separated later into individual units. See id. col. 3 ll. 10-19. As a result, the invention purportedly improves over the prior art's "drawbacks associated with manufacturing these housings, such as lead time, cost, and tooling." Id. col. 1 ll. 39-41.

         Independent claim 1 is representative of the apparatus claims and discloses: A silicon condenser microphone package comprising:

a package housing formed by connecting a multi-layer substrate comprising at least one layer of conductive material and at least one layer of non-conductive material, to a cover comprising at least one layer of conductive material;
a cavity formed within the interior of the package housing;
an acoustic port formed in the package housing; and
a silicon condenser microphone die disposed within the cavity in communication with the acoustic port;
where the at least one layer of conductive material in the substrate is electrically connected to the at least one layer of conductive material in the cover to form a shield to protect the silicon condenser microphone die against electromagnetic interference.

Id. col. 12 ll. 16-31. Independent claim 21 is representative of the method claims and discloses:

A method of manufacturing a silicon condenser microphone package comprising:
providing a panel comprising a plurality of interconnected package substrates, where each of the plurality of package substrates comprises at least one layer of conductive material and at least one layer of non-conductive material;
attaching a plurality of silicon condenser microphone dice to the plurality of package substrates, one die to each package substrate;
attaching a plurality of package covers, each comprising at least one layer of conductive material, to the panel, one package cover to each of the package substrates, where attaching the plurality of package covers to the panel comprises electrically connecting the at least one layer of conductive material in the package cover to the at least one layer of conductive material in the corresponding package substrate to form a shield to protect the silicon condenser microphone die against electromagnetic interference; and
separating the panel into a plurality of individual silicon condenser microphone packages.

Id. col. 13 l. 34-col. 14 l. 18.

         Discussion

         Knowles argues that the PTAB erred in two respects. First, Knowles argues that the PTAB improperly construed "package, " including by failing to consider this court's construction of package for a related patent. See Appellant's Br. 58-73. Second, Knowles argues that the PTAB improperly relied on a new ground of rejection to sustain the Examiner's obviousness findings. See id. at 74-80. After stating the applicable standard of review and legal framework, we address these arguments in turn.[3]

         I. Claim Construction

         A. Standard of Review and Legal Standard

         "We review the [PTAB]'s ultimate claim construction in a reexamination de novo." In re CSB-Sys. Int'l, Inc., 832 F.3d 1335, 1340 (Fed. Cir. 2016) (citing, inter alia, Teva Pharm. USA, Inc. v. Sandoz, Inc., 135 S.Ct. 831, 840-41 (2015)). A patent's specification, together with its prosecution history, [4] constitutes intrinsic evidence to which the PTAB gives priority when it construes claims. See Microsoft Corp. v. Proxyconn, Inc., 789 F.3d 1292, 1297-98 (Fed. Cir. 2015), overruled on other grounds by Aqua Prods., Inc. v. Matal, 872 F.3d 1290 (Fed. Cir. 2017) (en banc). We review the PTAB's assessment of intrinsic evidence de novo. See id. When the PTAB "look[s] beyond the patent's intrinsic evidence and . . . consult[s] extrinsic evidence, " Teva, 135 S.Ct. at 841, such as expert testimony, dictionaries, and treatises, those underlying findings amount to factual determinations that we review for "substantial evidence, " Microsoft Corp., 789 F.3d at 1297. Substantial evidence means "relevant evidence [that] a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Consol. Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938) (citations omitted). "If two inconsistent conclusions may reasonably be drawn from the evidence in record, the PTAB's decision to favor one conclusion over the other is the epitome of a decision that must be sustained upon review for substantial evidence." Elbit Sys. of Am., LLC v. Thales Visionix, Inc., 881 F.3d 1354, 1537 (Fed. Cir. 2018) (internal quotation marks, brackets, and citation omitted).

         "During reexamination proceedings of unexpired patents . . . the [PTAB] uses the 'broadest reasonable interpretation consistent with the specification' standard, or BRI." In re CSB-Sys., 832 F.3d at 1340 (citation omitted); cf. Cuozzo, 136 S.Ct. at 2145 (acknowledging the PTAB's use of BRI during reexamination). "Accordingly, this court reviews the reasonableness of the [US]PTO's disputed claim term interpretations." In re Bigio, 381 F.3d 1320, 1324 (Fed. Cir. 2004) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). However, "[e]ven under the [BRI], the [PTAB]'s construction cannot be divorced from the specification and the record evidence . . . and must be consistent ...


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