novelty : CAFC Alert

Should’ve, Could’ve, Would’ve; Hindsight is as common as CDMA, allegedly!

| March 5, 2020

Acoustic Technology, Inc., vs., Itron Networked Solutions, In.

February 13, 2020

Circuit Judges Moore, Reyna (author) and Taranto.


i. Background:

Acoustic owns U.S. Patent No., 6,509,841 (‘841 hereon), which relates to communications systems for utility providers to remotely monitor groups of electricity meters.

Back in 2010, Acoustic sued Itron for infringement of the ‘841 patent, with the parties later settling. As part of this settlement, Acoustic licensed the patent to Itron. As a result of the lawsuit, Itron was time-barrred from seeking inter partes review (IPR), of the patent. See 35 U.S.C. § 315(b).

Six years later, Acoustic sued Silver Spring Networks, Inc., (SS) for infringement, and in response, SS filed an IPR petition that has given rise to this Appeal.

Prior to and thereafter filing the IPR, SS was in discussions with Itron regarding a potential merger. Nine days after the Board instituted IPR, the parties agreed to merge. It was publicly announced the following day. The merger was completed while the IPR proceeding remained underway. SS filed the necessary notices that listed Itron as a real-party-in-interest.

Finally, seven months after Itron and SS completed the merger, the Board entered a final written decision wherein they found claim 8 of the ‘841 patent unpatentable. Acoustic did not raise a time-bar challenge to the Board.

ii. Appeal Issues:

ii-a: Acoustic alleges the Boards final written decision should be vacated because the underlying IPR proceeding is time-barred under 35 U.S.C. § 315(b).

ii.b: Acoustic alleges the Boards unpatentability findings are unsupported.

iii. IPR

35 U.S.C. § 315(b)

An inter partes review may not be instituted if the petition requesting the proceeding is filed more than 1 year after the date on which the petitioner, real party in interest, or privy of the petitioner is served with a complaint alleging infringement of the patent.

The CAFC held that “when a party raises arguments on appeal that it did not raise to the Board, they deprive the court of the benefit of the Board’s informed judgment.” Thus, since Acoustic failed to raise this issue to the Board, the CAFC declined to resolve whether Itron’s pre-merger activities rendered it a real-party-in-interest. Concluding, the CAFC stated that “[A]lthough we do not address the merits of Acoustic’s time-bar argument, we note Acoustics concerns about the concealed involvement of interested, time-barred parties.”

iv. Unpatentability

The sole claim at issue is as follows:

      8. A system for remote two-way meter reading comprising:

a metering device comprising means for measuring usage and for transmitting data associated with said measured usage in response to receiving a read command;

a control for transmitting said read command to said metering device and for receiving said data associated with said measured usage transmitted from said metering device; and

a relay for code-division multiple access (CDMA) communication between said metering device and said control, wherein said data associated with said measured usage and said read command is relayed between said control and metering device by being passed through said relay.

Fig. 1:

Key: 16 = on-site utility meters: 14 = relay means: 12 = contro means. The relay means can communicate via CMDA (code-divisional mutliple access), which is descibred as “an improvement upon prior art automated meter reading systems that used exspensive and problematic radio frrequency transmitter or human meter-readers.” 

  • Novelty

The CAFC upheld both anticipation challenges.

The first, anticipation by Netcomm, Acoustic claims that the Board erred by finding the reference disclosed the claimed CDMA communication limitation. Acoustic argued that the Board based its final decision entirely upon SS’s expert Dr. Soliman, who applied an incorrect standard. Specifically, that Dr. Soliman’s statements used the word “recognize” which, Acoustic alleged, was akin to testimony about what a prior art reference “suggests”, and so goes to obvious not anticipation. CAFC disagreed with Acoustic.

CAFC held that the “question is whether a skilled artisan would “reasonably understand or infer” from a prior art reference that every claim limitation is disclosed in that single reference.” Further that, “Expert testimony may shed light on what a skilled artisan would reasonably understand or infer from a prior art reference,” and “expert testimony can constitute substantial evidence of anticipation when the expert explains in detail how each claim element is disclosed in the prior art reference.”

The CAFC held that “Dr. Soliman conducted a detailed analysis and explained how a skilled artisan would reasonably understand that NetComm’s disclosure of radio wave communication was the same as CDMA,” and “Acoustic provided no evidence to rebut Dr. Soliman’s testimony.”

The second, anticipation by Gastouniotis, Acoustic argued that “the Board’s finding is erroneous because the Board relied on “the same structures to satisfy separate claim limitations.” Specifically, Acoustic asserts that the Board relied on the same “remote station 6” in Gastouniotis to satisfy the “control” and “relay” limitations of claim 8.” CAFC disagreed with Acoustic.

Specifically, the CAFC held that Gastouniotis disclosed a system that included a plurality of “remote stations” and “that individual “remote stations” may have different functions in a given embodiment.” So, “In finding that Gastouniotis anticipated claim 8, the Board relied on separate “remote station” structures to meet the “control” and “relay” limitations.” Again, the CAFC held that “Dr. Soliman provided unrebutted testimony that a skilled artisan would understand that these remote stations disclosed in Gastouniotis” meet the limitations of claim 8.

  • Obviousness

Acoustic challenged the Boards determination of obvious in view of Nelson and Roach. “Acoustic asserts two errors in the Board’s obviousness analysis: (i) that the Board erroneously mapped Nelson onto the elements of claim 8; and (ii) that the Board’s motivation-to-combine finding is not supported by substantial evidence.”  The CAFC rejected both arguments.

Regarding point (i): “Acoustic asserts that the Board relied on the same “electronic meter reader (EMR)” in Nelson to satisfy both the “metering device” and “relay” limitations of claim 8.” Again, the CAFC held that the Board had correctly relied on “separate EMR structures to meet the “metering device” and “relay” limitations,” and that “Dr. Soliman provided unrebutted testimony that a skilled artisan would recognize” the metering apparatus of Nelson as meeting the limitations of claim 8.”

Regarding point (ii): “Acoustic requests that [the CAFC] reverse the Board’s finding because the Board relied on “attorney argument,” and “generically cited to [Dr. Soliman’s] expert testimony.” The CAFC held that “The motivation to combine prior art references can come from the knowledge of those skilled in the art, from the prior art reference itself, or from the nature of the problem to be solved.” That, the CAFC “have found expert testimony insufficient where, for example, the testimony consisted of conclusory statements that a skilled artisan could combine the references, not that they would have been motivated to do so.”

However, ultimately, the CAFC found that “Dr. Soliman’s testimony was not conclusory or otherwise defective, and the Board was within its discretion to give that testimony dispositive weight.” That the Board did not merely “generically” cite to Dr. Soliman’s testimony, but cited specific pages. Thus concluding that the “expert testimony constituted substantial evidence of a motivation to combine prior art references.”

Additional Note:

The subject ‘841 Patent is a continuation of U.S. Patent Application No., 08/949,440 (Patent No., 5,986,574). Acoustic filed a related appeal in said Patent on the same day as filing this Appeal. (Acoustic Tech., Inc. v. Itron Networked Solutions, Inc., Case No. 2019-1059). Oral arguments were heard in both cases on the same day, and the CAFC simultaneously issued opinions in both cases.

In the related Appeal, Acoustics argued again that the CAFC “must vacate the Board’s final written decisions because the inter partes reviews were time-barred under 35 U.S.C. § 315(b).” For the same reasons outlined above, Acoustics were unsuccessful.

The second issue on Appeal in the related case centered on Acoustic arguing that the CAFC “should reverse the Board’s obviousness findings on grounds that the Board erroneously construed the “WAN means” term.” However, the CAFC noted that “Acoustic’s argument on appeal is new. Rather than arguing that the prior art fails to disclose a conventional radio capable of transmitting over publicly available WAN, Acoustic now argues that the prior art fails to disclose any conventional WAN radio” Thus, “[B]ecause Acoustic never presented to the Board the non-obviousness arguments it now raises on appeal, we find those arguments waived,” and so the Board’s decision was affirmed.


1. Ensure all arguments are presented to the Board.

2. Ensure that any arguments against an unpatentability rejection directly address the actual reasons for rejection. That is, the CAFC repeatedly stated that Acoustic had failed to rebut any of the actual reasons outlined in the expert testimony that the Board ultimately relied upon in its holding.

3. Be aware of Broadest Reasonable Interpretation. Here, Acoustic argued

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