Ex parte Kislevitz
Appeal 2009009637; Appl. No. 10/770,344; Tech. Center 3700
Decided January 18, 2011
The sole independent claim on appeal read:
1. A hand-held controller configured to control an operation of an amusement device,
the controller comprising a multi-part housing including at least a left-hand grip portion and a righthand grip portion,
wherein the left-hand grip portion and the right-hand grip portion are substantially the same size and are pivotable with respect to each other to control the operation of the amusement device.
On appeal, the independent claim stood rejected as anticipated under § 102(b) by a press release describing a game controller called the NeGcon. The press release read, in its entirety:
NeGcon Goes Black:
The NeGcon, Namco's analog controller, will be rereleased in a brand-new color.
By Yutaka Ohbuchi, GameSpot / Posted Mar 6, 1998 4: 19 pm PT
On April 29, Namco will rerelease its NeGcon analog controller,which is used for racing titles like Rage Racer, Wipeout XL, and Ace Combat. It has the same features as the previous version, but it is smaller in size than the original and has a lower price (2,980 yen compared with the older 4,980-yen price tag). It's currently not know whether this new NeGcon color will be released in the US.
The same anticipation rejection also relied on an online publication, the Twist article, as "evidence" of various features included in the NeGcon.
In the Appeal Brief, the Applicant first argued that the press release was not prior art under the § 102(b) public use or sale prong, since the press release referred to Japan rather than the US. The Applicant then argued that even if the press release was treated as prior art under the printed publication prong, the press release did not disclose any of the claimed elements, since the only feature mentioned was the color. The Applicant further argued that the Twist article did not establish use or sale in the US because the article did not identify the location of the toy store where the author found a NeGcon controller in 1996.
In the Answer, the Examiner clarified that "the first [press release] reference was used to establish the simple fact the reference was released prior to the filing" and that "the second reference was provided to establish the structure and features of the controller." The Examiner then replied to points raised in the Appeal Brief:
However the applicant refuses to agree the article is evidence of the original NeGcon was in public use or sale in the United States. The Examiner is amazed by this argument when the article clearly states the controller is used for racing titles such as Rage Racer, Wipeout XL & Ace Combat which are video games that were on sale & in the public at the time.
The picture below was disclosed by the second reference [(Twist article)] and clearly demonstrates the twisting or pivotable motion with respect to the left and right portion that the NeGcon is capable of performing. However the applicant refuses to believe the reference since the blogger posted the article after the applicant's filling date. Furthermore, the applicant refuses to believe the picture below is the original NeGcon the first reference mentions, even though the controllers labels: Namco, NeGcon and PlayStation are clearly visible in the picture.
The Applicant filed a Reply Brief to respond to various points in the Examiner's Answer:
The Examiner relies on the identification of certain video games (Rage Racer, WipeOutXL, and Ace Combat) in the GameSpot article as proof the NeGcon controller was also on sale in the U.S. But the Examiner conveniently ignores the fact that NONE of these games REQUIRED the use of a Namco NeGcon controller (or that he has failed to even prove the games themselves to have been on sale or in public use in the U.S. before the critical date). ...
Applicants have not argued that the controllers shown in the various pictures [in the Twist article] are in some way mislabeled. What applicants argue is regardless of what is shown, the article does not prove that a Namco NeGcon controller was on sale or in public use in the United States prior to the February 2, 2003, 102(b) bar date. The article is dated 2007. The identity and location of author and those of the "local toy store" referred to in the Twist article are not identified and are simply unknown.
The Applicant then concluded the Reply Brief argument as follows:
The mere fact that people today in the United States are familiar with certain items is not proof that any of those items were on sale or in use in the United States before a specific date. The mere fact that some items might have been available or in use in the United States before the specific date is not proof that another article that might be optionally used with such item(s) was also on sale or in public use in the United States before that specific date. Finally, the mere fact that something is described in English on the internet is not proof that whatever is being described is occurring or has occurred or exists or has existed in the United States.
The Board reversed the anticipation rejection, finding that neither the press release nor the Twist article showed public use or sale in the US. With regard to the press release reference, the Board noted that the press release did not explicitly refer to sale in the US, and that a price expressed in yen suggests that the controller was expected to go on sale in Japan. Furthermore, mentioning that "the controller may be used for certain enumerated racing titles does not establish such use was within the United States." The Board further found that "while the [Twist reference] states that the author (unnamed) found a controller 'at a local toy store' in 1996, nothing in the reference establishes the location of that toy store as being within the United States."
My two cents: Looks to me like the Examiner got a little too fancy here with his rejection, without properly understanding the use/sale prong. Perhaps the Examiner was simply unfamiliar with the fine points of the use/sale rejection because they're relatively rare in prosecution. I don't see many of them on appeal. And those that I do see tend to be in reexamination, which is handled by a special reexam art unit.
I thought the Applicant did a great job in arguing, and in responding to each of the Examiner's points. Maybe the Board would have reversed even without such compelling arguments, because the Examiner's arguments were weak. But why rely on the Board to find these weaknesses – point them out yourself.
I notice that the Board didn't comment on the propriety of the Examiner combining multiple references into a single § 102, with the "Twist" article being used as "evidence" of NeGcon features. I suppose the Board didn't need to reach this question, since even when considered together the two references didn't show use or sale in the US.