Ex parte Wei
Appeal No. 2013-001316; Serial No 10,837,214; Tech. Center 3700
Decided: January 30, 2015
The application on appeal was directed to a process of manufacturing a multi-phase liquid composition. A representative claim on appeal read:
25. A process for making patterned multi-phase liquid compositions wherein upon dispensing said multi-phase liquid compositions from a container, phases of said multiphase liquid compositions are dispensed evenly from said container, said process comprising:One of the issues on appeal was the meaning of "blender."
placing a plurality of liquid phases in separate vessels equipped with supply lines for transferring said phases from said vessels;
transferring, via said supply lines, predetermined amounts of each of said liquid phases from each of said separate vessels into a combiner which aligns each of said liquid phases in at least one of the following: one of said liquid phases is aligned within another of said liquid phases, said liquid phases are aligned side by side along a common line, or said liquid phases are combined into one line;
transferring said liquid phases from said combiner to a blender;
blending said liquid phases together, via said blender, to produce a multiphase liquid composition having equal volume ratios of one phase to another; and
transferring said multi-phase liquid composition to an individual product container via a delivery nozzle,
wherein said individual product container is received at a bottle holding device and secured to a rotating platform attached to said bottle holding device, and
wherein said individual product container is rotated, via said rotating platform, when said multi-phase liquid composition is transferred to said individual product container via said delivery nozzle.
The Examiner rejected the method claim as obvious over Tanaka in view of Yamazaki. Tanaka was a US patent claiming priority to a Japanese application. Yamazki was a published Japanese application. Both were cited in an IDS, and the Applicant provided a translation of Yamazaki.
The Examiner relied Tanaka for everything except the "equal volume ratios" limitation, and on Yamakazi for that. The rejection as applied to Tanaka consisted of a recitation of the claim language, with a reference number from Tanaka next to each structure in the claims. Here is Tanaka's FIG. 1, annotated by me with the Examiner's mapping of structure to claim terms.
In the multiple charging nozzle 3, as shown in FIG. 1, the charging nozzle 1 is connected to one charger 5, and the sub-nozzle 2 is connected to the other charger 6 so that the transparent gel base and the coloring material are forced into the charging nozzle 1 and the sub-nozzle 2 from hoppers 7, 8 by piston cylinders 9, 10, respectively.Thus, the structure 1 which the Examiner mapped to the "blender" is referred to in Tanaka as "charging nozzle."
On appeal, the Applicant argued that Tanaka did not disclose a "blender:"
Element 1 of Tanaka is a charging nozzle. The Office Action fails to provide any teaching in Tanaka, or otherwise, as to how a charging nozzle could be a blender.The obviousness rejection also asserted – in the alternative – that structure 5 in Yamakazi (labeled "mixing pipe") corresponded to the claimed "blender." The Applicant did not argue the Examiner's alternative reliance on Yamazaki's mixing pipe. However, the Applicant did make a "teaching away" argument as to the combination:
Tanaka found that [the mixer] wouldn't work because it didn't form a three dimensional pattern. Additionally, as the method described in Yamazaki is also related to producing a pattern on the surface (para. 21), not a three dimensional pattern as discussed in Tanaka, Applicants submit there is no motivation from the disclosure of Tanaka to modify its method to include a blender from Yamazaki as stated in the Office Action. In fact, Applicants submit it teaches away from the addition of the blender in Yamazaki as Tanaka desires a three dimensional pattern.In the Answer, the Examiner asserted that this teaching away argument (i.e., Tanaka found the mixer wouldn't work) did not take into account the combination actually relied on by the Examiner. The Examiner's combination used a blender (not a mixer) from Yamakazi:
The blender of the Yamazaki reference specifically does not act as a mixer. In paragraph 21 Yamazaki describes designing the blender to avoid mixing the two fluid streams in order to preserve the visual pattern formed by the separate materials. Therefore the applicant's argument that the Tanaka reference teaches away from mixing is not of any consequence to the proposed combination.In the Final Office Action, the Examiner had profferred this rationale for adding Yamazaki's blender to the exit pipe in Tanaka's process: "to increase the number of different patterns which the Tanaka apparatus can produce." The Applicant attacked this rationale on appeal, arguing that the purported benefit to the combination was not supported by evidence:
The Office Action provided no support for why one of skill in the art would believe the addition of the Yamazaki blender for surface patterns would increase the number of three dimensional patterns of the Tanaka apparatus.The Examiner addressed this argument in the Answer, contending that the Applicant had not fully appreciated Yamazaki:
The fact that the pattern is visible on the surface of the product [as taught in Yamakzai para. 21] is not an indication that the pattern does not extend into the body of the product, merely that the materials in question are opaque; more of the pattern becomes apparent as the surface of the product is worn away by use. The applicant's argument that the Yamazaki blender forms a two dimensional pattern only and is therefore not fit to combine with the Tanaka apparatus is based on an erroneous interpretation of Yamazaki, which clearly extrudes material in a three dimensional pattern.The Board reversed the obviousness rejection. The Board first summarily agreed with the Applicant's argument about Tanaka: "We fail to understand how charging nozzle 1 of Tanaka constitutes a 'blender.' " Notably, the Board did not make explicit findings as to whether Yamakazi disclosed the claimed "blender," but merely noted (without comment) the Examiner's alternative reliance on Yamakazi's mixing pipe. The remainder of the decision focused on the rationale for combining.
The Examiner's rebuttal in the Answer focused on the Applicant's mention of surface patterns vs. three dimensional patterns. According to the Board, the Answer did not address the thrust of the Applicant's argument. The real issue was the number of patterns, since an increase in this number of patterns was the Examiner's reason for combining. However, the Examiner did not explain why a POSITA would expect such an increase:
More specifically, the Examiner does not identify how many patterns Tanaka discloses. However, it is clear that the Examiner finds Tanaka discloses at least one pattern because the Examiner finds Tanaka discloses discharging a spiral pattern (see Ans. 6 (citing Fig. 4)). Similarly, the Examiner does not identify how many patterns Yamazaki discloses, but it is clear that the Examiner finds Tanaka discloses at least one pattern because the Examiner finds that Yamazaki discloses "extrud[ing] material in a three dimensional pattern" (Ans. 7). Hence, the Examiner's findings evidence that Tanaka discloses one pattern and Yamazaki discloses one pattern. Additionally, the Examiner does not identify how many patterns Tanaka's device, as modified by Yamazaki's teaching of blender (5), would produce.My two cents: I'm not familiar with the term "charging nozzle," and was curious as to whether its meaning is anything close to blender, as alleged by the Examiner. In patents originally filed in English, the most common usage of "charging nozzle" seems to be in context of electrostatics, where "charging" refers to electric charge. However, when "charging nozzle" shows up in patents translated from Chinese or Japanese, it seems to mean "nozzle for filling with gas or liquid." I think this is the sense used in the Tanaka reference. In fact, the machine translation of Tanaka's Japanese language priority document refers to structure 1 as a "filling nozzle." So what could the Examiner have been thinking, asserting that Tanaka's filling/charging nozzle mapped to the claim term "blender"?
The Examiner gave zero explanation for the mapping – didn't even point to a particular portion of Tanaka's description. But I wonder if the Examiner simply looked at Tanaka FIG. 1, saw that the transparent gel from hopper 7 meets the coloring material from hopper 8 in nozzle 1, so concluded that this meeting of two materials constituted "blending" and the structure in which this action occurred was therefore a "blender."
Maybe that's the Broadest Reasonable Interpretation, and maybe it's UNreasonably Broad. I'll assume that any structure that effects "blending" is considered a "blender." Even if that's true, this interpretation is reasonable only if a meeting of two liquids in a confined area is considered "blending" -- and UNreasonable if that involves more vigorous action.
Because the Examiner didn't explain his interpretation, the Applicant didn't have much to argue against – unless the Applicant chose to engage in pure speculation, as I did above. This Applicant chose not to, and instead threw it back on the Examiner: "The Office Action fails to provide any teaching in Tanaka, or otherwise, as to how a charging nozzle could be a blender."
Often when neither side explicitly raises claim interpretation as an issue, the Board takes it upon itself to determine the Broadest Reasonable Interpretation. I was surprised that didn't happen here. Instead, the Board essentially agreed with the Applicant that the Examiner didn't provide enough explanation.
Though it wasn't framed this way, the Board's adoption of the Applicant's position – the Examiner didn't explain – makes me wonder if the Board was thinking in terms of Examiner burden. In other words, perhaps the terms "blender" and "charging nozzle" are different enough that a mere assertion by the Examiner that the claim term reads on the reference term isn't enough? Such that all the Applicant has to do is challenge the Examiner's assertion, rather than explaining why the claim term does not read on the reference term?
I wish this decision was one in which the Board imposed an Examiner requirement to put an explicit claim interpretation on the record. But I'm not all sure that's what's happened here. Nor do I recall ever seeing a discussion of burden as it relates to claim interpretation at the Board. In fact, it's fairly common for the opposite to happen: for the Examiner to offer no interpretation at all for a claim term, and still have the Board adopt the Examiner's "findings" and ding the Applicant for not explaining why the claim term doesn't encompass the reference term. So as a practical matter, the Board seems to put the burden on the Applicant to put forth a claim construction, or at least to explain why the Broadest Reasonable Interpretation of the claimed "widget" does not read on the "blodget" in the reference.
Here, the Examiner should have connected the dots by saying "charging nozzle 1 is where two liquids meet, so they undergo some degree of blending, and thus charging nozzle 1 is a 'blender.' " Since he didn't, I would probably raised this issue myself, either in a response or in an Examiner Interview. Usually, the Examiner will either acknowledge that my understanding of his position was correct, or will correct my misimpression and tell me what he was thinking. Once I understand the Examiner's position, I can better evaluate whether I should stick to my arguments or amend.
Failure to address claim construction is a huge driver of prolonged prosecution. And failure on the part of Applicants to take into account Broadest Reasonable Interpretation explains most of the high rate of affirmance at the Board. So until there's a requirement for the Examiner to put claim construction on the record, Applicants should consider raising the issue of BRI, even if the Examiner doesn't.