August 4, 2017

Board Was Mixed Up Over Blender Patent

By Bryan K. Wheelock, Principal

In Homeland Housewares, LLC v. Whirlpool Corp., [2016-1511] (August 4, 2017), the Federal Circuit reversed the PTAB’s determination that Whirlpool’s U.S. Patent No. 7,581,688 relating to a household blender was not anticipated by U.S. Patent No. 6,609,821 owned by Wulf.

The patent claims a pre-programmed, automated blending cycle designed to blend items “by repeatedly dropping to a speed slow enough to allow the blender contents to settle around the cutter assembly, and then returning to a [higher] speed suitable for processing the contents.”  It was well known that a user could manually pulse between a high speed and a low speed to achieve efficient mixing.  Thus, in the words of the Federal Circuit, “the claimed automatic blending routine was, in the prior art, done manually.”

Claim 1 provided that, during pulsing, “the speed of the cutter assembly is reduced from the operating speed to a predetermined settling speed.”  The Federal Circuit noted that the Board failed to explicitly construe “settling speed,” even though the parties disagreed about its meaning.  Whirlpool urged a construction that essentially required an empirical determination of the settling speed, while Homeland urged a construction that that “settling speed” means any comparative low speed less than the operating speed.  The Federal Circuit found that both parties were wrong, and that the broadest reasonable construction of “a predetermined settling speed” is a speed that is slower than the operating speed and permits settling of the blender contents.

With this construction, the Federal Circuit found that the Wulf reference’s teaching of alternating between high and low speeds “permits the material being blended to fall back to the region of the cutting knives” met the claim language.  While the Board credited Whirlpool’s expert testimony because it was unrebutted, the Federal Circuit said that expert testimony should be disregarded when it is plainly inconsistent with the record.

The Federal Circuit found all of the claims anticipated, and vacated the decision of the Board.