January 28, 2019

Anticipation is the Epitome of Obviousness

By Bryan K. Wheelock, Principal

In Realtime Data, LLC, v. Iancu, [2018-1154] (January 10, 2019), the Federal Circuit affirmed the PTAB’s determination that claims 1–4, 8, 14–17, 21, and 28 of U.S. Patent No. 6,597,812 on systems and methods for providing lossless data compression and decompression would have been obvious over the prior art.

Realtime made two primary arguments on appeal:

  1. that the Board erred in its determination that a person of ordinary skill in the art would have been motivated to combine the teachings of O’Brien and Nelson; and
  2. that the Board erred by failing to construe the “maintaining a dictionary” limitation and in finding that O’Brien disclosed the “maintaining a dictionary” limitation.

Hewlett Packard, who sought the Inter Partes Review of Reatime’s claims, argued that all of the elements of claims 1–4, 8, and 28 were disclosed in U.S. Patent No. 4,929,946 (“O’Brien”), a single reference, and it relied on Nelson (and his 1992 textbook The Data Compression Book ) simply to demonstrate that a person of ordinary skill in the art would have understood that the string compression disclosed in O’Brien was, in fact, a type of dictionary encoder, the terminology used in Realtime’s ’812 patent.

HP alternatively argued that Nelson disclosed at least some of the elements in the claims at issue. Because the Board agreed that all of the claim elements could be found in O’Brien alone, the Board was not required to make any finding regarding a motivation to combine. Had the Board relied upon HP’s alternative argument, it would have been required to demonstrate a sufficient motivation to combine the two references.

While Realtime argues that the use of O’Brien as a single anticipatory reference would have been more properly raised under §102, the Federal Circuit said that it is well settled that “a disclosure that anticipates under § 102 also renders the claim invalid under §103, for ‘anticipation is the epitome of obviousness.’”

The Federal Circuit said that in any event, even if the Board were required to make a finding regarding a motivation to combine O’Brien with Nelson, its finding in this case is supported by substantial evidence. The Federal Circuit noted that a motivation to combine may be found “explicitly or implicitly in market forces; design incentives; the ‘interrelated teachings of multiple patents’; ‘any need or problem known in the field of endeavor at the time of invention and addressed by the patent’; and the background knowledge, creativity, and common sense of the person of ordinary skill.”

On the issue of whether the Board erred in finding that O’Brien disclosed the “maintaining a dictionary” limitation in independent claim 1, Realtime argued that the Board erroneously failed to construe the term “maintaining a dictionary” to include the requirement that the dictionary be retained during the entirety of the data compression unless and until the number of entries in the dictionary exceeds a predetermined threshold, in which case the dictionary is reset. While the words of a claim are generally given their ordinary and customary meaning, a claim term is read not only in the context of the particular claim in which the disputed term appears, but in the context of the entire patent, including the specification. These claim construction principles are important even in an Inter Partes Review proceeding like this one, in which the claims were properly given the “broadest reasonable interpretation” consistent with the specification.

The Federal Circuit said that the Board’s interpretation was supported by both the claim language itself and the specification. While the term “maintaining a dictionary” is not defined, claim 4 lends meaning to the phrase, and directly mimics the specification. Realtime argued that because the claim recited “comprising” the Board erred by limiting the definition of “maintaining a dictionary.” The Federal Circuit rejected, this argument pointing out that the word “comprising” does not mean that the claim can be read to require additional unstated elements, only that adding other elements to the device or method is not incompatible with the claim.

The Federal Circuit concluded that the Board did not err in concluding that the claims would have been obvious in view of a single reference, and that the Board did not err in finding that O’Brien disclosed the “maintaining a dictionary” limitation in independent claim 1, and therefore affirmed the Board.