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October 06, 2022

Sliced and Diced: PTAB Decision Remanded for Further Analysis

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In an appeal from a Patent Trial & Appeal Board final written decision, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed the Board's decision to include certain evidence first presented in the petitioner's Reply but vacated the Board's obviousness decision for a failure to fully and particularly set out the bases for its decision. Provisur Technologies, Inc. v. Weber, Inc., Case Nos. 21-1942; -1975 (Fed. Cir. Sept. 27, 2022) (Prost, Reyna, Stark, JJ.)

Provisur Technologies owns a patent directed to classifying slices or portions cut from a food product according to an optical image of the slice. The patent explains that certain meat products, such as bacon or cold cuts, are sold in groups of slices according to particular weight requirements. The specification also teaches that the arrangement of the slices according to quality is desirable. The independent claims are directed to an image processing system arranged above a weigh conveyor that is capable of categorizing slices by determining the surface area and fat-to-lean ratios of the slices based on pixel-by-pixel image data.

Weber petitioned for inter partes review of the patent, alleging that the claims were obvious over various prior art references. Provisur, in its Patent Owner Response, disputed Weber's assertion that the prior art references disclosed the claimed digital imaging receiving device capable of determining a surface area from pixel-by-pixel image data. During deposition of Weber's expert, Provisur probed the expert's knowledge of various camera models available as of the priority date. This prompted Weber to introduce a data sheet on redirect showing various models of cameras, including a comparison between those disclosed in the prior art references and those disclosed as exemplary in the patent. Provisur moved to exclude the datasheet, but the Board concluded that the evidence was highly probative and allowable because it was submitted in response to an argument that Provisur advanced in its Patent Owner Response. The Board also found that the independent claims and various dependent claims were invalid as obvious over the references cited by Weber.

Provisur appealed the admission of the datasheet and the Board's determination on obviousness. Regarding the evidentiary issue, the Federal Circuit found that the Board did not abuse its discretion by considering the datasheet, noting that it was reply evidence responsive to Provisur's arguments that the prior art did not disclose a digital camera: "Importantly, Weber's invalidity theories did not change, nor did the reply fill any holes in Weber's petition." Furthermore, the Court observed that Provisur had an opportunity to respond both by cross-examining Weber's expert and in a sur-reply to the Board.

Regarding the Board's obviousness determination, Provisur argued that the Board erred by failing to explain its rationale for how the prior art combinations specifically taught the claim element of "determining a surface area of the top slice from the [pixel-by-pixel image] data [of a top slice of the stack]." Under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), the Board must fully and particularly set out the basis upon which it reached its decision. The Federal Circuit found that the Board failed to meet this standard because it never addressed the pixel-by-pixel claim limitation. Weber countered that the Board's logic was reasonably discernable from the record, but the Court rebuffed that argument, noting that the Board merely indicated that "Petitioner's argument and evidence summarized above, which we adopt as our own, persuades us that the [prior art combination] collectively discloses or suggests all elements of claim 1." In the Court's view, this explanation was insufficient to satisfy the Board's APA obligation. Accordingly, the Court remanded for a reasoned determination of how the pixel-by-pixel claim limitation was taught by the prior art.

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