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Paice LLC v. Ford Motor Co.

United States Court of Appeals, Federal Circuit

February 1, 2018

PAICE LLC, THE ABELL FOUNDATION, INC., Appellants
v.
FORD MOTOR COMPANY, Appellee PAICE LLC, THE ABELL FOUNDATION, INC., Appellants
v.
FORD MOTOR COMPANY, Appellee

         Appeals from the United States Patent and Trademark Office, Patent Trial and Appeal Board in Nos. IPR2015-00606, IPR2015-00758, IPR2015-00785, IPR2015-00799, IPR2015-00801, IPR2015-00792.

          Ruffin B. Cordell, Fish & Richardson, PC, Washington, DC, argued for appellants. Also represented by Timothy W. Riffe, Brian James Livedalen, Daniel Tishman.

          Gabriel Bell, Latham & Watkins LLP, Washington, DC, argued for appellee. Also represented by Matthew J. Moore; Frank A. Angileri, Sangeeta G. Shah, John P. Rondini, Andrew B. Turner, Brooks Kushman PC, Southfield, MI.

          Before Lourie, O'Malley, and Taranto, Circuit Judges.

          O'Malley, Circuit Judge.

         Paice LLC and The Abell Foundation, Inc. (collectively, "Paice") appeal from final written decisions in six inter partes review ("IPR") proceedings, in which the Patent Trial and Appeal Board ("Board") held certain challenged claims of U.S. Patent Nos. 7, 237, 634 ("'634 patent") and 8, 214, 097 ("'097 patent") unpatentable.[1] For the following reasons, we affirm in part, vacate in part, and remand. In particular, we vacate the Board's obviousness determinations as they relate to the '634 patent's "electrical" claims and remand for the Board to determine whether those claims find written description support in the priority applications and the references incorporated therein. We affirm the Board's obviousness determinations as to all other claims.

         I. Factual Background

         A. The '634 and '097 Patents

         The subject matter of the '634 and '097 patents has been discussed in considerable detail in previous decisions of this court. See Paice LLC v. Ford Motor Co., 681 Fed.Appx. 885, 887-88 (Fed. Cir. 2017) (Paice I) (involving related patent); Paice LLC v. Ford Motor Co., 681 Fed.Appx. 904, 908 (Fed. Cir. 2017) (Paice II) (involving related patent); Paice LLC v. Ford Motor Co., 685 Fed.Appx. 940, 943 (Fed. Cir. 2017) (Paice III) (involving '097 patent); see also Paice LLC v. Ford Motor Co., 685 Fed.Appx. 950 (Fed. Cir. 2017) (Paice IV) (summary affirmance of Board decision involving the '634 patent).[2] We recite here only the background necessary to resolve the issues on appeal.

         Paice's related '634 and '097 patents, both titled "Hybrid Vehicles, " are directed to a torque-based algorithm for selecting operating modes in a hybrid vehicle having an internal combustion engine and one or more battery- powered electric motors. The claims at issue generally recite methods for comparing the instantaneous torque required to propel the vehicle, which the patents refer to as "road load" ("RL"), to both a setpoint ("SP") and the engine's maximum torque output ("MTO") to determine whether to operate the engine, the electric motor, or both. '634 patent, col. 3, ll. 12-21; id. col. 13, ll. 12-29, 44-65; id. col. 41, l. 4 through col. 43, l. 25 & Fig. 9. Claim 241 of the '634 patent is representative and recites:

241. A method for controlling a hybrid vehicle, comprising:
determining instantaneous road load (RL) required to propel the hybrid vehicle responsive to an operator command;
operating at least one electric motor to propel the hybrid vehicle when the RL required to do so is less than a setpoint (SP);
operating an internal combustion engine of the hybrid vehicle to propel the hybrid vehicle when the RL required to do so is between the SP and a maximum torque output (MTO) of the engine, wherein the engine is operable to efficiently produce torque above the SP, and wherein the SP is substantially less than the MTO; and
operating both the at least one electric motor and the engine to propel the hybrid vehicle when the torque RL required to do so is more than the MTO;
controlling said engine such that combustion of fuel within the engine occurs substantially at a stoichiometric ratio, wherein said controlling the engine comprises limiting a rate of change of torque output of the engine; and
if the engine is incapable of supplying instantaneous torque required to propel the hybrid vehicle, supplying additional torque from the at least one electric motor.

Id. col. 81, ll. 33-58.

         Also at issue are claims that recite limitations related to the voltage and current output of the electric motor's battery. Claim 245, for example, recites a voltage output requirement of "at least approximately 500 volts":

245. The method of claim 241,
wherein said operating the at least one electric motor comprises supplying energy from a battery;
wherein a maximum DC voltage supplied from said battery is at least approximately 500 volts.

Id. col. 82, ll. 1-5 (emphasis added). These "electrical" claims first appeared in a continuation-in-part application filed on April 2, 2001. The '634 patent is a divisional of a divisional of that application.

         Finally, several claims of the '634 patent require operating the engine at torque output levels less than the setpoint "under abnormal and transient conditions." Claim 265, for example, recites:

265. The method of claim 241, further comprising:
operating the engine at torque output levels less than the SP under abnormal and transient conditions to satisfy drivability and/or safety considerations.

Id. col. 83, ll. 51-54 (emphasis added). Claims 7, 17, 27, and 37 of the '097 patent also recite this "abnormal and transient conditions" limitation.

          B. Overview of the Prior Art

         The Board's unpatentability determinations are based on two primary references: (1) U.S. Patent No. 5, 343, 970 to Severinsky ("Severinsky"), and (2) PCT Application Publication WO 00/15455 ("'455 PCT publication"). We briefly describe these references below.

         1. Severinsky

         Severinsky, which issued to a co-inventor of the '634 and '097 patents, describes a control strategy for selecting operation modes in a hybrid vehicle. Severinsky teaches that its vehicle's internal combustion engine is used only near "its most efficient operational point, " which Severinsky defines as when the engine "produces 60-90% of its maximum torque." Severinsky, col. 20, ll. 63-67. Sever-insky also describes circumstances in which it is efficient to use the engine (such as "in highway cruising"), other circumstances in which it is more efficient to use an electric motor (such as "in traffic"), and still other circumstances in which torque is supplied by both the electric motor and the engine (such as in "acceleration/hill climbing mode"). Id. col. 6, l. 63 through col. 7, l. 16; see also id. col. 14, ll. 15-18; id. col. 22, ll. 48-51.

         We previously considered Severinsky in two appeals from IPR proceedings involving Paice's hybrid vehicle patents. See Paice II, 681 Fed.Appx. 904; Paice III, 685 Fed.Appx. 940. In those cases, we affirmed the Board's determinations that Severinsky, in combination ...


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