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MTD Products Inc. v. Iancu

Description of “Mechanical Control Assembly” Insufficient to Avoid § 112, ¶ 6 for “Mechanical Control Assembly Configured To . . .”

MTD Products Inc. v. Iancu, __ F.3d __, 2019 WL 3770828 (Fed. Cir. Aug. 12, 2019) (Reyna, Taranto, STOLL) (PTAB) (3 of 5 stars)

Fed Cir vacates IPR obviousness determination. MTD’s patent relates to steering and driving systems for zero turn radius (“ZTR”) vehicles like lawn mowers. The Board erred in determining that a key term (“mechanical control assembly . . . configured to” perform certain function) was not a means-plus-function term subject to § 112, ¶ 6. “Mechanical control assembly” is a nonce word, and the opinion describes how the specification’s description of a “ZTR control assembly” was insufficient to establish that a person of ordinary skill would have understood the term to “connote a specific structure or class of structures.” Op. at 13. “The Board’s analysis implies that so long as a claim term has corresponding structure in the specification, it is not a means-plus-function limitation. This is not consistent with our prior decisions.” Id. The opinion rejects the proposal that the inventor was acting as his own lexicographer. The opinion also rejects the Board’s reliance on statements by MTD during prosecution that “the claimed configuration is structural” and that the claims recite “a mechanical control assembly that is structurally different from [the prior art].” See Op. at 14–15. In a footnote, the opinion also rejects the Board’s reasoning that non-means-plus-function treatment was necessary to avoid reading part of the claim as superfluous. The opinion reasons that the language in question was defining additional “claimed functions” of the invention, supported by the same disclosure.

KEYWORDS: INTER PARTES REVIEW; CLAIM CONSTRUCTION; MEANS PLUS FUNCTION