In Pride Mobility Prods. Corp. v. Permobil, Inc., the Federal Circuit partially affirmed the PTAB’s decision cancelling claims in two Pride Mobility Products wheelchair patents. Disagreeing with the Board’s conclusions as to one of the canceled claims, the Federal Circuit concluded that the Board’s claim construction of “substantially planar” and “oriented perpendicular” did not make any “ordinary geometric sense.” In reversing the Board’s decision with respect to this single claim, the Federal Circuit gave the Board a much-needed refresher in geometry.

The challenged ’343 and ’598 patents are directed to wheelchairs having a pivot that lifts an arm connected to the front-wheel of the wheelchair to allow the wheelchair to climb over obstacles. Permobil’s IPR petitions asserted that a skilled artisan would have been motivated to reach the claimed wheelchair by lowering the pivoting axis in a prior-art wheelchair. The Board found all claims obvious over the prior art. Pride Mobility appealed the Board’s construction and the resulting cancellation of claims in the ’343 and ’598 patents.

The Federal Circuit affirmed the Board’s decision with respect to all but challenged claim 7 of the ’343 patent. Claim 7 recites a mounting plate “wherein the mounting plate is substantially planar and is oriented perpendicular to the drive wheel axis.” Based upon an overly-broad reading of the specification’s description of a prior art patent, the Board had construed this limitation to cover an arrangement in which the drive-wheel axis could be parallel to the substantially planar mounting plate. The Federal Circuit concluded that the Board had construed “oriented perpendicular” too broadly. The Federal Circuit observed, “[i]t is unreasonable to read [oriented perpendicular] as meaning anything other than that the drive-wheel axis is perpendicular to the surface of the mounting plate that makes the plate substantially planar.”

We do not see how the claim language can mean anything else without obvious strain.

The Federal Circuit noted that claim 7 requires that drive-wheel axis to be perpendicular to a particular feature of the mounting plate. The court announced that claim 7 “tells us exactly what that feature of the three-dimensional plate is: the surface that makes the plate substantially planar.” Thus, the Federal Circuit concluded that “[t]he phrase ‘oriented perpendicular to the drive wheel axis’ must be read to mean that the drive-wheel axis is perpendicular to the mounting plate’s substantially planar surface.” “We do not see,” said the court, “how the claim language can mean anything else without obvious strain.”