In Henny Penny Corporation v. Frymaster LLC, [2018-1596] (September 12, 2019), the Federal Circuit affirmed the PTAB determination that claims 1–3, 5–12, 17–21, and 23 of U.S. Patent 8,497,691 were not unpatentable as obvious.

The ‘691 Patent relates to deep fryers, and in particular to TPM sensors that detect accumulating impurities in the cooking oil, and alert the operator when to change oil.

Henny Penny originally argued the claims were the obvious result of replacing the Kauffman analyzer with the Iwaguchi sensor. Henny Penny changed its position, however, arguing that Kauffman’s analyzer could simply be modified. The Board refused to consider this impermissible new theory of unpatentability, which raised for the first time on reply.

As to Henny Penny’s original argument, the Board found that the disadvantages from the proposed modification outweighed the uncertain benefits of the modification. The Board further found that evidence of secondary considerations supported non-obviousness. Frymaster submitted evidence that it marketed a product called the “Oil Quality Sensor” (“OQS”) that won praise from two industry organizations and one customer. The Board also determined that each award specifically praised the TPM sensor in the OQS. While the Board recognized that the individual claim elements were in the prior art, it found that the praise was directed to the claimed combination as a whole. Accordingly, the Board found that the two industry awards weighed in favor of patentability, as did, to a lesser extent, the customer award.

The Federal Circuit found that the Board did not abuse its discretion by holding Henny Penny to the obviousness theory in its petition. Because of the expedited nature of IPR proceedings, it is of the utmost importance that petitioners in the IPR proceedings adhere to the requirement that the initial petition identify “with particularity” the evidence that supports the grounds for the challenge to each claim. Accordingly, an IPR petitioner may not raise in reply an entirely new rationale for why a claim would have been obvious.

As to the original obviousness contention, the Federal Circuit noted that the benefits, both lost and gained, should be weighed against one another, and found that the Board’s analysis was consistent with these principles. As to the secondary considerations supporting non-obviousness, the Federal Circuit rejected Henny Penny’s argument that there was no nexus between the evidence and the claimed invention. The Federal Circuit agreed that the identified objective indicia must be directed to what was not known in the prior art, and what was not known in the prior art may well be the novel combination or arrangement of known individual elements.

The Federal Circuit concluded that substantial evidence supported the Board’s determination of non-obviousness.