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August 13, 2021by Beau Burton

In Google LLC v. NavBlazer, LLC, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (“Board”) declined to institute inter partes review of U.S. Patent No 9,075,136 (“the ’136 patent”). IPR2021-00502, Paper 6 (mailed Aug. 5, 2021).

The ’136 patent is directed to an apparatus that provides a vehicle user with information such as road and traffic conditions. Each of the independent claims of the ’136 patent required an apparatus that “automatically detects a departure of the vehicle from the first travel route, and … identifies a second travel route on which the vehicle can travel to the destination in response to the detected departure of the vehicle from the first travel route.”

The petitioner argued that the claimed dynamic rerouting functionality would have been obvious over the combination of: a primary reference (Behr) that disclosed a base unit that calculated route guidance in response to a query using an up-to-date database located in the base unit and then transmitted the response to a display unit; and a secondary reference (Schreder) that disclosed an automobile equipped with an RF GPS navigation system and RF receivers that monitored updated traffic condition information for dynamic rerouting guidance.

According to the Petitioner, it would have been obvious to include Schreder’s dynamic rerouting functionality within the base unit of Behr so that when the base unit detected a deviation from a specified route, it would identify a new route. The Petitioner further argued that an artisan would have been motivated to make this modification because Behr teaches that guidance systems that are self-contained within a vehicle, such as the system disclosed in Schreder, suffered from many drawbacks, including the need for large data storage capabilities onboard the vehicle.

The Board was not persuaded, stating:

We disagree with Petitioner that reducing vehicle-side processing and data storage justifies modifying Behr’s navigation system to include Schreder’s dynamic rerouting feature. Petitioner’s proffered rationale justifies where a skilled artisan would have located Schreder’s rerouting functionality—in Behr’s central system—but does not address why a skilled artisan would have added that functionality to Behr in the first place. Given this deficiency, we find that Petitioner has not produced the required ‘articulated reasoning with some rational underpinning to support the legal conclusion of obviousness.’

Absent an articulated reason for “why” an artisan would have made the modification, the Board found that the Petitioner failed to carry its burden to show a reasonable likelihood of prevailing on any claim, and thus declined to institute inter partes review of the ’136 patent.

Takeaway: In Google v. NavBlazer, the Petitioner arrived at the claimed subject matter but neglected to explain why the modification would have been obvious in the first place. Unlike anticipation, obviousness requires a story, and the most important part of that story is why a skilled artisan would have been motivated to modify the primary reference to arrive at the claimed subject matter. Without “the why” (i.e., a reason), the obviousness rationale collapses into a hindsight-guided combination of elements. Therefore, when challenging the claims of patent for obviousness it is critical to supply the Board with “the why” of the story you are telling.

Judges: K. Turner, G. Baer, A. Moore

by Beau Burton

Beau B. Burton, Ph.D., is a founding partner of Element IP. His practice focuses on patent procurement, post-grant proceedings, including inter partes reviews (IPRs) and ex parte re-examination, and patent validity and infringement opinions.