American National Manufacturing v. Sleep Number Corp. (Fed. Cir. 2022) | McDonnell Boehnen Hulbert & Berghoff LLP


The Federal Circuit today appealed determinations by the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) in an inter partes review in American National Manufacturing v. Sleep Number Corp., in an opinion by Judge Cunningham. The opinion was not Judge Cunningham’s first Federal Circuit opinion but it is likely to be her shortest, coming in at 862 words (including footnotes).*

The patent, US Patent No. 5,904,172, was challenged over claims 2, 4, 6, 12, 16, 20, 22, and 24. The opinion sets forth no representative claim but claim 2 will suffice to understand the Court’s decision here:

2. An improved valve enclosure assembly for use with an air inflatable mattress having at least one air bladder inflated by compressed air, a pump fluidly coupled to the at least one air bladder for providing compressed air thereto, and a processor for providing commands to the improved valve enclosure assembly during an inflate/deflate cycle, the improved valve enclosure assembly being fluidly coupled intermediate the pump and the at least one air bladder for controlling the inflation of the at least one air bladder, comprising:
an enclosure defining a substantially fluidly sealed air chamber and having at least one air inlet to the air chamber being fluidly coupled to the pump, a plurality of guides and stops being disposed within the enclosure for correctly positioning components within the enclosure; and
pressure monitor means being operably coupled to the processor and being in fluid communication with the at least one bladder for continuously monitoring the pressure in the at least one bladder.

The Board found in favor of ANM’s challenge that claim 16** was anticipated but held ANM had not shown by a preponderance of the evidence that the cited art rendered the other obvious claims. Without much preamble or any recitation of the PTAB’s reasoning, the opinion, in which judges Stoll and Schall joined, begins by rejecting ANM’s claim construction arguments, specifically with regard to the term “substantially fluidly sealed” to mean “largely but not wholly sealed, Saying that the alternative constructions proposed by the parties (presumably, both of them) were not supported by the intrinsic evidence. The opinion also rejected ANM’s arguments concerning the Board’s construction of the term “guides” to mean “structures that position a component, prior to fastening, by directing the component into place,” and the term “stops” to mean “structures that position a component, prior to fastening, by arresting travel into the enclosure” on the same basis, that the proposed alternative constructions would add additional, unsupported temporal limitations or enforce an “order of the steps.” The panel found the Board’s claim construction to be supported by substantial evidence, referring to specific interpretations of the claims in view of certain specific prior art and reciting with approval the distinctions that convinced the Board that the claims were non-obvious. The Federal Circuit similarly rejected SNC’s challenges to the Board’s decision finding claim 16 anticipated by US Patent No. 5,044,029 (the basis for this determination being left to the reader).

The panel “decline[d] to reach” SNC’s arguments challenging the Board’s construction of the term “pressure monitor means. . . for monitoring” as recited in claims 12 and 16, because SNC had prevailed before the Board for claim 12 and SNC had not asserted its construction before the Board for claim 16.

And with that, the Federal Circuit affirmed, with the coda that each party would bear its own costs.

This case, which is non-precedential, could have been disposed of under Rule 36 but having the Court set out its reasoning parsimoniously has the advantage that the parties and the patent bar and community can better understand the arguments and reasoning the Court found persuasive.

*For comparison, this post which aims for pithy exposition of the Court’s decisions is 861 words in length.

** Claim 16:

16. An improved valve enclosure assembly for use with an air inflatable mattress having at least one air bladder inflated by compressed air, a pump fluidly coupled to the at least one air bladder for providing compressed air thereto, and a processor for providing commands to the improved valve enclosure assembly during an inflate/deflate cycle, the improved valve enclosure assembly being fluidly coupled intermediate the pump and the at least one air bladder for controlling the inflation of the at least one air bladder, comprising:
an enclosure defining a substantially fluidly sealed air chamber and having at least one air inlet to the air chamber being fluidly coupled to the pump, the enclosure being formed of an enclosure portion and a rear cover portion, a flexible seal being compressively interposed between the enclosure portion and a rear cover portion to effect a substantially fluid tight seal therebetween;
at least one valve operably coupled to the enclosure being in selective fluid communication with the air chamber and being in fluid communication with the at least one air bladder for selectively fluidly coupling the air chamber to at least one air bladder; and
pressure monitor means being operably coupled to the processor and being in fluid communication with the at least one valve for monitoring the pressure in the at least one bladder.

American National Manufacturing v. Sleep Number Corp. (Fed. Cir. 2022)
Nonprecedential disposition
Panel: Circuit Judges Stoll, Schall, and Cunningham
Opinion by Circuit Judge Cunningham

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