from the United States Patent and Trademark Office, Patent
Trial and Appeal Board in No. IPR2016-00194.
Salvatore Cipolla, Calfee, Halter & Griswold LLP,
Cleveland, OH, argued for appellant. Also represented by
Andrew Alexander, Tracy Scott Johnson, Mark McDougall.
John Sawert, Office of the Solicitor, United States Patent
and Trademark Office, Alexandria, VA, argued for intervenor.
Also represented by Thomas W. Krause, Philip J. Warrick.
Reyna, Taranto, and Stoll, Circuit Judges.
Toro Company sought inter partes review of claims 1-16 of
U.S. Patent No. 8, 011, 458 before the U.S. Patent and
Trademark Office's Patent Trial and Appeal Board. The
Board instituted review and, in its final written decision,
held the challenged claims obvious under 35 U.S.C. §
103. Critical to its decision, the Board determined that the
claim term "mechanical control assembly . . . configured
to" perform certain functions is not a
means-plus-function term subject to 35 U.S.C. § 112,
¶ 6. MTD Products Inc., owner of the '458 patent,
appeals the Board's decision.
conclude that the Board erred by conflating corresponding
structure in the specification with a structural definition
for the term, and by misinterpreting certain statements in
the prosecution history. Under the appropriate legal
framework, we conclude that the term "mechanical control
assembly" is a means-plus-function term governed by
§ 112, ¶ 6. We therefore vacate the Board's
obviousness conclusion, which was predicated on its incorrect
claim construction, and remand for further proceedings
consistent with this opinion. Because we are persuaded by
MTD's primary argument, we do not reach its alternative
'458 patent discloses a steering and driving system for
zero turn radius ("ZTR") vehicles, with specific
reference to ZTR lawn mowers. '458 patent col. 1 ll.
17-21. The patented system is designed to provide a more
intuitive steering mechanism to operators of ZTR vehicles.
Id. at col. 1 ll. 20-38. In contrast to prior art
systems that reverse in the opposite direction of a forward
motion turn, the claimed invention permits ZTR vehicles to
turn in the same direction both forward and backwards.
Id. at col. 1 ll. 20-47. The claimed steering
mechanism thus mimics the forward and backward movements of
term "mechanical control assembly" appears in both
claims 1 and 9, the only independent claims of the '458
patent. Claim 1 recites:
1. A vehicle capable of making a small radius turn,
a left drive wheel and a right drive wheel, both coupled to
two independent left and right drive units, the left drive
unit coupled to the left drive wheel via an axle and the
right drive unit coupled to the right drive wheel via another
a steering device coupled to the frame;
a speed control member coupled to the ...