On Wednesday, October 17th, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board issued a decision denying the institution of an inter partes review (IPR) proceeding petitioned by home appliance developer SharkNinja. The decision leaves in place all claims of a patent asserted against SharkNinja in U.S. district court through a patent infringement case filed by appliance hose manufacturer Flexible Technologies.
The patent-at-issue in this IPR proceeding is U.S. Patent No. 7156127, titled Current Carrying Stretch Hose. Issued in January 2007, it claims a flexible hose for carrying fluids, the hose being in a retracted condition when no tensile force is placed on the hose and in an extended condition when a tensile force of a pulling nature is placed on a section of the hose. The hose is comprised of a first end, a second end, a thermoplastic cover composed of a single layer of material between about 10 millimeters (mm) and 50 mm, a single helical member retaining its shape in the hose adhered to the interior of the thermoplastic cover and composed of a material capable of carrying a current of electricity, a plurality of peaks and valleys in the thermoplastic cover caused by the helical member, and a conductor wire disposed on one side of the helical member where the thermoplastic cover is extruded around the wire. The resulting invention provides a flexible hose with the attributes of a stretch hose that is also capable of carrying a current for use in applications where a power source is needed at the end of the hose.
Flexible Technologies first filed a suit alleging claims of patent infringement against SharkNinja in January 2017 in the District of South Carolina. In its complaint, Flexible Technologies alleged that in 2012, SharkNinja, then operating under the corporate name Euro-Pro, approached Flexible Technologies expressing interest in the self-retracting hose covered by the ‘127 patent for a line of vacuum cleaners, “stating it wished to bring manufacturing jobs back to the U.S.” After “an understanding of confidence that was confirmed in writing,” Flexible Technologies then disclosed methods, techniques and other confidential information in a series of meetings and communications with SharkNinja. Flexible Technologies alleged that SharkNinja took its trade secrets to off-shore production of the hose to China and then launch its own Shark Rotator Powered LiftAway vacuum cleaner which uses a cleaning head that is powered by an electrical current carried by the hose.
SharkNinja made a motion to transfer venue and this March, this patent suit was transferred to the District of Delaware. In April, SharkNinja filed a petition with the PTAB to institute an IPR proceeding challenging the validity of 6 of 10 claims of the ‘127 patent, including claim 1, under 35 U.S.C. § 103 grounds for obviousness. SharkNinja asserted that claims 1, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 of the ‘127 patent were obvious over the combination of U.S. Patent No. 5109568, Handle Assembly for a Vacuum System Cleaning Tool (“Rohn”), U.S. Patent No. 2961007, Flexible Hose (“Martin”) and a Japanese patent application filed in January 1990 and titled Vacuum Cleaner Suction Hose (“Nagayoshi”). SharkNinja also challenged claims 7 and 10 for obviousness over the combination of Rohn, Martin, Nagayoshi and U.S. Patent No. 5555915, Cleaner Hose (“Kanao”).
In denying SharkNinja’s petition for IPR, the PTAB panel of Administrative Patent Judges (APJs) found that implementing the hose found in Rohn to be a stretch hose as taught by Martin would render Rohn’s hose inoperable for its intended purpose, which is to provide a handle assembly operable to secure a vacuum hose without the use of screws or adhesives. The PTAB was persuaded by Flexible Technologies’ argument that stretching the rib portions of Rohn’s hose, as would occur when the hose is used as a stretch hose as taught by Martin, would prevent the ridges in Rohn from engaging with the rib protrusions formed by carrying conductors and support wires. As for the Nagayoshi prior art reference, the PTAB sided with Flexible Technologies in finding that SharkNinja’s asserted combination is difficult to distinguish from a hindsight analysis, that SharkNinja combined isolated elements from references with different design principles and that SharkNinja didn’t provide an adequate explanation for the particular selection of the prior art elements.
Image Source: Deposit Photos.