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A reference is reasonably pertinent if, even though it may be in a different field from that of the inventor's endeavor, it is one which, because of the matter with which it deals, logically would have commended itself to an inventor's attention in considering his problem. In other words, familiar items may have obvious uses beyond their primary purposes.
ICON Health & Fitness, Inc. (“Icon”) owns the '624 patent, issued October 14, 1997, and sought reexamination by the Patent and Trademark Office ("PTO"). [**2] The '624 patent claims a treadmill with a folding base, allowing the base to swivel into an upright storage position. The present dispute involves only the final limitation, requiring a gas spring "to assist in stably retaining" the tread base in the upright position. On reexamination, the examiner rejected Icon's claims as obvious under 35 U.S.C. § 103, based on the combination of an advertisement by Damark International, Inc. ("Damark") and U.S. Patent No. 4,370,766 to Teague, Jr. ("Teague"). The present inquiry focuses on Teague's disclosure of gas springs and the applicability of Teague to Icon's invention. Teague describes a bed that folds up into a cabinet or recess using a novel dual-action spring. Essentially, Teague's dual-action spring partially supports the weight of the bed in both the closed and open positions. This provides the benefit of reducing the force required to open the bed from the closed position, while still reducing the force required to lift the bed from the open position. The Board of Pattern Appeals and Interferences upheld the decision.
Are Icon’s claims for its treadmill with a folding base unpatentable for being obvious?
Icon's invention provided a treadmill with a folding mechanism and a means for retaining that mechanism in the folded position. The application specifically discussed the gas spring as part of a "lift assistance assembly . . . to apply a force or torque urging the tread base" towards the closed position. '624 patent, col. 15, ll. 3-5. Nothing about Icon's folding mechanism required any particular focus on treadmills; it generally addressed problems of supporting the weight of such a mechanism and providing a stable resting position. Analogous art to Icon's application, when considering the folding mechanism and gas spring limitation, may come from any area describing hinges, springs, latches, counterweights, or other similar mechanisms--such as the folding bed in Teague. Accordingly, substantial evidence supported the Board's finding that Teague provides analogous art.