|← MPEP 2138||↑ MPEP 2100||MPEP 2142 →|
|35 U.S.C. 103. Conditions for patentability; non-obvious subject matter.|
(a) A patent may not be obtained though the invention is not identically disclosed or described as set forth in section 102 of this title, if the differences between the subject matter sought to be patented and the prior art are such that the subject matter as a whole would have been obvious at the time the invention was made to a person having ordinary skill in the art to which said subject matter pertains. Patentability shall not be negatived by the manner in which the invention was made.
(1) Notwithstanding subsection (a), and upon timely election by the applicant for patent to proceed under this subsection, a biotechnological process using or resulting in a composition of matter that is novel under section 102 and nonobvious under subsection (a) of this section shall be considered nonobvious if-
(A) claims to the process and the composition of matter are contained in either the same application for patent or in separate applications having the same effective filing date; and
(B) the composition of matter, and the process at the time it was invented, were owned by the same person or subject to an obligation of assignment to the same person.
(2) A patent issued on a process under paragraph (1)-
(A) shall also contain the claims to the composition of matter used in or made by that process, or
(B) shall, if such composition of matter is claimed in another patent, be set to expire on the same date as such other patent, notwithstanding section 154.
(3) For purposes of paragraph (1), the term “biotechnological process” means-
(A) a process of genetically altering or otherwise inducing a single- or multi-celled organism to-
(i) express an exogenous nucleotide sequence,
(ii) inhibit, eliminate, augment, or alter expression of an endogenous nucleotide sequence, or
(iii) express a specific physiological characteristic not naturally associated with said organism;
(B) cell fusion procedures yielding a cell line that expresses a specific protein, such as a monoclonal antibody; and
(C) a method of using a product produced by a process defined by subparagraph (A) or (B), or a combination of subparagraphs (A) and (B).
(1) Subject matter developed by another person, which qualifies as prior art only under one or more of subsections (e), (f), and (g) of section 102 of this title, shall not preclude patentability under this section where the subject matter and the claimed invention were, at the time the claimed invention was made, owned by the same person or subject to an obligation of assignment to the same person.
(2) For purposes of this subsection, subject matter developed by another person and a claimed invention shall be deemed to have been owned by the same person or subject to an obligation of assignment to the same person if —
(A) the claimed invention was made by or on behalf of parties to a joint research agreement that was in effect on or before the date the claimed invention was made;
(B) the claimed invention was made as a result of activities undertaken within the scope of the joint research agreement; and
(C)the application for patent for the claimed invention discloses or is amended to disclose the names of the parties to the joint research agreement.
(3) For purposes of paragraph (2), the term “joint research agreement” means a written contract, grant, or cooperative agreement entered into by two or more persons or entities for the performance of experimental, developmental, or research work in the field of the claimed invention.
I. STANDARD OF PATENTABILITY TO BE APPLIED IN OBVIOUSNESS REJECTIONS
Patent examiners carry the responsibility of making sure that the standard of patentability enunciated by the Supreme Court and by the Congress is applied in each and every case. The Supreme Court in Graham v. John Deere, 383 U.S. 1, 148 USPQ 459 (1966), stated:
Under § 103, the scope and content of the prior art are to be determined; differences between the prior art and the claims at issue are to be ascertained; and the level of ordinary skill in the pertinent art resolved. Against this background, the obviousness or nonobviousness of the subject matter is determined. Such secondary considerations as commercial success, long felt but unsolved needs, failure of others, etc., might be utilized to give light to the circumstances surrounding the origin of the subject matter sought to be patented. As indicia of obviousness or nonobviousness, these inquires may have relevancy. . .
This in not to say, however, that there will not be difficulties in applying the nonobviousness test. What is obvious is not a question upon which there is likely to be uniformity of thought in every given factual context. The difficulties, however, are comparable to those encountered daily by the courts in such frames of reference as negligence and scienter, and should be amenable to a case-by- case development. We believe that strict observance of the requirements laid down here will result in that uniformity and definitiveness which Congress called for in the 1952 Act.
Office policy is to follow Graham v. John Deere Co. in the consideration and determination of obviousness under 35 U.S.C. 103. As quoted above, the four factual inquires enunciated therein as a background for determining obviousness are as follows:
- Determining the scope and contents of the prior art
- Ascertaining the differences between the prior art and the claims in issue
- Resolving the level of ordinary skill in the pertinent art and
- Evaluating evidence of secondary considerations.
The Supreme Court reaffirmed and relied upon the Graham three pronged test in its consideration and determination of obviousness in the fact situations presented in Sakraida v. Ag Pro, Inc., 425 U.S. 273, 189 USPQ 449, reh’g denied, 426 U.S. 955 (1976) and Anderson’s-Black Rock, Inc. v. Pavement Salvage Co., 396 U.S. 57, 163 USPQ 673 (1969). In each case, the Court discussed whether the claimed combinations produced a “new or different function” and a “synergistic result,” but it clearly decided whether the claimed inventions were nonobviousness on the basis of the three-way test in Graham. Nowhere in its decisions in these cases does the Court state that the “new or different function” and “synergistic result” tests supersede a finding of nonobvious or obviousness under the Graham test.
Accordingly, examiners should apply the test for patentability under 35 U.S.C. 103 set forth in Graham. See below for a detailed discussion of each of the Graham factual inquiries. It should be noted that the Supreme Court’s application of the Graham test to the fact circumstances in Ag Pro was somewhat stringent, as it was in Black Rock. Note Republic Industries, Inc. v. Schlage Lock Co., 592 F.2d 963, 200 USPQ 769 (7th Cir. 1979). The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit stated in Stratoflex, Inc. v. Aeroquip Corp., 713 F.2d 1530, 1540, 218 USPQ 871, 880 (Fed. Cir. 1983) that
A requirement for “synergism” or a “synergistic effect” is nowhere found in the statute, 35 U.S.C. When present, for example in a chemical case, synergism may point toward nonobviousness, but its absence has no place in evaluating the evidence on obviousness. The more objective findings suggested in Graham, supra, are drawn from the language of the statute and are fully adequate guides for evaluating the evidence relating to compliance with 35 U.S.C. § 103. Bowser Inc. v. United States, 388 F. 2d 346, 156 USPQ 406 (Ct. Cl. 1967).
II. BASIC CONSIDERATIONS WHICH APPLY TO OBVIOUSNESS REJECTIONS
When applying 35 U.S.C. 103, the following tenets of patent law must be adhered to:
- The claimed invention must be considered as a whole
- The references must be considered as a whole and must suggest the desirability and thus the obviousness of making the combination
- The references must be viewed without the benefit of impermissible hindsight vision afforded by the claimed invention and
- Reasonable expectation of success is the standard with which obviousness is determined.
Hodosh v. Block Drug Co., Inc., 786 F.2d 1136, 1143 n.5, 229 USPQ 182, 187 n.5 (Fed. Cir. 1986).
III. OBJECTIVE EVIDENCE MUST BE CONSIDERED
Objective evidence or secondary considerations such as unexpected results, commercial success, long- felt need, failure of others, copying by others, licensing, and skepticism of experts are relevant to the issue of obviousness and must be considered in every case in which they are present. When evidence of any of these secondary considerations is submitted, the examiner must evaluate the evidence. The weight to be accorded to the evidence depends on the individual factual circumstances of each case. Stratoflex, Inc. v. Aeroquip Corp., 713 F.2d 1530, 218 USPQ 871 (Fed. Cir. 1983); Hybritech, Inc. v. Monoclonal Antibodies, Inc., 802 F.2d 1367, 231 USPQ 81 (Fed. Cir. 1986), cert. denied, 480 U.S. 947 (1987). The ultimate determination on patentability is made on the entire record. In re Oetiker, 977 F.2d 1443, 1446, 24 USPQ2d 1443, 1445 (Fed. Cir. 1992). However, evidence developed after the patent grant in response to challenge to the patent validity’s should not be excluded from consideration since “understanding the full range of the invention is not always achieved at the time of filing the patent application.” Knoll Pharms. Co., Inc. v. Teva Pharms. USA Inc., 367 F.3d 1381, 1385, 70 USPQ2d 1957, 1960 (Fed. Cir. 2004). (reversing the lower court’s grant of summary judgement of invalidity for failure to consider ‘unexpected results’ evidence obtained from post-filing that could be relevant to the patent validity inquiry).
See MPEP § 716 - § 716.06 for a discussion of objective evidence and its role in the final legal determination of whether a claimed invention would have been obvious under 35 U.S.C. 103.
2141.01 Scope and Content of the Prior Art[edit | edit source]
I. PRIOR ART AVAILABLE UNDER 35 U.S.C. 102 IS AVAILABLE UNDER 35 U.S.C. 103
“Before answering Graham’s ‘content’ inquiry, it must be known whether a patent or publication is in the prior art under 35 U.S.C. § 102.” Panduit Corp. v. Dennison Mfg. Co., 810 F.2d 1561, 1568, 1 USPQ2d 1593, 1597 (Fed. Cir.), cert. denied, 481 U.S. 1052 (1987). Subject matter that is prior art under 35 U.S.C. 102 can be used to support a rejection under section 103. Ex parte Andresen, 212 USPQ 100, 102 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1981) (“it appears to us that the commentator [of 35 U.S.C.A.] and the [congressional] committee viewed section 103 as including all of the various bars to a patent as set forth in section 102.”).
A 35 U.S.C. 103 rejection is based on 35 U.S.C. 102(a), 102(b), 102(e), etc. depending on the type of prior art reference used and its publication or issue date. For instance, an obviousness rejection over a U.S. patent which was issued more than 1 year before the filing date of the application is said to be a statutory bar just as if it anticipated the claims under 35 U.S.C. 102(b). Analogously, an obviousness rejection based on a publication which would be applied under 102(a) if it anticipated the claims can be overcome by swearing behind the publication date of the reference by filing an affidavit or declaration under 37 CFR 1.131.
II. SUBSTANTIVE CONTENT OF THE PRIOR ART
See § 2121 - § 2129 for case law relating to the substantive content of the prior art (e.g., availability of inoperative devices, extent to which prior art must be enabling, broad disclosure rather than preferred embodiments, admissions, etc.).
III. CONTENT OF THE PRIOR ART IS DETERMINED AT THE TIME THE INVENTION WAS MADE TO AVOID HINDSIGHT
The requirement “at the time the invention was made” is to avoid impermissible hindsight. See MPEP § 2145, paragraph X.A. for a discussion of rebutting applicants’ arguments that a rejection is based on hindsight.
“It is difficult but necessary that the decisionmaker forget what he or she has been taught . . . about the claimed invention and cast the mind back to the time the invention was made (often as here many years), to occupy the mind of one skilled in the art who is presented only with the references, and who is normally guided by the then-accepted wisdom in the art.” W.L. Gore & Associates, Inc. v. Garlock, Inc., 721 F.2d 1540, 220 USPQ 303, 313 (Fed. Cir. 1983), cert. denied, 469 U.S. 851 (1984).
IV. 35 U.S.C. 103(c) — EVIDENCE REQUIRED TO SHOW CONDITIONS OF 35 U.S.C. 103 (c) APPLY
An applicant who wants to avail himself or herself of the benefits of 35 U.S.C. 103(c) has the burden of establishing that subject matter which only qualifies as prior art under subsection (e), (f) or (g) of section 102 used in a rejection under 35 U.S.C. 103(a) and the claimed invention were, at the time the invention was made, owned by the same person or subject to an obligation of assignment to the same person. Ex parte Yoshino, 227 USPQ 52 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1985). Likewise, an applicant who wants to avail himself or herself of the benefits of the joint research provisions of 35 U.S.C. 103(c) (for applications pending on or after December 10, 2004) has the burden of establishing that:
(A)the claimed invention was made by or on behalf of parties to a joint research agreement that was in effect on or before the date the claimed invention was made;
(B)the claimed invention was made as a result of activities undertaken within the scope of the joint research agreement; and
(C)the application for patent for the claimed invention discloses or is amended to disclose the names of the parties to the joint research agreement.
This prior art disqualification is only applicable for subject matter which only qualifies as prior art under subsection (e), (f) or (g) of 35 U.S.C. 102 used in a rejection under 35 U.S.C. 103(a).
Note that for applications filed prior to November 29, 1999, and granted as patents prior to December 10, 2004, 35 U.S.C. 103(c) is limited on its face to subject matter developed by another person which qualifies as prior art only under subsection (f) or (g) of section 102. See MPEP § 706.02(l)(1). See also In re Bartfeld, 925 F.2d 1450, 1453-54, 17 USPQ2d 1885, 1888 (Fed. Cir. 1991) (Applicant attempted to overcome a 35 U.S.C. 102(e)/103 rejection with a terminal disclaimer by alleging that the public policy intent of 35 U.S.C 103(c) was to prohibit the use of “secret” prior art in obviousness determinations. The court rejected this argument, holding “We may not disregard the unambiguous exclusion of § 102(e) from the statute’s purview.”).
See MPEP § 706.02(l)(2) for the requirements which must be met to establish common ownership or a joint research agreement.
2141.01(a) Analogous and Nonanalogous Art[edit | edit source]
I. TO RELY ON A REFERENCE UNDER 35 U.S.C. 103, IT MUST BE ANALOGOUS PRIOR ART
The examiner must determine what is “analogous prior art” for the purpose of analyzing the obviousness of the subject matter at issue. “In order to rely on a reference as a basis for rejection of an applicant’s invention, the reference must either be in the field of applicant's endeavor or, if not, then be reasonably pertinent to the particular problem with which the inventor was concerned.” In re Oetiker, 977 F.2d 1443, 1446, 24 USPQ2d 1443, 1445 (Fed. Cir. 1992). See also In re Deminski, 796 F.2d 436, 230 USPQ 313 (Fed. Cir. 1986); In re Clay, 966 F.2d 656, 659, 23 USPQ2d 1058, 1060-61 (Fed. Cir. 1992) (“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.”); Wang Laboratories Inc. v. Toshiba Corp., 993 F.2d 858, 26 USPQ2d 1767 (Fed. Cir. 1993); and State Contracting & Eng’g Corp. v. Condotte America, Inc., 346 F.3d 1057, 1069, 68 USPQ2d 1481, 1490 (Fed. Cir. 2003) (where the general scope of a reference is outside the pertinent field of endeavor, the reference may be considered analogous art if subject matter disclosed therein is relevant to the particular problem with which the inventor is involved).
II. PTO CLASSIFICATION IS SOME EVIDENCE OF ANALOGY, BUT SIMILARITIES AND DIFFERENCES IN STRUCTURE AND FUNCTION CARRY MORE WEIGHT
While Patent Office classification of references and the cross-references in the official search notes of the class definitions are some evidence of “nonanalogy” or “analogy” respectively, the court has found “the similarities and differences in structure and function of the inventions to carry far greater weight.” In re Ellis, 476 F.2d 1370, 1372, 177 USPQ 526, 527 (CCPA 1973) (The structural similarities and functional overlap between the structural gratings shown by one reference and the shoe scrapers of the type shown by another reference were readily apparent, and therefore the arts to which the reference patents belonged were reasonably pertinent to the art with which appellant’s invention dealt (pedestrian floor gratings).); In re Clay, 966 F.2d 656, 23 USPQ2d 1058 (Fed. Cir. 1992) (Claims were directed to a process for storing a refined liquid hydrocarbon product in a storage tank having a dead volume between the tank bottom and its outlet port wherein a gelled solution filled the tank’s dead volume to prevent loss of stored product while preventing contamination. One of the references relied upon disclosed a process for reducing the permeability of natural underground hydrocarbon bearing formations using a gel similar to that of applicant to improve oil production. The court disagreed with the PTO’s argument that the reference and claimed inventions were part of the same endeavor, “maximizing withdrawal of petroleum stored in petroleum reserves,” and found that the inventions involved different fields of endeavor since the reference taught the use of the gel in a different structure for a different purpose under different temperature and pressure conditions, and since the application related to storage of liquid hydrocarbons rather than extraction of crude petroleum. The court also found the reference was not reasonably pertinent to the problem with which the inventor was concerned because a person having ordinary skill in the art would not reasonably have expected to solve the problem of dead volume in tanks for refined petroleum by considering a reference dealing with plugging underground formation anomalies.).
III. ANALOGY IN THE CHEMICAL ARTS
See, for example, Ex parte Bland, 3 USPQ2d 1103 (Bd. Pat App. & Inter. 1986) (Claims were drawn to a particulate composition useful as a preservative for an animal foodstuff (or a method of inhibiting fungus growth in an animal foodstuff therewith) comprising verxite having absorbed thereon propionic acid. All references were concerned with absorbing biologically active materials on carriers, and therefore the teachings in each of the various references would have been pertinent to the problems in the other references and the invention at hand.); Stratoflex, Inc. v. Aeroquip Corp., 713 F.2d 1530, 218 USPQ 871 (Fed. Cir. 1983) (Problem confronting inventor was preventing electrostatic buildup in PTFE tubing caused by hydrocarbon fuel flow while precluding leakage of fuel. Two prior art references relied upon were in the rubber hose art, both referencing the problem of electrostatic buildup caused by fuel flow. The court found that because PTFE and rubber are used by the same hose manufacturers and experience the same and similar problems, a solution found for a problem experienced with either PTFE or rubber hosing would be looked to when facing a problem with the other.); In re Mlot-Fijalkowski, 676 F.2d 666, 213 USPQ 713 (CCPA 1982) (Problem faced by appellant was enhancement and immobilization of dye penetrant indications. References which taught the use of dyes and finely divided developer materials to produce colored images preferably in, but not limited to, the duplicating paper art were properly relied upon because the court found that appellant’s problem was one of dye chemistry, and a search for its solution would include the dye arts in general.).
IV. ANALOGY IN THE MECHANICAL ARTS
See, for example, In re Oetiker, 977 F.2d 1443, 24 USPQ2d 1443 (Fed. Cir. 1992) (Applicant claimed an improvement in a hose clamp which differed from the prior art in the presence of a preassembly “hook” which maintained the preassembly condition of the clamp and disengaged automatically when the clamp was tightened. The Board relied upon a reference which disclosed a hook and eye fastener for use in garments, reasoning that all hooking problems are analogous. The court held the reference was not within the field of applicant’s endeavor, and was not reasonably pertinent to the particular problem with which the inventor was concerned because it had not been shown that a person of ordinary skill, seeking to solve a problem of fastening a hose clamp, would reasonably be expected or motivated to look to fasteners for garments. The Commissioner further argued in the brief on appeal that a disengageable catch is a common everyday mechanical concept, however the court held that the Commissioner did not explain why a “catch” of unstated structure is such a concept, and why it would have made the claimed invention obvious.). Compare Stevenson v. International Trade Comm., 612 F.2d 546, 550, 204 USPQ 276, 280 (CCPA 1979) (“In a simple mechanical invention a broad spectrum of prior art must be explored and it is reasonable to permit inquiry into other areas where one of ordinary skill in the art would be aware that similar problems exist.”). See also In re Bigio, 381 F.3d 1320, 1325-26, 72 USPQ2d 1209, 1211-12 (Fed. Cir. 2004). The patent application claimed a “hair brush” having a specific bristle configuration. The Board affirmed the examiner’s rejection of the claims as being obvious in view of prior art patents disclosing toothbrushes. 381 F.3d at 1323, 72 USPQ2d at 1210. The applicant disputed that the patent references constituted analogous art. On appeal, the court upheld the Board’s interpretation of the claim term “hair brush” to encompass any brush that may be used for any bodily hair, including facial hair. 381 F.3d at 1323-24, 72 USPQ2d at 1211. With this claim interpretation, the court applied the “field of endeavor test” for analogous art and determined that the references were within the field of applicant’s endeavor and hence was analogous art because toothbrushes are structurally similar to small brushes for hair, and a toothbrush could be used to brush facial hair. 381 F.3d at 1326, 72 USPQ2d at 1212.
Also see In re Deminski, 796 F.2d 436, 230 USPQ 313 (Fed. Cir. 1986) (Applicant’s claims related to double-acting high pressure gas transmission line compressors in which the valves could be removed easily for replacement. The Board relied upon references which taught either a double-acting piston pump or a double-acting piston compressor. The court agreed that since the cited pumps and compressors have essentially the same function and structure, the field of endeavor includes both types of double-action piston devices for moving fluids.); Pentec, Inc. v. Graphic Controls Corp., 776 F.2d 309, 227 USPQ 766 (Fed. Cir. 1985) (Claims at issue were directed to an instrument marker pen body, the improvement comprising a pen arm holding means having an integrally molded hinged member for folding over against the pen body. Although the patent owners argued the hinge and fastener art was nonanalogous, the court held that the problem confronting the inventor was the need for a simple holding means to enable frequent, secure attachment and easy removal of a marker pen to and from a pen arm, and one skilled in the pen art trying to solve that problem would have looked to the fastener and hinge art.); and Ex parte Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 230 USPQ 357 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1985) (A reference in the clutch art was held reasonably pertinent to the friction problem faced by applicant, whose claims were directed to a braking material, because brakes and clutches utilize interfacing materials to accomplish their respective purposes.).
V. ANALOGY IN THE ELECTRICAL ARTS
See, for example, Wang Laboratories, Inc. v. Toshiba Corp., 993 F.2d 858, 26 USPQ2d 1767 (Fed. Cir. 1993) (Patent claims were directed to single in- line memory modules (SIMMs) for installation on a printed circuit motherboard for use in personal computers. Reference to a SIMM for an industrial controller was not necessarily in the same field of endeavor as the claimed subject matter merely because it related to memories. Reference was found to be in a different field of endeavor because it involved memory circuits in which modules of varying sizes may be added or replaced, whereas the claimed invention involved compact modular memories. Furthermore, since memory modules of the claims at issue were intended for personal computers and used dynamic random-access-memories, whereas reference SIMM was developed for use in large industrial machine controllers and only taught the use of static random- access-memories or read-only-memories, the finding that the reference was nonanalogous was supported by substantial evidence.); Medtronic, Inc. v. Cardiac Pacemakers, 721 F.2d 1563, 220 USPQ 97 (Fed. Cir. 1983) (Patent claims were drawn to a cardiac pacemaker which comprised, among other components, a runaway inhibitor means for preventing a pacemaker malfunction from causing pulses to be applied at too high a frequency rate. Two references disclosed circuits used in high power, high frequency devices which inhibited the runaway of pulses from a pulse source. The court held that one of ordinary skill in the pacemaker designer art faced with a rate-limiting problem would look to the solutions of others faced with rate limiting problems, and therefore the references were in an analogous art.).
VI. EXAMPLES OF ANALOGY IN THE DESIGN ARTS
See MPEP § 1504.03 for a discussion of the relevant case law setting forth the general requirements for analogous art in design applications.
For examples of analogy in the design arts, see In re Rosen, 673 F.2d 388, 213 USPQ 347 (CCPA 1982) (The design at issue was a coffee table of contemporary styling. The court held designs of contemporary furniture other than coffee tables, such as the desk and circular glass table top designs of the references relied upon, would reasonably fall within the scope of the knowledge of the designer of ordinary skill.); Ex parte Pappas, 23 USPQ2d 1636 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1992) (At issue was an ornamental design for a feed bunk with an inclined corner configuration. Examiner relied upon references to a bunk lacking the inclined corners claimed by appellant and the Architectural Precast Concrete Drafting Handbook. The Board found the Architectural Precast Concrete Drafting Handbook was analogous art, noting that a bunk may be a wood or concrete trough, and that both references relied upon “disclose structures in which at least one upstanding leg is generally perpendicular to a base portion to define a corner configuration between the leg and base portion.”); In re Butera, 1 F.3d 1252, 28 USPQ2d 1399 (Fed. Cir. 1993) (unpublished - not citable as precedent) (The claimed invention, a spherical design for a combined insect repellent and air freshener, was rejected by the Board as obvious over a single reference to a design for a metal ball anode. The court reversed, holding the reference design to be nonanalogous art. “A prior design is of the type claimed if it has the same general use as that claimed in the design patent application . . . . One designing a combined insect repellent and air freshener would therefore not have reason to know of or look to a design for a metal ball anode.” 28 USPQ2d at 1400.).
2141.02 Differences Between Prior Art and Claimed Invention[edit | edit source]
Ascertaining the differences between the prior art and the claims at issue requires interpreting the claim language, and considering both the invention and the prior art references as a whole. See MPEP § 2111 - § 2116.01 for case law pertaining to claim interpretation.
I.THE CLAIMED INVENTION AS A WHOLE MUST BE CONSIDERED
In determining the differences between the prior art and the claims, the question under 35 U.S.C. 103 is not whether the differences themselves would have been obvious, but whether the claimed invention as a whole would have been obvious. Stratoflex, Inc. v. Aeroquip Corp., 713 F.2d 1530, 218 USPQ 871 (Fed. Cir. 1983); Schenck v. Nortron Corp., 713 F.2d 782, 218 USPQ 698 (Fed. Cir. 1983) (Claims were directed to a vibratory testing machine (a hard-bearing wheel balancer) comprising a holding structure, a base structure, and a supporting means which form “a single integral and gaplessly continuous piece.” Nortronargued the invention is just making integral what had been made in four bolted pieces, improperly limiting the focus to a structural difference from the prior art and failing to consider the invention as a whole. The prior art perceived a need for mechanisms to dampen resonance, whereas the inventor eliminated the need for dampening via the one-piece gapless support structure. “Because that insight was contrary to the understandings and expectations of the art, the structure effectuating it would not have been obvious to those skilled in the art.” 713 F.2d at 785, 218 USPQ at 700 (citations omitted).).
See also In re Hirao, 535 F.2d 67, 190 USPQ 15 (CCPA 1976) (Claims were directed to a three step process for preparing sweetened foods and drinks. The first two steps were directed to a process of producing high purity maltose (the sweetener), and the third was directed to adding the maltose to foods and drinks. The parties agreed that the first two steps were unobvious but formed a known product and the third step was obvious. The Solicitor argued the preamble was directed to a process for preparing foods and drinks sweetened mildly and thus the specific method of making the high purity maltose (the first two steps in the claimed process) should not be given weight, analogizing with product-by-process claims. The court held “due to the admitted unobviousness of the first two steps of the claimed combination of steps, the subject matter as a whole would not have been obvious to one of ordinary skill in the art at the time the invention was made.” 535 F.2d at 69, 190 USPQ at 17 (emphasis in original). The preamble only recited the purpose of the process and did not limit the body of the claim. Therefore, the claimed process was a three step process, not the product formed by two steps of the process or the third step of using that product.).
II.DISTILLING THE INVENTION DOWN TO A “GIST” OR “THRUST” OF AN INVENTION DISREGARDS “AS A WHOLE” REQUIREMENT
Distilling an invention down to the “gist” or “thrust” of an invention disregards the requirement of analyzing the subject matter “as a whole.” W.L. Gore & Associates, Inc. v. Garlock, Inc., 721 F.2d 1540, 220 USPQ 303 (Fed. Cir. 1983), cert. denied, 469 U.S. 851 (1984) (restricting consideration of the claims to a 10% per second rate of stretching of unsintered PTFE and disregarding other limitations resulted in treating claims as though they read differently than allowed); Bausch & Lomb v. Barnes-Hind/ Hydrocurve, Inc., 796 F.2d 443, 447-49, 230 USPQ 416, 419-20 (Fed. Cir. 1986), cert. denied, 484 U.S. 823 (1987) (District court focused on the “concept of forming ridgeless depressions having smooth rounded edges using a laser beam to vaporize the material,” but “disregarded express limitations that the product be an ophthalmic lens formed of a transparent cross- linked polymer and that the laser marks be surrounded by a smooth surface of unsublimated polymer.”). See also Jones v. Hardy, 727 F.2d 1524, 1530, 220 USPQ 1021, 1026 (Fed. Cir. 1984) (“treating the advantage as the invention disregards statutory requirement that the invention be viewed ‘as a whole’”); Panduit Corp. v. Dennison Mfg. Co., 810 F.2d 1561, 1 USPQ2d 1593 (Fed. Cir.), cert. denied, 481 U.S. 1052 (1987) (district court improperly distilled claims down to a one word solution to a problem).
III.DISCOVERING SOURCE/CAUSE OF A PROBLEM IS PART OF “AS A WHOLE” INQUIRY
“[A] patentable invention may lie in the discovery of the source of a problem even though the remedy may be obvious once the source of the problem is identified. This is part of the ‘subject matter as a whole’ which should always be considered in determining the obviousness of an invention under 35 U.S.C. § 103.” In re Sponnoble, 405 F.2d 578, 585, 160 USPQ 237, 243 (CCPA 1969). However, “discovery of the cause of a problem . . does not always result in a patentable invention. . . . [A] different situation exists where the solution is obvious from prior art which contains the same solution for a similar problem.” In re Wiseman, 596 F.2d 1019, 1022, 201 USPQ 658, 661 (CCPA 1979) (emphasis in original).
In In re Sponnoble, the claim was directed to a plural compartment mixing vial wherein a center seal plug was placed between two compartments for temporarily isolating a liquid-containing compartment from a solids-containing compartment. The claim differed from the prior art in the selection of butyl rubber with a silicone coating as the plug material instead of natural rubber. The prior art recognized that leakage from the liquid to the solids compartment was a problem, and considered the problem to be a result of moisture passing around the center plug because of microscopic fissures inherently present in molded or blown glass. The court found the inventor discovered the cause of moisture transmission was through the center plug, and there was no teaching in the prior art which would suggest the necessity of selecting applicant's plug material which was more impervious to liquids than the natural rubber plug of the prior art.
In In re Wiseman, 596 F.2d at 1022, 201 USPQ at 661, claims directed to grooved carbon disc brakes wherein the grooves were provided to vent steam or vapor during a braking action to minimize fading of the brakes were rejected as obvious over a reference showing carbon disc brakes without grooves in combination with a reference showing grooves in noncarbon disc brakes for the purpose of cooling the faces of the braking members and eliminating dust, thereby reducing fading of the brakes. The court affirmed the rejection, holding that even if applicants discovered the cause of a problem, the solution would have been obvious from the prior art which contained the same solution (inserting grooves in disc brakes) for a similar problem.
IV.APPLICANTS ALLEGING DISCOVERY OF A SOURCE OF A PROBLEM MUST PROVIDE SUBSTANTIATING EVIDENCE
Applicants who allege they discovered the source of a problem must provide evidence substantiating the allegation, either by way of affidavits or declarations, or by way of a clear and persuasive assertion in the specification. In re Wiseman, 596 F.2d 1019, 201 USPQ 658 (CCPA 1979) (unsubstantiated statement of counsel was insufficient to show appellants discovered source of the problem); In re Kaslow, 707 F.2d 1366, 217 USPQ 1089 (Fed. Cir. 1983) (Claims were directed to a method for redeeming merchandising coupons which contain a UPC “5-by-5” bar code wherein, among other steps, the memory at each supermarket would identify coupons by manufacturer and transmit the data to a central computer to provide an audit thereby eliminating the need for clearinghouses and preventing retailer fraud. In challenging the propriety of an obviousness rejection, appellant argued he discovered the source of a problem (retailer fraud and manual clearinghouse operations) and its solution. The court found appellant’s specification did not support the argument that he discovered the source of the problem with respect to retailer fraud, and that the claimed invention failed to solve the problem of manual clearinghouse operations.).
V.DISCLOSED INHERENT PROPERTIES ARE PART OF “AS A WHOLE” INQUIRY
“In determining whether the invention as a whole would have been obvious under 35 U.S.C. 103, we must first delineate the invention as a whole. In delineating the invention as a whole, we look not only to the subject matter which is literally recited in the claim in question... but also to those properties of the subject matter which are inherent in the subject matter and are disclosed in the specification. . . Just as we look to a chemical and its properties when we examine the obviousness of a composition of matter claim, it is this invention as a whole, and not some part of it, which must be obvious under 35 U.S.C. 103.” In re Antonie, 559 F.2d 618, 620, 195 USPQ 6,8 (CCPA 1977) (emphasis in original) (citations omitted) (The claimed wastewater treatment device had a tank volume to contractor area of 0.12 gal./sq. ft. The court found the invention as a whole was the ratio of 0.12 and its inherent property that the claimed devices maximized treatment capacity regardless of other variables in the devices. The prior art did not recognize that treatment capacity was a function of the tank volume to contractor ratio, and therefore the parameter optimized was not recognized in the art to be a result-effective variable.). See also In re Papesch, 315 F.2d 381, 391, 137 USPQ 43, 51 (CCPA 1963) (“From the standpoint of patent law, a compound and all its properties are inseparable.”).
Obviousness cannot be predicated on what is not known at the time an invention is made, even if the inherency of a certain feature is later established. In re Rijckaert, 9 F.2d 1531, 28 USPQ2d 1955 (Fed. Cir. 1993). See MPEP § 2112 for the requirements of rejections based on inherency.
VI.PRIOR ART MUST BE CONSIDERED IN ITS ENTIRETY, INCLUDING DISCLOSURES THAT TEACH AWAY FROM THE CLAIMS
A prior art reference must be considered in its entirety, i.e., as a whole, including portions that would lead away from the claimed invention. W.L. Gore & Associates, Inc. v. Garlock, Inc., 721 F.2d 1540, 220 USPQ 303 (Fed. Cir. 1983), cert. denied, 469 U.S. 851 (1984) (Claims were directed to a process of producing a porous article by expanding shaped, unsintered, highly crystalline poly(tetrafluoroethylene) (PTFE) by stretching said PTFE at a 10% per second rate to more than five times the original length. The prior art teachings with regard to unsintered PTFE indicated the material does not respond to conventional plastics processing, and the material should be stretched slowly. A reference teaching rapid stretching of conventional plastic polypropylene with reduced crystallinity combined with a reference teaching stretching unsintered PTFE would not suggest rapid stretching of highly crystalline PTFE, in light of the disclosures in the art that teach away from the invention, i.e., that the conventional polypropylene should have reduced crystallinity before stretching, and that PTFE should be stretched slowly.).
However, “the prior art’s mere disclosure of more than one alternative does not constitute a teaching away from any of these alternatives because such disclosure does not criticize, discredit, or otherwise discourage the solution claimed….” In re Fulton, 391 F.3d 1195, 1201, 73 USPQ2d 1141, 1146 (Fed. Cir. 2004). See also MPEP § 2123.
2141.03 Level of Ordinary Skill in the Art[edit | edit source]
FACTORS TO CONSIDER IN DETERMINING LEVEL OF ORDINARY SKILL
“Factors that may be considered in determining level of ordinary skill in the art include (1) the educational level of the inventor; (2) type of problems encountered in the art; (3) prior art solutions to those problems; (4) rapidity with which innovations are made; (5) sophistication of the technology; and (6) educational level of active workers in the field.” Environmental Designs, Ltd. v. Union Oil Co., 713 F.2d 693, 696, 218 USPQ 865, 868 (Fed. Cir. 1983), cert. denied, 464 U.S. 1043 (1984).
The “hypothetical ‘person having ordinary skill in the art’ to which the claimed subject matter pertains would, of necessity have the capability of understanding the scientific and engineering principles applicable to the pertinent art.” Ex parte Hiyamizu, 10 USPQ2d 1393, 1394 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1988) (The Board disagreed with the examiner’s definition of one of ordinary skill in the art (a doctorate level engineer or scientist working at least 40 hours per week in semiconductor research or development), finding that the hypothetical person is not definable by way of credentials, and that the evidence in the application did not support the conclusion that such a person would require a doctorate or equivalent knowledge in science or engineering.).
References which do not qualify as prior art because they postdate the claimed invention may be relied upon to show the level of ordinary skill in the art at or around the time the invention was made. Ex parte Erlich, 22 USPQ 1463 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1992). Moreover, documents not available as prior art because the documents were not widely disseminated may be used to demonstrate the level of ordinary skill in the art. For example, the document may be relevant to establishing “a motivation to combine which is implicit in the knowledge of one of ordinary skill in the art.” National Steel Car Ltd. v. Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd., 357 F.3d 1319, 1338, 69 USPQ2d 1641, 1656 (Fed. Cir. 2004)(holding that a drawing made by an engineer that was not prior art may nonetheless “be used to demonstrate a motivation to combine implicit in the knowledge of one of ordinary skill in the art”).
SPECIFYING A PARTICULAR LEVEL OF SKILL IS NOT NECESSARY WHERE THE PRIOR ART ITSELF REFLECTS AN APPROPRIATE LEVEL
If the only facts of record pertaining to the level of skill in the art are found within the prior art of record, the court has held that an invention may be held to have been obvious without a specific finding of a particular level of skill where the prior art itself reflects an appropriate level. Chore-Time Equipment, Inc. v. Cumberland Corp., 713 F.2d 774, 218 USPQ 673 (Fed. Cir. 1983). See also Okajima v. Bourdeau, 261 F.3d 1350, 1355, 59 USPQ2d 1795, 1797 (Fed. Cir. 2001).
ASCERTAINING LEVEL OF ORDINARY SKILL IS NECESSARY TO MAINTAIN OBJECTIVITY
“The importance of resolving the level of ordinary skill in the art lies in the necessity of maintaining objectivity in the obviousness inquiry.” Ryko Mfg. Co. v. Nu-Star, Inc., 950 F.2d 714, 718, 21 USPQ2d 1053, 1057 (Fed. Cir. 1991). The examiner must ascertain what would have been obvious to one of ordinary skill in the art at the time the invention was made, and not to the inventor, a judge, a layman, those skilled in remote arts, or to geniuses in the art at hand. Environmental Designs, Ltd. v. Union Oil Co., 713 F.2d 693, 218 USPQ 865 (Fed. Cir. 1983), cert. denied, 464 U.S. 1043 (1984).
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