MPEP 2145

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← MPEP 2144 ↑ MPEP 2100 MPEP 2146 →

2145 Consideration of Applicant’s Rebuttal Arguments[edit | edit source]


Attorney argument is not evidence unless it is an admission, in which case, an examiner may use the admission in making a rejection. See MPEP § 2129 and § 2144.03 for a discussion of admissions as prior art.

The arguments of counsel cannot take the place of evidence in the record. In re Schulze, 346 F.2d 600, 602, 145 USPQ 716, 718 (CCPA 1965); In re Geisler, 116 F.3d 1465, 43 USPQ2d 1362 (Fed. Cir. 1997) (“An assertion of what seems to follow from common experience is just attorney argument and not the kind of factual evidence that is required to rebut a prima facie case of obviousness.”). See MPEP § 716.01(c) for examples of attorney statements which are not evidence and which must be supported by an appropriate affidavit or declaration.


Prima Facie Obviousness Is Not Rebutted by Merely Recognizing Additional Advantages or Latent Properties Present in the Prior Art

Mere recognition of latent properties in the prior art does not render nonobvious an otherwise known invention. In re Wiseman, 596 F.2d 1019, 201 USPQ 658 (CCPA 1979) (Claims were directed to grooved carbon disc brakes wherein the grooves were provided to vent steam or vapor during a braking action. A prior art reference taught noncarbon disc brakes which were grooved for the purpose of cooling the faces of the braking members and eliminating dust. The court held the prior art references when combined would overcome the problems of dust and overheating solved by the prior art and would inherently overcome the steam or vapor cause of the problem relied upon for patentability by applicants. Granting a patent on the discovery of an unknown but inherent function (here venting steam or vapor) “would remove from the public that which is in the public domain by virtue of its inclusion in, or obviousness from, the prior art.” 596 F.2d at 1022, 201 USPQ at 661.); In re Baxter Travenol Labs., 952 F.2d 388, 21 USPQ2d 1281 (Fed. Cir. 1991) (Appellant argued that the presence of DEHP as the plasticizer in a blood collection bag unexpectedly suppressed hemolysis and therefore rebutted any prima facie showing of obviousness, however the closest prior art utilizing a DEHP plasticized blood collection bag inherently achieved same result, although this fact was unknown in the prior art.).

“The fact that appellant has recognized another advantage which would flow naturally from following the suggestion of the prior art cannot be the basis for patentability when the differences would otherwise be obvious.” Ex parte Obiaya, 227 USPQ 58, 60 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1985) (The prior art taught combustion fluid analyzers which used labyrinth heaters to maintain the samples at a uniform temperature. Although appellant showed an unexpectedly shorter response time was obtained when a labyrinth heater was employed, the Board held this advantage would flow naturally from following the suggestion of the prior art.). See also Lantech Inc. v. Kaufman Co. of Ohio Inc., 878 F.2d 1446, 12 USPQ2d 1076, 1077 (Fed. Cir. 1989), cert. denied, 493 U.S. 1058 (1990) (unpublished — not citable as precedent) (“The recitation of an additional advantage associated with doing what the prior art suggests does not lend patentability to an otherwise unpatentable invention.”).

In re Lintner, 458 F.2d 1013, 173 USPQ 560 (CCPA 1972) and In re Dillon, 919 F.2d 688, 16 USPQ2d 1897 (Fed. Cir. 1990) discussed in MPEP § 2144 are also pertinent to this issue.

See MPEP § 716.02 - § 716.02(g) for a discussion of declaratory evidence alleging unexpected results.


“The test for obviousness is not whether the features of a secondary reference may be bodily incorporated into the structure of the primary reference.... Rather, the test is what the combined teachings of those references would have suggested to those of ordinary skill in the art.” In re Keller, 642 F.2d 413, 425, 208 USPQ 871, 881 (CCPA 1981). See also In reSneed, 710 F.2d 1544, 1550, 218 USPQ 385, 389 (Fed. Cir. 1983) (“[I]t is not necessary that the inventions of the references be physically combinable to render obvious the invention under review.”); and In re Nievelt, 482 F.2d 965, 179 USPQ 224, 226 (CCPA 1973) (“Combining the teachings of references does not involve an ability to combine their specific structures.”).

However, the claimed combination cannot change the principle of operation of the primary reference or render the reference inoperable for its intended purpose. See MPEP § 2143.01.


One cannot show nonobviousness by attacking references individually where the rejections are based on combinations of references. In re Keller, 642 F.2d 413, 208 USPQ 871 (CCPA 1981); In re Merck & Co., Inc., 800 F.2d 1091, 231 USPQ 375 (Fed. Cir. 1986).


Reliance on a large number of references in a rejection does not, without more, weigh against the obviousness of the claimed invention. In re Gorman, 933 F.2d 982, 18 USPQ2d 1885 (Fed. Cir. 1991) (Court affirmed a rejection of a detailed claim to a candy sucker shaped like a thumb on a stick based on thirteen prior art references.).


Although the claims are interpreted in light of the specification, limitations from the specification are not read into the claims. In re Van Geuns, 988 F.2d 1181, 26 USPQ2d 1057 (Fed. Cir. 1993) (Claims to a superconducting magnet which generates a “uniform magnetic field” were not limited to the degree of magnetic field uniformity required for Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) imaging. Although the specification disclosed that the claimed magnet may be used in an NMR apparatus, the claims were not so limited.); Constant v. Advanced Micro-Devices, Inc., 848 F.2d 1560, 1571-72, 7 USPQ2d 1057, 1064-1065 (Fed. Cir.), cert. denied, 488 U.S. 892 (1988) (Various limitations on which appellant relied were not stated in the claims; the specification did not provide evidence indicating these limitations must be read into the claims to give meaning to the disputed terms.); Ex parte McCullough, 7 USPQ2d 1889, 1891 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1987) (Claimed electrode was rejected as obvious despite assertions that electrode functions differently than would be expected when used in nonaqueous battery since “although the demonstrated results may be germane to the patentability of a battery containing appellant’s electrode, they are not germane to the patentability of the invention claimed on appeal.”).

See MPEP § 2111 - § 2116.01, for additional case law relevant to claim interpretation.


The fact that a combination would not be made by businessmen for economic reasons does not mean that a person of ordinary skill in the art would not make the combination because of some technological incompatibility. In re Farrenkopf, 713 F.2d 714, 219 USPQ 1 (Fed. Cir. 1983) (Prior art reference taught that addition of inhibitors to radioimmunoassay is the most convenient, but costliest solution to stability problem. The court held that the additional expense associated with the addition of inhibitors would not discourage one of ordinary skill in the art from seeking the convenience expected therefrom.).


“The mere age of the references is not persuasive of the unobviousness of the combination of their teachings, absent evidence that, notwithstanding knowledge of the references, the art tried and failed to solve the problem.” In re Wright, 569 F.2d 1124, 1127, 193 USPQ 332, 335 (CCPA 1977) (100 year old patent was properly relied upon in a rejection based on a combination of references.). See also Ex parte Meyer, 6 USPQ2d 1966 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1988) (length of time between the issuance of prior art patents relied upon (1920 and 1976) was not persuasive of unobviousness).


A prior art reference is analogous if the reference is in the field of applicant’s endeavor or, if not, the reference is 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 MPEP § 2141.01(a) for case law pertaining to analogous art.


A. Impermissible Hindsight

Applicants may argue that the examiner’s conclusion of obviousness is based on improper hindsight reasoning. However, “[a]ny judgement on obviousness is in a sense necessarily a reconstruction based on hindsight reasoning, but so long as it takes into account only knowledge which was within the level of ordinary skill in the art at the time the claimed invention was made and does not include knowledge gleaned only from applicant’s disclosure, such a reconstruction is proper.” In re McLaughlin 443 F.2d 1392, 1395, 170 USPQ 209, 212 (CCPA 1971). Applicants may also argue that the combination of two or more references is “hindsight” because “express” motivation to combine the references is lacking. However, there is no requirement that an “express, written motivation to combine must appear in prior art references before a finding of obviousness.” See Ruiz v. A.B. Chance Co., 357 F.3d 1270, 1276, 69 USPQ2d 1686, 1690 (Fed. Cir. 2004). For example, motivation to combine prior art references may exist in the nature of the problem to be solved (Ruiz at 1276, 69 USPQ2d at 1690) or the knowledge of one of ordinary skill in the art (National Steel Car v. Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd., 357 F.3d 1319, 1338, 69 USPQ2d 1641, 1656 (Fed. Cir. 2004)). See MPEP § 2143.01 for a discussion of proper motivation to combine references.

B. Obvious To Try Rationale

An applicant may argue the examiner is applying an improper “obvious to try” rationale in support of an obviousness rejection.

“The admonition that ‘obvious to try’ is not the standard under § 103 has been directed mainly at two kinds of error. In some cases, what would have been ‘obvious to try’ would have been to vary all parameters or try each of numerous possible choices until one possibly arrived at a successful result, where the prior art gave either no indication of which parameters were critical or no direction as to which of many possible choices is likely to be successful.... In others, what was ‘obvious to try’ was to explore a new technology or general approach that seemed to be a promising field of experimentation, where the prior art gave only general guidance as to the particular form of the claimed invention or how to achieve it.” In reO’Farrell, 853 F.2d 894, 903, 7 USPQ2d 1673, 1681 (Fed. Cir. 1988) (citations omitted) (The court held the claimed method would have been obvious over the prior art relied upon because one reference contained a detailed enabling methodology, a suggestion to modify the prior art to produce the claimed invention, and evidence suggesting the modification would be successful.). See the cases cited in O’Farrell for examples of decisions where the court discussed an improper “obvious to try” approach. See also In re Eli Lilly & Co., 902 F.2d 943, 14 USPQ2d 1741 (Fed. Cir. 1990) and In re Ball Corp., 925 F.2d 1480, 18 USPQ2d 1491 (Fed. Cir. 1991) (unpublished) for examples of cases where appellants argued that an improper “obvious to try” standard was applied, but the court found that there was proper motivation to modify the references.

C. Lack of Suggestion To Combine References

As discussed in MPEP § 2143.01, there must be some suggestion or motivation, either in the references themselves or in the knowledge generally available to one of ordinary skill in the art, to modify or combine reference teachings. The Federal Circuit has produced a number of decisions overturning obviousness rejections due to a lack of suggestion in the prior art of the desirability of combining references, as discussed in the aforementioned section.

D. References Teach Away from the Invention or Render Prior Art Unsatisfactory for Intended Purpose

In addition to the material below, see MPEP § 2141.02 (prior art must be considered in its entirety, including disclosures that teach away from the claims) and MPEP § 2143.01 (proposed modification cannot render the prior art unsatisfactory for its intended purpose or change the principle of operation of a reference).

1. The Nature of the Teaching Is Highly Relevant

A prior art reference that “teaches away” from the claimed invention is a significant factor to be considered in determining obviousness; however, “the nature of the teaching is highly relevant and must be weighed in substance. A known or obvious composition does not become patentable simply because it has been described as somewhat inferior to some other product for the same use.” In re Gurley, 27 F.3d 551, 554, 31 USPQ2d 1130, 1132 (Fed. Cir. 1994) (Claims were directed to an epoxy resin based printed circuit material. A prior art reference disclosed a polyester- imide resin based printed circuit material, and taught that although epoxy resin based materials have acceptable stability and some degree of flexibility, they are inferior to polyester-imide resin based materials. The court held the claims would have been obvious over the prior art because the reference taught epoxy resin based material was useful for applicant’s purpose, applicant did not distinguish the claimed epoxy from the prior art epoxy, and applicant asserted no discovery beyond what was known to the art.).

Furthermore, “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).

2. References Cannot Be Combined Where Reference Teaches Away from Their Combination

It is improper to combine references where the references teach away from their combination. In re Grasselli, 713 F.2d 731, 743, 218 USPQ 769, 779 (Fed. Cir. 1983) (The claimed catalyst which contained both iron and an alkali metal was not suggested by the combination of a reference which taught the interchangeability of antimony and alkali metal with the same beneficial result, combined with a reference expressly excluding antimony from, and adding iron to, a catalyst.).

3. Proceeding Contrary to Accepted Wisdom Is Evidence of Nonobviousness

The totality of the prior art must be considered, and proceeding contrary to accepted wisdom in the art is evidence of nonobviousness. In re Hedges, 783 F.2d 1038, 228 USPQ 685 (Fed. Cir. 1986) (Applicant’s claimed process for sulfonating diphenyl sulfone at a temperature above 127ºC was contrary to accepted wisdom because the prior art as a whole suggested using lower temperatures for optimum results as evidenced by charring, decomposition, or reduced yields at higher temperatures.).

Furthermore, “[k]nown disadvantages in old devices which would naturally discourage search for new inventions may be taken into account in determining obviousness.” United States v. Adams, 383 U.S. 39, 52, 148 USPQ 479, 484 (1966).

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