Chapter 2100 - Patentability


2101-2102    [Reserved]

 

2103    Patent Examination Process [R-11.2013]

I.   DETERMINE WHAT APPLICANT HAS INVENTED AND IS SEEKING TO PATENT

It is essential that patent applicants obtain a prompt yet complete examination of their applications. Under the principles of compact prosecution, each claim should be reviewed for compliance with every statutory requirement for patentability in the initial review of the application, even if one or more claims are found to be deficient with respect to some statutory requirement. Thus, USPTO personnel should state all reasons and bases for rejecting claims in the first Office action. Deficiencies should be explained clearly, particularly when they serve as a basis for a rejection. Whenever practicable, USPTO personnel should indicate how rejections may be overcome and how problems may be resolved. A failure to follow this approach can lead to unnecessary delays in the prosecution of the application.

Prior to focusing on specific statutory requirements, USPTO personnel must begin examination by determining what, precisely, the applicant has invented and is seeking to patent, and how the claims relate to and define that invention. USPTO personnel will review the complete specification, including the detailed description of the invention, any specific embodiments that have been disclosed, the claims and any specific, substantial, and credible utilities that have been asserted for the invention.

After obtaining an understanding of what applicant invented, the examiner will conduct a search of the prior art and determine whether the invention as claimed complies with all statutory requirements.

A.   Identify and Understand Any Utility for the Invention

The claimed invention as a whole must be useful. The purpose of this requirement is to limit patent protection to inventions that possess a certain level of “real world” value, as opposed to subject matter that represents nothing more than an idea or concept, or is simply a starting point for future investigation or research(Brenner v. Manson, 383 U.S. 519, 528-36, 148 USPQ 689, 693-96 (1966); In re Fisher, 421 F.3d 1365, 76 USPQ2d 1225 (Fed. Cir. 2005); In re Ziegler, 992 F.2d 1197, 1200-03, 26 USPQ2d 1600, 1603-06 (Fed. Cir. 1993)).

USPTO personnel should review the application to identify any asserted utility. The applicant is in the best position to explain why an invention is believed useful. Accordingly, a complete disclosure should contain some indication of the practical application for the claimed invention, i.e., why the applicant believes the claimed invention is useful. Such a statement will usually explain the purpose of the invention or how the invention may be used (e.g., a compound is believed to be useful in the treatment of a particular disorder). Regardless of the form of statement of utility, it must enable one ordinarily skilled in the art to understand why the applicant believes the claimed invention is useful. See MPEP § 2107 for utility examination guidelines. An applicant may assert more than one utility and practical application, but only one is necessary. Alternatively, an applicant may rely on the contemporaneous art to provide that the claimed invention has a well-established utility.

B.   Review the Detailed Disclosure and Specific Embodiments of the Invention To Understand What the Applicant Has Invented

The written description will provide the clearest explanation of the applicant’s invention, by exemplifying the invention, explaining how it relates to the prior art and explaining the relative significance of various features of the invention. Accordingly, USPTO personnel should continue their evaluation by

(A) determining the function of the invention, that is, what the invention does when used as disclosed (e.g., the functionality of a programmed computer); and

(B) determining the features necessary to accomplish at least one asserted practical application.

 

Patent applicants can assist the USPTO by preparing applications that clearly set forth these aspects of an invention.

C.   Review the Claims

The claims define the property rights provided by a patent, and thus require careful scrutiny. The goal of claim analysis is to identify the boundaries of the protection sought by the applicant and to understand how the claims relate to and define what the applicant has indicated is the invention. USPTO personnel must first determine the scope of a claim by thoroughly analyzing the language of the claim before determining if the claim complies with each statutory requirement for patentability. See In re Hiniker Co., 150 F.3d 1362, 1369, 47 USPQ2d 1523, 1529 (Fed. Cir. 1998) (“[T]he name of the game is the claim.”).

USPTO personnel should begin claim analysis by identifying and evaluating each claim limitation. For processes, the claim limitations will define steps or acts to be performed. For products, the claim limitations will define discrete physical structures or materials. Product claims are claims that are directed to either machines, manufactures or compositions of matter.

USPTO personnel are to correlate each claim limitation to all portions of the disclosure that describe the claim limitation. This is to be done in all cases, regardless of whether the claimed invention is defined using means- (or step-) plus- function language. The correlation step will ensure that USPTO personnel correctly interpret each claim limitation.

The subject matter of a properly construed claim is defined by the terms that limit its scope. It is this subject matter that must be examined. As a general matter, the grammar and intended meaning of terms used in a claim will dictate whether the language limits the claim scope. Language that suggests or makes optional but does not require steps to be performed or does not limit a claim to a particular structure does not limit the scope of a claim or claim limitation. The following are examples of language that may raise a question as to the limiting effect of the language in a claim:

(A) statements of intended use or field of use,

(B) “adapted to” or “adapted for” clauses,

(C) "wherein" clauses, or

(D) “whereby” clauses.

 

This list of examples is not intended to be exhaustive. The determination of whether particular language is a limitation in a claim depends on the specific facts of the case. See, e.g., Griffin v. Bertina, 283 F.3d 1029, 1034, 62 USPQ2d 1431 (Fed. Cir. 2002)(finding that a “wherein” clause limited a process claim where the clause gave “meaning and purpose to the manipulative steps”). See also MPEP §§ 2111.02 and 2111.04.

USPTO personnel are to give claims their broadest reasonable interpretation in light of the supporting disclosure. See MPEP § 2111. Disclosure may be express, implicit, or inherent. USPTO personnel are to give the claimed means- (or step-) plus- function limitations their broadest reasonable interpretation consistent with all corresponding structures or materials described in the specification and their equivalents including the manner in which the claimed functions are performed. See Kemco Sales, Inc. v. Control Papers Company, Inc., 208 F.3d 1352, 54 USPQ2d 1308 (Fed. Cir. 2000). Further guidance in interpreting the scope of equivalents is provided in MPEP § 2181 through MPEP § 2186.

While it is appropriate to use the specification to determine what applicant intends a term to mean, a positive limitation from the specification cannot be read into a claim that does not itself impose that limitation. A broad interpretation of a claim by USPTO personnel will reduce the possibility that the claim, when issued, will be interpreted more broadly than is justified or intended. An applicant can always amend a claim during prosecution to better reflect the intended scope of the claim.

Finally, when evaluating the scope of a claim, every limitation in the claim must be considered. USPTO personnel may not dissect a claimed invention into discrete elements and then evaluate the elements in isolation. Instead, the claim as a whole must be considered. See, e.g., Diamond v. Diehr, 450 U.S. 175, 188-89, 209 USPQ 1, 9 (1981) (“In determining the eligibility of respondents’ claimed process for patent protection under § 101, their claims must be considered as a whole. It is inappropriate to dissect the claims into old and new elements and then to ignore the presence of the old elements in the analysis. This is particularly true in a process claim because a new combination of steps in a process may be patentable even though all the constituents of the combination were well known and in common use before the combination was made.”).

II.   CONDUCT A THOROUGH SEARCH OF THE PRIOR ART

Prior to evaluating the claimed invention under 35 U.S.C. 101, USPTO personnel are expected to conduct a thorough search of the prior art. Generally, a thorough search involves reviewing both U.S. and foreign patents and nonpatent literature. In many cases, the result of such a search will contribute to USPTO personnel’s understanding of the invention. Both claimed and unclaimed aspects of the invention described in the specification should be searched if there is a reasonable expectation that the unclaimed aspects may be later claimed. A search must take into account any structure or material described in the specification and its equivalents which correspond to the claimed means- (or step-) plus- function limitation, in accordance with 35 U.S.C. 112(f) or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 112, sixth paragraph and MPEP § 2181 through MPEP § 2186 .

III.   DETERMINE WHETHER THE CLAIMED INVENTION COMPLIES WITH 35 U.S.C. 101

A.   Consider the Breadth of 35 U.S.C. 101 Under Controlling Law

Section 101 of title 35, United States Code, provides:

Whoever invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof, may obtain a patent therefor, subject to the conditions and requirements of this title.

35 U.S.C. 101 defines four categories of inventions that Congress deemed to be the appropriate subject matter of a patent: processes, machines, manufactures and compositions of matter. The latter three categories define “things” or “products” while the first category defines “actions” (i.e., inventions that consist of a series of steps or acts to be performed). See 35 U.S.C. 100(b) (“The term ‘process’ means process, art, or method, and includes a new use of a known process, machine, manufacture, composition of matter, or material.”).

The subject matter which courts have found to be outside of, or exceptions to, the four statutory categories of invention is limited to abstract ideas, laws of nature and physical phenomena. Bilski v. Kappos, 561 U.S. ___, ___, 130 S. Ct. 3218, 3225, 95 USPQ2d 1001, ___ (2010) (citing Diamond v. Chakrabarty, 447 U.S. 303, 309, 206 USPQ 193, 197 (1980)). While this is easily stated, determining whether an applicant is seeking to patent an abstract idea, a law of nature or a physical phenomenon has proven to be challenging. These three exclusions recognize that subject matter that is not a practical application of an idea, a law of nature or a physical phenomenon is not patentable. See, e.g., Rubber-Tip Pencil Co. v. Howard, 87 U.S. (20 Wall.) 498, 507 (1874) (“idea of itself is not patentable, but a new device by which it may be made practically useful is”); Mackay Radio & Telegraph Co. v. Radio Corp. of America, 306 U.S. 86, 94, 40 USPQ 199, 202 (1939) (“While a scientific truth, or the mathematical expression of it, is not patentable invention, a novel and useful structure created with the aid of knowledge of scientific truth may be.”).

The courts have also held that a claim may not preempt abstract ideas, laws of nature or physical phenomena; i.e., one may not patent every “substantial practical application” of an abstract idea, law of nature or physical phenomenon. This is because such a patent would “in practical effect be a patent on the [abstract idea, law of nature or physical phenomenon] itself.” Gottschalk v. Benson, 409 U.S. 63, 71-72, 175 USPQ 673, 676 (1972). The concern over preemption was expressed as early as 1852. See Le Roy v. Tatham, 55 U.S. 156, 175 (1852) (“A principle, in the abstract, is a fundamental truth; an original cause; a motive; these cannot be patented, as no one can claim in either of them an exclusive right.”).

The Supreme Court in Bilski v. Kappos, 561 U.S. ___, 130 S. Ct. 3218, 95 USPQ2d 1001 (2010), underscored that the text of 35 U.S.C. 101 is expansive, specifying four independent categories of inventions eligible for protection, including processes, machines, manufactures, and compositions of matter. As stated by the Court, "[i]n choosing such expansive terms . . . modified by the comprehensive ‘any,’ Congress plainly contemplated that the patent laws would be given wide scope.") (quoting Diamond v. Chakrabarty, 447 U.S. 303, 308, 206 USPQ 193, 197 (1980)). The Court also made clear that business methods are not "categorically outside of § 101’s scope," stating that "a business method is simply one kind of ‘method’ that is, at least in some circumstances, eligible for patenting under § 101." Examiners are reminded that 35 U.S.C. 101 is not the sole tool for determining patentability; where a claim encompasses an abstract idea, 35 U.S.C. 112 , 35 U.S.C. 102 , and 35 U.S.C. 103 will provide additional tools for ensuring that the claim meets the conditions for patentability. As the Court made clear in Bilski:

The § 101 patent-eligibility inquiry is only a threshold test. Even if an invention qualifies as a process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, in order to receive the Patent Act’s protection the claimed invention must also satisfy ‘‘the conditions and requirements of this title.’’ § 101. Those requirements include that the invention be novel, see § 102, nonobvious, see § 103, and fully and particularly described, see § 112.

Therefore, examiners should avoid focusing on issues of patent-eligibility under 35 U.S.C. 101 to the detriment of considering an application for compliance with the requirements of 35 U.S.C. 11235 U.S.C. 102, and 35 U.S.C. 103, and should avoid treating an application solely on the basis of patent-eligibility under 35 U.S.C. 101 except in the most extreme cases.

See MPEP § 2106 for determining whether a claim is directed to patent-eligible subject matter, and MPEP § 2106.01 for further guidance regarding subject matter eligibility determinations during examination of process claims that involve laws of nature/natural correlations. Additionally, a claimed invention must be useful or have a utility that is specific, substantial and credible.

See MPEP § 2107 for a detailed discussion of the utility requirement.

IV.   EVALUATE APPLICATION FOR COMPLIANCE WITH 35 U.S.C. 112

A.   Determine Whether the Claimed Invention Complies with 35 U.S.C. 112(b) or Pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 112, Second Paragraph Requirements

35 U.S.C. 112(b) and the second paragraph of pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 112 contains two separate and distinct requirements: (A) that the claim(s) set forth the subject matter applicants regard as the invention, and (B) that the claim(s) particularly point out and distinctly claim the invention. An application will be deficient under the first requirement of 35 U.S.C. 112(b) or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 112, second paragraph when evidence including admissions, other than in the application as filed, shows that an applicant has stated what he or she regards the invention to be different from what is claimed (see MPEP § 2171 - MPEP § 2172.01).

An application fails to comply with the second requirement of 35 U.S.C. 112(b) or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 112, second paragraph when the claims do not set out and define the invention with a reasonable degree of precision and particularity. In this regard, the definiteness of the language must be analyzed, not in a vacuum, but always in light of the teachings of the disclosure as it would be interpreted by one of ordinary skill in the art. Applicant’s claims, interpreted in light of the disclosure, must reasonably apprise a person of ordinary skill in the art of the invention.

The scope of a “means” limitation is defined as the corresponding structure or material set forth in the written description and equivalents thereof. See MPEP § 2181 through MPEP § 2186. See MPEP § 2173 et seq. for a discussion of a variety of issues pertaining to the 35 U.S.C. 112(b) or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 112, second paragraph requirement that the claims particularly point out and distinctly claim the invention.

B.   Determine Whether the Claimed Invention Complies with 35 U.S.C. 112(a) or 35 U.S.C. 112, First Paragraph Requirements

35 U.S.C. 112(a) and the first paragraph of pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 112 contain three separate and distinct requirements:

(A) adequate written description,

(B) enablement, and

(C) best mode.

 

1.   Adequate Written Description

For the written description requirement, an applicant’s specification must reasonably convey to those skilled in the art that the applicant was in possession of the claimed invention as of the date of invention. See MPEP § 2163 for further guidance with respect to the evaluation of a patent application for compliance with the written description requirement.

2.   Enabling Disclosure

An applicant’s specification must enable a person skilled in the art to make and use the claimed invention without undue experimentation. The fact that experimentation is complex, however, will not make it undue if a person of skill in the art typically engages in such complex experimentation.

See MPEP § 2164 et seq. for detailed guidance with regard to the enablement requirement of 35 U.S.C. 112(a) and pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 112, first paragraph.

3.   Best Mode

Determining compliance with the best mode requirement requires a two-prong inquiry:

(1) at the time the application was filed, did the inventor possess a best mode for practicing the invention; and

(2) if the inventor did possess a best mode, does the written description disclose the best mode such that a person skilled in the art could practice it.

See MPEP § 2165 et seq. for additional guidance. Deficiencies related to disclosure of the best mode for carrying out the claimed invention are not usually encountered during examination of an application because evidence to support such a deficiency is seldom in the record. Fonar Corp. v. General Elec. Co., 107 F.3d 1543, 1548-49, 41 USPQ2d at 1804-05.

 

V.   DETERMINE WHETHER THE CLAIMED INVENTION COMPLIES WITH 35 U.S.C. 102 AND 103

Reviewing a claimed invention for compliance with 35 U.S.C. 102 and 35 U.S.C.103 begins with a comparison of the claimed subject matter to what is known in the prior art. See MPEP § 2131 - MPEP § 2146 and for specific guidance on patentability determinations under 35 U.S.C. 102 and 35 U.S.C. 103. If no differences are found between the claimed invention and the prior art, then the claimed invention lacks novelty and is to be rejected by USPTO personnel under35 U.S.C. 102. Once differences are identified between the claimed invention and the prior art, those differences must be assessed and resolved in light of the knowledge possessed by a person of ordinary skill in the art. Against this backdrop, one must determine whether the invention would have been obvious. If not, the claimed invention satisfies 35 U.S.C. 103.

VI.   CLEARLY COMMUNICATE FINDINGS, CONCLUSIONS AND THEIR BASES

Once USPTO personnel have concluded the above analyses of the claimed invention under all the statutory provisions, including 35 U.S.C. 10135 U.S.C. 112,35 U.S.C. 102, and 35 U.S.C. 103, they should review all the proposed rejections and their bases to confirm that they are able to set forth a prima facie case of unpatentability. Only then should any rejection be imposed in an Office action. The Office action should clearly communicate the findings, conclusions and reasons which support them.

2104    Patentable Subject Matter [R-08.2012]

35 U.S.C. 101   Inventions patentable

Whoever invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof may obtain a patent therefor, subject to the conditions and requirements of this title.

35 U.S.C. 101 has been interpreted as imposing three requirements.

First, whoever invents or discovers an eligible invention may obtain only ONE patent therefor. This requirement forms the basis for statutory double patenting rejections when two applications claim the same invention, i.e. claim identical subject matter. See MPEP § 804 for a full discussion of the prohibition against double patenting.

Second, a claimed invention must fall within one of the four eligible categories of invention, i.e., process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, as these categories have been interpreted by the courts. See MPEP § 2106 for a detailed discussion of the subject matter eligibility requirements and MPEP § 2105 for special considerations for living subject matter.

Third, a claimed invention must be useful or have a utility that is specific, substantial and credible. See MPEP § 2107 for a detailed discussion of the utility requirement.

2105    Patentable Subject Matter — Living Subject Matter [R-08.2012]

The decision of the Supreme Court in Diamond v. Chakrabarty, 447 U.S. 303, 206 USPQ 193 (1980), held that microorganisms produced by genetic engineering are not excluded from patent protection by 35 U.S.C. 101. It is clear from the Supreme Court decision and opinion that the question of whether or not an invention embraces living matter is irrelevant to the issue of patentability. The test set down by the Court for patentable subject matter in this area is whether the living matter is the result of human intervention.

In view of this decision, the Office has issued these guidelines as to how 35 U.S.C. 101 will be interpreted.

The Supreme Court made the following points in the Chakrabarty opinion:

1. “Guided by these canons of construction, this Court has read the term ‘manufacture’ in § 101 in accordance with its dictionary definition to mean ‘the production of articles for use from raw materials prepared by giving to these materials new forms, qualities, properties, or combinations whether by hand labor or by machinery.’”

2. “In choosing such expansive terms as ‘manufacture’ and ‘composition of matter,’ modified by the comprehensive ‘any,’ Congress plainly contemplated that the patent laws would be given wide scope.”

3. “The Act embodied Jefferson’s philosophy that ‘ingenuity should receive a liberal encouragement.’ 5 Writings of Thomas Jefferson, at 75-76. SeeGraham v. John Deere Co., 383 U.S. 1, 7-10, 148 USPQ459, 462-464 (1966). Subsequent patent statutes in 1836, 1870, and 1874 employed this same broad language. In 1952, when the patent laws were recodified, Congress replaced the word ‘art’ with ‘process,’ but otherwise left Jefferson’s language intact. The Committee Reports accompanying the 1952 act inform us that Congress intended statutory subject matter to ‘include any thing under the sun that is made by man.’ S. Rep. No. 1979, 82d Cong., 2d Sess., 5 (1952).”

4. “This is not to suggest that § 101 has no limits or that it embraces every discovery. The laws of nature, physical phenomena, and abstract ideas have been held not patentable.”

5. “Thus, a new mineral discovered in the earth or a new plant found in the wild is not patentable subject matter. Likewise, Einstein could not patent his celebrated law that E=mc2; nor could Newton have patented the law of gravity.”

6. “His claim is not to a hitherto unknown natural phenomenon, but to a nonnaturally occurring manufacture or composition of matter __ a product of human ingenuity ‘having a distinctive name, character [and] use.’”

7. “Congress thus recognized that the relevant distinction was not between living and inanimate things, but between products of nature, whether living or not, and human-made inventions. Here, respondent’s microorganism is the result of human ingenuity and research.”

8. After reference to Funk Seed Co. & Kalo Co., 333 U.S. 127, 76 USPQ 280 (1948), “Here, by contrast, the patentee has produced a new bacterium with markedly different characteristics from any found in nature and one having the potential for significant utility. His discovery is not nature’s handiwork, but his own; accordingly it is patentable subject matter under § 101.”

A review of the Court statements above as well as the whole Chakrabarty opinion reveals:

  • (A) That the Court did not limit its decision to genetically engineered living organisms;
  • (B) The Court enunciated a very broad interpretation of “manufacture” and “composition of matter” in 35 U.S.C. 101 (Note esp. quotes 1, 2, and 3 above);
  • (C) The Court set forth several tests for weighing whether patentable subject matter under 35 U.S.C. 101 is present, stating (in quote 7 above) that:

The relevant distinction was not between living and inanimate things but between products of nature, whether living or not, and human-made inventions.

The tests set forth by the Court are (note especially the italicized portions):

  • (A) “The laws of nature, physical phenomena and abstract ideas” are not patentable subject matter.
  • (B) A “nonnaturally occurring manufacture or composition of matter — a product of human ingenuity —having a distinctive name, character, [and] use” is patentable subject matter.
  • (C) “[A] new mineral discovered in the earth or a new plant found in the wild is not patentable subject matter. Likewise, Einstein could not patent his celebrated E=mc2; nor could Newton have patented the law of gravity. Such discoveries are ‘manifestations of... nature, free to all men and reserved exclusively to none.’”
  • (D) “[T]he production of articles for use from raw materials prepared by giving to these materials new forms, qualities, properties, or combinations whether by hand labor or by machinery” [emphasis added] is a “manufacture” under 35 U.S.C. 101.

Following the reasoning in Chakrabarty, the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences determined that animals are patentable subject matter under 35 U.S.C. 101. In Ex parte Allen, 2 USPQ2d 1425 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1987), the Board decided that a polyploid Pacific coast oyster could have been the proper subject of a patent under 35 U.S.C. 101 if all the criteria for patentability were satisfied. Shortly after the Allen decision, the Commissioner of Patents and Trademarks issued a notice (Animals - Patentability, 1077 O.G. 24, April 21, 1987) that the Patent and Trademark Office would now consider nonnaturally occurring, nonhuman multicellular living organisms, including animals, to be patentable subject matter within the scope of 35 U.S.C. 101.

The Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (AIA), Pub. L. 112-29, sec. 33(a), 125 Stat. 284, states:

Notwithstanding any other provision of law, no patent may issue on a claim directed to or encompassing a human organism.

The legislative history of the AIA includes the following statement, which sheds light on the meaning of this provision:

[T]he U.S. Patent Office has already issued patents on genes, stems cells, animals with human genes, and a host of non-biologic products used by humans, but it has not issued patents on claims directed to human organisms, including human embryos and fetuses. My amendment would not affect the former, but would simply affirm the latter.

157 Cong. Rec. E1177-04 (testimony of Representative Dave Weldon previously presented in connection with the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2004, Pub. L. 108-199, ' 634, 118 Stat. 3, 101, and later resubmitted with regard to the AIA; see 149 Cong. Rec. E2417-01). Thus, section 33(a) of the AIA codifies existing Office policy that human organisms are not patent-eligible subject matter.

If the broadest reasonable interpretation of the claimed invention as a whole encompasses a humanorganism, then a rejection under 35 U.S.C. 101 and AIA sec. 33(a) must be made indicating that the claimed invention is directed to a human organism and is therefore nonstatutory subject matter. Form paragraph7.04.01 may be used; see MPEP § 706.03(a). Furthermore, the claimed invention must be examined with regard to all issues pertinent to patentability, and any applicable rejections under 35 U.S.C. 102103, or 112 must also be made.

With respect to plant subject matter, the Supreme Court held that patentable subject matter under 35 U.S.C. 101 includes newly developed plant breeds, even though plant protection is also available under the Plant Patent Act (35 U.S.C. 161 - 164) and the Plant Variety Protection Act (7 U.S.C. 2321 et. seq.). J.E.M. Ag Supply, Inc. v. Pioneer Hi-Bred Int’ l, Inc., 534 U.S. 124, 143-46, 122 S.Ct. 593, 605-06, 60 USPQ2d 1865, 1874 (2001) (The scope of coverage of 35 U.S.C. 101 is not limited by the Plant Patent Act or the Plant Variety Protection Act; each statute can be regarded as effective because of its different requirements and protections). In analyzing the history of the Plant Patent Act of 1930, the Court stated: “In enacting the Plant Patent Act, Congress addressed both of these concerns [the concern that plants, even those artificially bred, were products of nature for purposes of the patent law and the concern that plants were thought not amenable to the written description]. It explained at length its belief that the work of the plant breeder ‘in aid of nature’ was patentable invention. S. Rep. No. 315, 71st Cong., 2d Sess., 6-8 (1930); H.R. Rep. No. 1129, 71st Cong., 2d Sess., 7-9 (1930).” See also Ex parte Hibberd, 227 USPQ 443 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1985), wherein the Board held that plant subject matter may be the proper subject of a patent under 35 U.S.C. 101 even though such subject matter may be protected under the Plant Patent Act or the Plant Variety Protection Act.

2106    Patent Subject Matter Eligibility [R-11.2013]

There are two criteria for determining subject matter eligibility and both must be satisfied. The claimed invention (1) must be directed to one of the four statutory categories, and (2) must not be wholly directed to subject matter encompassing a judicially recognized exception, as defined below. The following two step analysis is used to evaluate these criteria.

I.   THE FOUR CATEGORIES OF STATUTORY SUBJECT MATTER

Step 1: Is the claim directed to one of the four patent-eligible subject matter categories: process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter? The subject matter of the claim must be directed to one of the four subject matter categories. If it is not, the claim is not eligible for patent protection and should be rejected under 35 U.S.C. 101, for at least this reason. A summary of the four categories of invention, as they have been defined by the courts, are:

  • i. Process – an act, or a series of acts or steps. See Gottschalk v. Benson, 409 U.S. 63, 70, 175 USPQ 673, 676 (1972) ("A process is a mode of treatment of certain materials to produce a given result. It is an act, or a series of acts, performed upon the subject-matter to be transformed and reduced to a different state or thing." (emphasis added) (quoting Cochrane v. Deener, 94 U.S. 780, 788, 24 L. Ed. 139, 1877 Dec. Comm'r Pat. 242 (1876))); NTP, Inc. v. Research in Motion, Ltd., 418 F.3d 1282, 1316, 75 USPQ2d 1763, 1791 (Fed. Cir. 2005) ("[A] process is a series of acts." (quoting Minton v. Natl. Ass’n. of Securities Dealers, 336 F.3d 1373, 336 F.3d 1373, 1378, 67 USPQ2d 1614, 1681 (Fed. Cir. 2003))). See also 35 U.S.C. 100(b)Bilski v. Kappos, 561 U.S. ___, 130 S. Ct. 3218, 95 USPQ2d 1001 (2010).
  • ii. Machine – a concrete thing, consisting of parts, or of certain devices and combination of devices. Burr v. Duryee, 68 U.S. (1 Wall.) 531, 570, 17 L. Ed. 650 (1863). This includes every mechanical device or combination of mechanical powers and devices to perform some function and produce a certain effect or result. Corning v. Burden, 56 U.S. 252, 267, 14 L. Ed. 683 (1854).
  • iii. Manufacture – an article produced from raw or prepared materials by giving to these materials new forms, qualities, properties, or combinations, whether by handlabor or by machinery. Diamond v. Chakrabarty, 447 U.S. 303, 308, 206 USPQ 193, 197 (1980) (emphasis added) (quoting Am. Fruit Growers, Inc. v. Brogdex Co., 283 U.S. 1, 11, 51 S. Ct. 328, 75 L. Ed. 801, 1931 (Dec. Comm'r Pat. 711 (1931))).
  • iv. Composition of matter – all compositions of two or more substances and all composite articles, whether they be the results of chemical union, or of mechanical mixture, or whether they be gases, fluids, powders or solids, for example. Chakrabarty, 447 U.S. at 308, 206 USPQ at 197.

 

Non-limiting examples of claims that are not directed to one of the statutory categories:

  • i. transitory forms of signal transmission (for example, a propagating electrical or electromagnetic signal per se), In re Nuijten, 500 F.3d 1346, 1357, 84 USPQ2d 1495, 1503 (Fed. Cir. 2007);
  • ii. a naturally occurring organism, Chakrabarty, 447 U.S. at 308, 206 USPQ at 197;
  • iii. a human per se, The Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (AIA), Public Law 112-29, sec. 33, 125 Stat. 284 (September 16, 2011);
  • iv. a legal contractual agreement between two parties, see In re Ferguson, 558 F.3d 1359, 1364, 90 USPQ2d 1035, 1039-40 (Fed. Cir. 2009) (cert. denied);
  • v. a game defined as a set of rules;
  • vi. a computer program per se, Gottschalk v. Benson, 409 U.S. at 72, 175 USPQ at 676-77;
  • vii. a company, Ferguson, 558 F.3d at 1366, USPQ at 1040; and
  • viii. a mere arrangement of printed matter, In re Miller, 418 F.2d 1392, 1396, 164 USPQ 46, 49 (CCPA 1969).

 

A claim that covers both statutory and non-statutory embodiments (under the broadest reasonable interpretation of the claim when read in light of the specification and in view of one skilled in the art) embraces subject matter that is not eligible for patent protection and therefore is directed to non-statutory subject matter. Such claims fail the first step and should be rejected under 35 U.S.C. 101, for at least this reason.

For example, machine readable media can encompass non-statutory transitory forms of signal transmission, such as, a propagating electrical or electromagnetic signal per se. See In re Nuijten, 500 F.3d 1346, 84 USPQ2d 1495 (Fed. Cir. 2007). When the broadest reasonable interpretation of machine readable media in light of the specification as it would be interpreted by one of ordinary skill in the art encompasses transitory forms of signal transmission, a rejection under 35 U.S.C. 101 as failing to claim statutory subject matter would be appropriate. Thus, a claim to a computer readable medium that can be a compact disc or a carrier wave covers a non-statutory embodiment and therefore should be rejected under 35 U.S.C. 101 as being directed to non-statutory subject matter.

If the claimed invention is clearly not within one of the four categories, it is not patent eligible. However, when the claim fails under Step 1 and it appears from applicant’s disclosure that the claim could be amended to be directed to a statutory category, Step 2 below should still be conducted.

II.   JUDICIAL EXCEPTIONS TO THE FOUR CATEGORIES

Step 2: Does the claim wholly embrace a judicially recognized exception, which includes laws of nature, physical phenomena, and abstract ideas, or is it a particular practical application of a judicial exception? See Bilski v. Kappos, 561 U.S. ___, ___, 130 S. Ct. 3218, 3225, 95 USPQ2d 1001, 1005-06 (2010) (stating “The Court's precedents provide three specific exceptions to § 101's broad patent-eligibility principles: ‘laws of nature, physical phenomena, and abstract ideas.’”) (quoting Diamond v. Chakrabarty, 447 U.S. 303, 309, 206 USPQ 193, 197 (1980)).

Determining whether the claim falls within one of the four enumerated categories of patentable subject matter recited in 35 U.S.C. 101 (i.e., process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter) does not end the analysis because claims directed to nothing more than abstract ideas (such as mathematical algorithms), natural phenomena, and laws of nature are not eligible for patent protection. Diamond v. Diehr, 450 U.S. 175, 185, 209 USPQ 1, 7 (1981); accord, e.g., Chakrabarty, 447 U.S. at 309, 206 USPQ at 197; Parker v. Flook, 437 U.S. 584, 589, 198 USPQ 193, 197 (1978); Benson, 409 U.S. at 67-68 , 175 USPQ at 675. “A principle, in the abstract, is a fundamental truth; an original cause; a motive; these cannot be patented, as no one can claim in either of them an exclusive right.” Le Roy v. Tatham,55 U.S. (14 How.) 156, 175 (1852). Instead, such “manifestations of laws of nature” are “part of the storehouse of knowledge,” “free to all men and reserved exclusively to none.” Funk Bros. Seed Co. v. Kalo Inoculant Co., 333 U.S. 127, 130, 76 USPQ 280, 281 (1948).

Thus, “a new mineral discovered in the earth or a new plant found in the wild is not patentable subject matter” under Section 101Chakrabarty, 447 U.S. at 309, 206 USPQ at 197. “Likewise, Einstein could not patent his celebrated law that E=mc2; nor could Newton have patented the law of gravity.” Id. Nor can one patent “a novel and useful mathematical formula,” Flook, 437 U.S. at 585, 198 USPQ at 195; electromagnetism or steam power, O’Reilly v. Morse, 56 U.S. (15 How.) 62, 113-114 (1853); or “[t]he qualities of ... bacteria, ... the heat of the sun, electricity, or the qualities of metals,” Funk, 333 U.S. at 130, 76 USPQ at 281; see Le Roy, 55 U.S. (14 How.) at 175.

While abstract ideas, physical phenomena, and laws of nature are not eligible for patenting, methods and products employing abstract ideas, physical phenomena, and laws of nature to perform a real-world function may well be. In evaluating whether a claim meets the requirements of 35 U.S.C. 101, the claim must be considered as a whole to determine whether it is for a particular application of an abstract idea, physical phenomenon, or law of nature, and not for the abstract idea, physical phenomenon, or law of nature itself. Diehr, 450 U.S. at 188, 209 USPQ at 7.

In addition to the terms laws of nature, physical phenomena, and abstract ideas, judicially recognized exceptions have been described using various other terms, including natural phenomena, scientific principles, systems that depend on human intelligence alone, disembodied concepts, mental processes and disembodied mathematical algorithms and formulas, for example. The exceptions reflect the courts’ view that the basic tools of scientific and technological work are not patentable.

The claimed subject matter must not be wholly directed to a judicially recognized exception. If it is, the claim is not eligible for patent protection and should be rejected under 35 U.S.C. 101. However, a claim that is limited to a particular practical application of a judicially recognized exception is eligible for patent protection. A “practical application” relates to how a judicially recognized exception is applied in a real world product or a process, and not merely to the result achieved by the invention. When subject matter has been reduced to a particular practical application having a real world use, the claimed practical application is evidence that the subject matter is not abstract (e.g., not purely mental) and does not encompass substantially all uses (preemption) of a law of nature or a physical phenomenon. See, e.g., Ultramercial v. Hulu, 657 F.3d 1323, 1329, 100 USPQ2d 1140,1145 (Fed. Cir. 2011) (stating that the patent “does not claim a mathematical algorithm, a series of purely mental steps, or any similarly abstract concept. It claims a particular method . . . a practical application of the general concept.”).

A.   Practical Application of Machines, Manufactures, and Compositions of Matter (Products)

If the claimed product falls within one of the three product categories of invention and does not recite judicially excepted subject matter, e.g., a law of nature, a physical phenomenon, or an abstract idea, it qualifies as eligible subject matter. If a judicial exception is recited in the claim, it must be determined if the judicially excepted subject matter has been practically applied in the product.

Eligible machines, manufactures, and compositions of matter are non-naturally occurring products typically formed of tangible elements or parts that embody a particular or specific, tangible practical application of the invention. Thus, for these product categories, a particular practical application is often self-evident based on the claim limitations that define the tangible embodiment. This is because an idea that is tangibly applied to a structure is no longer abstract, and a law of nature or physical phenomenon that is practically applied to a structure is limited to that particular application of the concept. For example, a cup is the tangible application of the abstract idea of containing a liquid and is one limited embodiment of that idea (which is no longer abstract). As another example, a magnetic door latch is the tangible application of the concept of magnetism and does not wholly embrace the concept of magnetism but, rather, is one limited application of the concept.

A claim that includes terms that imply that the invention is directed to a product, for instance by reciting “a machine comprising…”, but fails to include tangible limitations in accordance with its broadest reasonable interpretation is not limited to a practical application, but rather wholly embraces or encompasses the concept upon which the invention is based. This is impermissible as such claim coverage would extend to every way of applying the abstract idea, law of nature or physical phenomenon.

A claim that includes judicially excepted subject matter and whose broadest reasonable interpretation is directed to a man-made tangible embodiment (i.e., structure) with a real world use is limited to a practical application (the subject matter has been practically applied). The reason is that the claim as a whole must be evaluated for eligibility in the same manner that a claim as a whole is evaluated for patentability under 35 U.S.C. 102103 and 112.

Once a practical application has been established, the limited occurrence of preemption must be evaluated to determine whether the claim impermissibly covers substantially all practical applications of the judicially excepted subject matter. If so, the claim is not patent-eligible. If the claim covers only a particular practical application of the judicially excepted subject matter, it is patent eligible.

The following examples show the difference between a tangible embodiment that is evidence of a particular practical application and an abstract concept that has no practical application.

 

  • (a) A claim that is directed to a machine comprising a plurality of structural elements that work together in a defined combination based on a mathematical relationship, such as a series of gears, pulleys and belts, possesses structural limitations that show that it is a tangible embodiment, providing evidence that the mathematical relationship has been applied (a practical application). Additionally, that tangible embodiment is limited by the claimed structure and would not cover all substantial practical uses of the mathematical relationship. The claim would be eligible for patent protection.
  • (b) On the other hand, a claim that is directed to a machine (“What is claimed is a machine that operates in accordance with F=ma.”) and includes no tangible structural elements under the broadest reasonable interpretation, covers the operating principle based on a mathematical relationship with no limits on the claim scope. Thus, as no tangible embodiment is claimed, there would be no evidence of a practical application. The claim would wholly embrace the mathematical concept of F=ma and would not be eligible subject matter.
  • (c) As another example, a claim to a non-transitory, tangible computer readable storage medium per se that possesses structural limitations under the broadest reasonable interpretation standard to qualify as a manufacture would be patent-eligible subject matter. Adding additional claim limitations to the medium, such as executable instructions or stored data, to such a statutory eligible claim would not render the medium non-statutory, so long as the claim as a whole has a real world use and the medium does not cover substantially all practical uses of a judicial exception. The claim as a whole remains a tangible embodiment and qualifies as a manufacture. As explained above, the additional claim limitations would be evaluated in terms of whether they distinguish over the prior art.

 

B.   Practical Application of Processes (Methods)

The Supreme Court in Bilski v. Kappos, 561 U.S. ___, 130 S. Ct. 3218, 95 USPQ2d 1001 (2010), clarified the requirements for a claim to be a statutory process. Not every claimed method qualifies as a statutory process. A process claim, to be statutory under 35 U.S.C. 101, must be limited to a particular practical application. This ensures that the process is not simply claiming an abstract idea, or substantially all practical uses of (preempting) a law of nature, or a physical phenomenon. See MPEP § 2106.01 for further guidance regarding subject matter eligibility determinations during examination of process claims that involve laws of nature/natural correlations.

A claim that attempts to patent an abstract idea is ineligible subject matter under 35 U.S.C. 101. See Bilski, 561 U.S. at ___, 130 S. Ct. at 3230, 95 USPQ2d at 1009 (‘‘[A]ll members of the Court agree that the patent application at issue here falls outside of § 101 because it claims an abstract idea.’’). The abstract idea exception has deep roots in the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence. See Bilski, 561 U.S. at ___, 130 S. Ct. at 3225, 95 USPQ2d at 1006 (citing Le Roy v. Tatham,55 U.S. (14 How.) 156, 174–175 (1853)).

Bilski reaffirmed Diehr’s holding that "while an abstract idea, law of nature, or mathematical formula could not be patented, ‘an application of a law of nature or mathematical formula to a known structure or process may well be deserving of patent protection.’" See Bilski, 561 U.S. at ___, 130 S. Ct. at 3230, 95 USPQ2d at 1010 (quoting Diamond v. Diehr, 450 U.S. 175, 187 (1981)) (emphasis in original). The recitation of some structure, such as a machine, or the recitation of some transformative component will in most cases limit the claim to such an application. However, not all such recitations necessarily save the claim: "Flook established that limiting an abstract idea to one field of use or adding token postsolution components did not make the concept patentable." See Bilski, 561 U.S. at ___, 130 S. Ct. at 3231, 95 USPQ2d at 1010. Moreover, the fact that the steps of a claim might occur in the "real world" does not necessarily save it from a 35 U.S.C. 101 rejection. Thus, the Bilski claims were said to be drawn to an "abstract idea" despite the fact that they included steps drawn to initiating transactions. The "abstractness" is in the sense that there are no limitations as to the mechanism for entering into the transactions.

Consistent with the foregoing, Bilski holds that the following claim is abstract:

1. A method for managing the consumption risk costs of a commodity sold by a commodity provider at a fixed price comprising the steps of:

  • (a) Initiating a series of transactions between said commodity provider and consumers of said commodity wherein said consumers purchase said commodity at a fixed rate based upon historical averages, said fixed rate corresponding to a risk position of said consumer;
  • (b) Identifying market participants for said commodity having a counter-risk position to said consumers; and
  • (c) Initiating a series of transactions between said commodity provider and said market participants at a second fixed rate such that said series of market participant transactions balances the risk position of said series of consumer transactions.

 

Specifically, the Court explains:

The concept of hedging, described in claim 1 and reduced to a mathematical formula in claim 4, is an unpatentable abstract idea, just like the algorithms at issue in Benson and Flook. Allowing petitioners to patent risk hedging would preempt use of this approach in all fields, and would effectively grant a monopoly over an abstract idea.

Bilski also held that the additional, narrowing, limitations in the dependent claims were mere field of use limitations or insignificant postsolution components, and that adding these limitations did not make the claims patent-eligible. Claims 1–9 in Bilski are examples of claims that run afoul of the abstract idea exception. The day after deciding Bilski, the Supreme Court denied certiorari in Ferguson v. Kappos, U.S. Supreme Court No. 09–1501, while granting, vacating, and remanding two other Federal Circuit 35 U.S.C. 101 cases. The denial of certiorari left intact the rejection of all of Ferguson’s claims. Although the Federal Circuit had applied the machine-or-transformation test to reject Ferguson’s process claims, the Supreme Court’s disposition of Ferguson makes it likely that the Ferguson claims also run afoul of the abstract idea exception. A representative Ferguson claim is:

1. A method of marketing a product, comprising:

 

  • Developing a shared marketing force, said shared marketing force including at least marketing channels, which enable marketing a number of related products;
  • Using said shared marketing force to market a plurality of different products that are made by a plurality of different autonomous producing company [sic], so that different autonomous companies, having different ownerships, respectively produce said related products;
  • Obtaining a share of total profits from each of said plurality of different autonomous producing companies in return for said using; and
  • Obtaining an exclusive right to market each of said plurality of products in return for said using.

 

The following guidance presents factors that are to be considered when evaluating patent-eligibility of method claims. The factors include inquiries from the machine-or-transformation test, which remains a useful investigative tool, and inquiries gleaned from Supreme Court precedent. See In re Bilski, 545 F.3d 943, 954, 88 USPQ2d 1385, 1391 (Fed. Cir. 2009) (stating that “[a] claimed process is surely patent-eligible under § 101 if: (1) it is tied to a particular machine or apparatus, or (2) it transforms a particular article into a different state or thing.”); and Bilski, 561 U.S. at ___, 130 S. Ct. at 3227, 95 USPQ2d at 1007 (stating, “This Court's precedents establish that the machine- or-transformation test is a useful and important clue, an investigative tool, for determining whether some claimed inventions are processes under § 101. The machine-or-transformation test is not the sole test for deciding whether an invention is a patent-eligible ‘process.’”).

While the Supreme Court in Bilski did not set forth detailed guidance, there are many factors to be considered when determining whether there is sufficient evidence to support a determination that a method claim is directed to an abstract idea. The following factors are intended to be useful examples and are not intended to be exclusive or limiting. It is recognized that new factors may be developed, particularly for emerging technologies. It is anticipated that the factors will be modified and changed to take into account developments in precedential case law and to accommodate prosecution issues that may arise in implementing this new practice.

Where the claim is written in the form of a method and is potentially a patentable process, as defined in 35 U.S.C. 100(b), the claim is patent-eligible so long as it is not disqualified as one of the exceptions to 35 U.S.C. 101’s broad patent-eligibility principles; i.e., laws of nature, physical phenomena, and abstract ideas.

Taking into account the following factors, the examiner should determine whether the claimed invention, viewed as a whole, is disqualified as being a claim to an abstract idea. Relevant factors—both those in favor of patent-eligibility and those against such a finding—should be weighed in making the determination. Factors that weigh in favor of patent-eligibility satisfy the criteria of the machine-or-transformation test or provide evidence that the abstract idea has been practically applied. Factors that weigh against patent-eligibility neither satisfy the criteria of the machine-or-transformation test nor provide evidence that the abstract idea has been practically applied. Each case will present different factors, and it is likely that only some of the factors will be present in each application. It would be improper to make a conclusion based on one factor while ignoring other factors.

With respect to the factors listed below, a “field-of-use” limitation does not impose actual boundaries on the scope of the claimed invention. A field-of-use limitation merely indicates that the method is for use in a particular environment, such as “for use with a machine” or “for transforming an article”, which would not require that the machine implement the method or that the steps of the method cause the article to transform. A field-of-use limitation does not impose a meaningful limit on the claimed invention. Insignificant “extra-solution” activity means activity that is not central to the purpose of the method invented by the applicant. For example, gathering data to use in the method when all applications of the method would require some form of data gathering would not impose a meaningful limit on the claim.

1.   Factors To Be Considered in an Abstract Idea Determination of a Method Claim

(a)   Whether the method involves or is executed by a particular machine or apparatus

“The machine-or-transformation test is a useful and important clue, and investigative tool, for determining whether some claimed inventions are processes under§ 101.” Bilski v. Kappos, 561 U.S. ___, ___, 130 S. Ct. 3218, 3227, 95 USPQ2d 1001, 1007 (2010). If so, the claims are less likely to be drawn to an abstract idea; if not, they are more likely to be so drawn. With respect to these factors, a “machine” is a concrete thing, consisting of parts, or of certain devices and combination of devices. This includes every mechanical device or combination of mechanical powers and devices to perform some function and produce a certain effect or result. This definition is interpreted broadly to include electrical, electronic, optical, acoustic, and other such devices that accomplish a function to achieve a certain result. An “apparatus” does not have a significantly different meaning from a machine and can include a machine or group of machines or a totality of means by which a designated function or specific task is executed.

Where a machine or apparatus is recited or inherent in a patent claim, the following factors are relevant:

(a) The particularity or generality of the elements of the machine or apparatus; i.e., the degree to which the machine in the claim can be specifically identified (not any and all machines). Incorporation of a particular machine or apparatus into the claimed method steps weighs toward eligibility.

For computer implemented processes, the “machine” is often disclosed as a general purpose computer. In these cases, the general purpose computer may be sufficiently “particular” when programmed to perform the process steps. Such programming creates a new machine because a general purpose computer, in effect, becomes a special purpose computer once it is programmed to perform particular functions pursuant to instructions from program software. In re Alappat,33 F.3d 1526, 1545, 31 USPQ 1545, 1558 (Fed. Cir. 1994); see also Ultramercial v. Hulu, 657 F.3d 1323, 1329, 100 USPQ2d 1140, 1145 (Fed. Cir. 2011) (stating “a programmed computer contains circuitry unique to that computer”). However, "adding a 'computer-aided' limitation to a claim covering an abstract concept, without more, is insufficient to render [a] patent claim eligible" where the claims "are silent as to how a computer aids the method, the extent to which a computer aids the method, or the significance of a computer to the performance of the method." DealerTrack v. Huber, 674 F.3d 1315, 1333, 101 USPQ2d 1325, 1339-40 (Fed. Cir. 2012). To qualify as a particular machine under the test, the claim must clearly convey that the computer is programmed to perform the steps of the method because such programming, in effect, creates a special purpose computer limited to the use of the particularly claimed combination of elements (i.e., the programmed instructions) performing the particularly claimed combination of functions. If the claim is so abstract and sweeping that performing the process as claimed would cover substantially all practical applications of a judicial exception, such as a mathematical algorithm, the claim would not satisfy the test as the machine would not be sufficiently particular.

(b) Whether the machine or apparatus implements the steps of the method. Integral use of a machine or apparatus to achieve performance of the method weighs toward eligibility, as compared to where the machine or apparatus is merely an object on which the method operates, which weighs against eligibility. See Cybersource v. Retail Decisions, 654 F.3d 1366, 99 USPQ2d 1960 (Fed. Cir. 2011) (“We are not persuaded by the appellant's argument that claimed method is tied to a particular machine because it ‘would not be necessary or possible without the Internet.’ . . . Regardless of whether "the Internet" can be viewed as a machine, it is clear that the Internet cannot perform the fraud detection steps of the claimed method”).

(c) Whether its involvement is extrasolution activity or a field-of-use, i.e., the extent to which (or how) the machine or apparatus imposes meaningful limits on the execution of the claimed method steps. Use of a machine or apparatus that contributes only nominally or insignificantly to the execution of the claimed method (e.g., in a data gathering step or in a field-of-use limitation) would weigh against eligibility. See Bilski, 561 U.S. at ___138 S. Ct. at 3230, 95 USPQ2d at 1009 (citing Parker v. Flook, 437 U.S. 584, 590, 198 USPQ 193, 197 (1978)), and Cybersource v. Retail Decisions, 654 F.3d 1366, 1375, 99 USPQ2d 1690, 1694 (Fed. Cir. 2011)(citations omitted) (“[N]othing in claim 3 requires an infringer to use the Internet to obtain that data . . . [t]he Internet is merely described as the source of the data. We have held that mere ‘[data-gathering] step[s] cannot make an otherwise nonstatutory claim statutory.’" 654 F.3d at 1375, 99 USPQ2d at 1694 (citation omitted).).

(b)   Whether performance of the claimed method results in or otherwise involves a transformation of a particular article

“[T]ransformation and reduction of an article ‘to a different state or thing’ is the clue to patentability of a process claim that does not include particular machines.”Bilski v. Kappos, 561 U.S. ___,___, 130 S. Ct. 3218, 3227, 95 USPQ2d 1001, 1007 (2010) (quoting Gottschalk v. Benson, 409 U.S. 63, 70, 175 USPQ 673, 676 (1972). If such a transformation exists, the claims are less likely to be drawn to an abstract idea; if not, they are more likely to be so drawn.

An “article” includes a physical object or substance. The physical object or substance must be particular, meaning it can be specifically identified. An article can also be electronic data that represents a physical object or substance. For the test, the data should be more than an abstract value. Data can be specifically identified by indicating what the data represents, the particular type or nature of the data, and/or how or from where the data was obtained.

“Transformation” of an article means that the “article” has changed to a different state or thing. Changing to a different state or thing usually means more than simply using an article or changing the location of an article. A new or different function or use can be evidence that an article has been transformed. Manufactures and compositions of matter are the result of transforming raw materials into something new with a different function or use. Purely mental processes in which thoughts or human based actions are “changed” are not considered an eligible transformation. For data, mere "manipulation of basic mathematical constructs [i.e,] the paradigmatic 'abstract idea'," has not been deemed a transformation. Cybersource v. Retail Decisions, 654 F.3d 1366, 1372 n.2, 99 USPQ2d 1690, 1695 n.2 (Fed. Cir. 2011)(quoting In re Warmerdam, 33 F.3d 1354, 1355, 1360 (Fed. Cir. 1994)). However, transformation of electronic data has been found when the nature of the data has been changed such that it has a different function or is suitable for a different use. In re Bilski, 545 F.3d 943, 962-63, 88 USPQ2d 1385, 1399 (Fed. Cir. 2009) (aff'd sub nom Bilski v. Kappos, 561 U.S. ___, 130 S. Ct. 3218, 95 USPQ2d 1001 (2010)).

Where a transformation occurs, the following factors are relevant:

(a) The particularity or generality of the transformation. The Supreme Court has stated that an invention comprising a process of “’tanning, dyeing, making waterproof cloth, vulcanizing India rubber [or] smelting ores’ . . . are instances . . . where the use of chemical substances or physical acts, such as temperature control, changes articles or materials [in such a manner that is] sufficiently definite to confine the patent monopoly within rather definite bounds.” Gottschalk v. Benson, 409 U.S. 63, 70, 175 USPQ 673, 676 (1972) (discussing Corning v. Burden, 15 How.(56 U.S.) 252, 267-68). A more particular transformation would weigh in favor of eligibility.

(b) The degree to which the recited article is particular; i.e., can be specifically identified (not any and all articles). A transformation applied to a generically recited article would weigh against eligibility.

(c) The nature of the transformation in terms of the type or extent of change in state or thing, for instance by having a different function or use, which would weigh toward eligibility, compared to merely having a different location, which would weigh against eligibility.

(d) The nature of the article transformed, i.e., whether it is an object or substance, weighing toward eligibility, compared to a concept such as a contractual obligation or mental judgment, which would weigh against eligibility.

(e) Whether its involvement is extrasolution activity or a field-of-use, i.e., the extent to which (or how) the transformation imposes meaningful limits on the execution of the claimed method steps. A transformation that contributes only nominally or insignificantly to the execution of the claimed method (e.g., in a data gathering step or in a field-of-use limitation) would weigh against eligibility.

(c)   Whether performance of the claimed method involves an application of a law of nature, even in the absence of a particular machine, apparatus, or transformation

An application of a law of nature may represent patent-eligible subject matter even in the absence of a particular machine, apparatus, or transformation. See, e.g., Bilski v. Kappos, 561 U.S. ___, ___, 130 S. Ct. 3218, 3227, 95 USPQ2d 1001, 1007 (2010) (stating that the Court had previously “explicitly declined to ‘hold that no process patent could ever qualify if it did not meet [machine or transformation] requirements.'”) (quoting Gottschalk v. Benson, 409 U.S. 63, 67, 175 USPQ 673, 676 (1972)). If such an application exists, the claims are less likely to be drawn to an abstract idea; if not, they are more likely to be so drawn. SeeMPEP § 2106.01 for further guidance regarding subject matter eligibility determinations during examination of process claims that involve laws of nature/natural correlations.

Where such an application is present, the following factors are relevant:

(a) The particularity or generality of the application. Application of a law of nature having broad applicability across many fields of endeavor weighs against eligibility, such as where the claim generically recites an effect of the law of nature or claims every mode of accomplishing that effect, such that the claim would monopolize a natural force or patent a scientific fact. See O'Reilly v. Morse, 56 U.S. 62 (1853)(finding unpatentable a claim for "the use of electromagnetism for transmitting signals at a distance"); The Telephone Cases, 126 U.S. 1, 209 (1888)(discussing a method of "transmitting vocal or other sound telepgraphically ... by causing electrical undulations, similar in form to the vibrations of the air accompanying the said vocal or other sounds," stating “[Bell] had detected a secret of nature . . . .[H]e proceeded promptly to patent, not only a particular method and apparatus for availing of that law, but also the right to avail of that law by any means whatever. Thus considered he has been able to monopolize a natural force, and patent a scientific fact.”).

(b) Whether the claimed method recites an application of a law of nature solely involving subjective determinations; e.g., ways to think about the law of nature. Application of a law of nature to a particular way of thinking about, or reacting to, a law of nature would weigh against eligibility. See The Telephone Cases, 126 U.S. at 210 (stating “[counsel for defendant] argued, that in all the cases upholding a claim for a process, the process was one capable of being sensually perceived, verified and proved by oath -- not as a matter of opinion, but as a matter of fact.”), Id. at 211 (discussing Tilghman v. Proctor, 102 U.S. 707 (1880) (“[t]here was a process, all of which lay within ordinary means of observation and verification.”).

(c) Whether its involvement is extrasolution activity or a field-of-use, i.e., the extent to which (or how) the application imposes meaningful limits on the execution of the claimed method steps. An application of the law of nature that contributes only nominally or insignificantly to the execution of the claimed method (e.g., in a data gathering step or in a field-of-use limitation) would weigh against eligibility.

(d)   Whether a general concept (which could also be recognized in such terms as a principle, theory, plan or scheme) is involved in executing the steps of the method

The presence of such a general concept can be a clue that the claim is drawn to an abstract idea. Where a general concept is present, the following factors are relevant:

(a) The extent to which use of the concept, as expressed in the method, would preempt its use in other fields; i.e., that the claim would effectively grant a monopoly over the concept. Bilski v. Kappos, 561 U.S. ___, ___, 130 S. Ct. 3218, 3231, 95 USPQ2d 1001, 1010 (2010).

(b) The extent to which the claim is so abstract and sweeping as to cover both known and unknown uses of the concept, and be performed through any existing or future-devised machinery, or even without any apparatus. Gottschalk v. Benson, 409 U.S. 63, 68, 175 USPQ 673, 676 (1972) (stating “[h]ere the process' claim is so abstract and sweeping as to cover both known and unknown uses of the BCD to pure binary conversion. The end use may (1) vary from the operation of a train to verification of drivers' licenses to researching the law books for precedents and (2) be performed through any existing machinery or future-devised machinery or without any apparatus”).

(c) The extent to which the claim would effectively cover all possible solutions to a particular problem; i.e., that the claim is a statement of the problem versus a description of a particular solution to the problem. See The Telephone Cases, 126 U.S. 1, 161-162 (1888) (discussing Tilghman v. Proctor, 102 U.S. 707 (1880) (“‘The claim of the patent [in Tilghman] is not for a mere principle.’ . . . In that case there was a problem. Find a way, if you can, to combine each atom of water with an atom of acid. If you can do that, then you can reach this important result of resolving the neutral fats into glycerine and acids. And Tilghman's solution of it was: Heat the water under such pressure that the water shall not pass into steam. This was his process; and he claimed, and the court justly allowed, great latitude in its application.”)).

(d) Whether the concept is disembodied or whether it is instantiated; i.e., implemented, in some tangible way. A concept that is well-instantiated weighs in favor of eligibility.

See, e.g., Bilski, 561 U.S. at ___, 138 S. Ct. at 3230, 95 USPQ2d at 1010 (stating that the Court in Diehr “concluded that because the claim was not ‘an attempt to patent a mathematical formula, but rather [was] an industrial process for the molding of rubber products,’ it fell within § 101’s patentable subject matter.” (citing Diehr, 450 U.S. at 192-93, 209 USPQ at 10)). Accord Research Corp. Technologies v. Microsoft Corp., 627 F.3d 859, 868-69, 97 USPQ2d 1274, 1281 (Fed. Cir. 2010) (stating that the claims here “‘do not seek to patent a mathematical formula’” but rather a process of halftoning in computer applications, presenting “functional and palpable applications in the field of computer technology” such that applicant’s claimed invention requires instantiation (in some claims) through “’'a ‘high contrast film,’ ‘a film printer,’ ‘a memory,’ and ‘printer and display devices’”); Ultramercial v. Hulu, 657 F.3d 1323, 1328, 100 USPQ2d 1140, 1144(Fed. Cir. 2011) (stating that the patent "does not simply claim the age-old idea that advertising can serve as currency, [but instead] a practical application of this idea.").

A concept that is not well-instantiated weighs against eligibility. See DealerTrack v. Huber, ___ F.3d ___, 101 USPQ2d 1325 (Fed. Cir. 2012) where in the court stated:

The claims are silent as to how a computer aids the method, the extent to which a computer aids the method, or the significance of a computer to the performance of the method. The undefined phrase "computer-aided" is no less abstract than the idea of a clearinghouse itself. Because the computer here "can be programmed to perform very different tasks in very different ways," it does not “play a significant part in permitting the claimed method to be performed.” Simply adding a “computer aided” limitation to a claim covering an abstract concept, without more, is insufficient to render the claim patent eligible... “In order for the addition of a machine to impose a meaningful limit on the scope of a claim, it must play a significant part in permitting the claimed method to be performed, rather than function solely as an obvious mechanism for permitting a solution to be achieved more quickly, i.e., through the utilization of a computer for performing calculations.”

674 F.3d at 1315, 1333, 101 USPQ2d at 1339-40 (citations omitted). Furthermore, limiting an abstract idea to one field of use or adding token postsolution components does not make the concept patentable.

(e) The mechanism(s) by which the steps are implemented; e.g., whether the performance of the process is observable and verifiable rather than subjective or imperceptible. Steps that are observable and verifiable weigh in favor of eligibility. The Telephone Cases, 126 U.S. at 211 (discussing Tilghman v. Proctor, 102 U.S. 707 (1880) (“[t]here was a process, all of which lay within ordinary means of observation and verification”).

(f) Examples of general concepts include, but are not limited to:

 

  • • Basic economic practices or theories (e.g., hedging, insurance, financial transactions, marketing);
  • • Basic legal theories (e.g., contracts, dispute resolution, rules of law);
  • • Mathematical concepts (e.g., algorithms, spatial relationships, geometry);
  • • Mental activity (e.g., forming a judgment, observation, evaluation, or opinion);
  • • Interpersonal interactions or relationships (e.g., conversing, dating);
  • • Teaching concepts (e.g., memorization, repetition);
  • • Human behavior (e.g., exercising, wearing clothing, following rules or instructions);
  • • Instructing ‘‘how business should be conducted.’’

 

See, e.g., Bilski, 138 S. Ct. at 3231 (stating “[t]he concept of hedging, described in claim 1 and reduced to a mathematical formula in claim 4, is an unpatentable abstract idea.”), In re Ferguson, 558 F.3d 1359, 90 USPQ2d 1035 (2009) (cert. denied Ferguson v. PTO, June 29, 2010)(finding ineligible “methods . . . directed to organizing business or legal relationships in the structuring of a sales force (or marketing company);” Benson, 409 U.S. at 67, 175 USPQ at 675 (stating “mental processes, and abstract intellectual concepts are not patentable, as they are the basic tools of scientific and technological work."); Bilski, 130 S. Ct. at 3231 (quoting Le Roy v. Tatham, 14 How. (55 U.S.) 156, 175 (“[a] principle, in the abstract, is a fundamental truth; an original cause; a motive; these cannot be patented, as no one can claim in either of them an exclusive right”)). See also Bilski, 130 S. Ct. at 3259 (Breyer, J. concurring).

2.   Making the Determination of Eligibility

Each of the factors relevant to the particular patent application should be weighed to determine whether the method is claiming an abstract idea by covering a general concept, or combination of concepts, or whether the method is limited to a particular practical application of the concept. The presence or absence of a single factor will not be determinative as the relevant factors need to be considered and weighed to make a proper determination as to whether the claim as a whole is drawn to an abstract idea such that the claim would effectively grant a monopoly over an abstract idea and be ineligible for patent protection.

If the factors indicate that the method claim is not merely covering an abstract idea, the claim is eligible for patent protection under 35 U.S.C. 101 and must be further evaluated for patentability under all of the statutory requirements, including utility and double patenting (35 U.S.C. 101); novelty (35 U.S.C. 102); non-obviousness (35 U.S.C. 103); and definiteness and adequate description, enablement, and best mode (35 U.S.C. 112). 35 U.S.C. 101 is merely a coarse filter and thus a determination of eligibility under 35 U.S.C. 101 is only a threshold question for patentability. 35 U.S.C. 102103 , and 112 are typically the primary tools for evaluating patentability unless the claim is truly abstract, see, e.g., Bilski v. Kappos, 561 U.S. ___, ___, 130 S. Ct. 3218, 3229, 95 USPQ2d 1001, 1008 (2010). (‘‘[S]ome business method patents raise special problems in terms of vagueness and suspect validity.’’).

If the factors indicate that the method claim is attempting to cover an abstract idea, the examiner will reject the claim under 35 U.S.C. 101, providing clear rationale supporting the determination that an abstract idea has been claimed, such that the examiner establishes a prima facie case of patent-ineligibility. The conclusion made by the examiner must be based on the evidence as a whole. In making a rejection or if presenting reasons for allowance when appropriate, the examiner should specifically point out the factors that are relied upon in making the determination. If a claim is rejected under 35 U.S.C. 101 on the basis that it is drawn to an abstract idea, the applicant then has the opportunity to explain why the claimed method is not drawn to an abstract idea. Specifically identifying the factors used in the analysis will allow the applicant to make specific arguments in response to the rejection if the applicant believes that the conclusion that the claim is directed to an abstract idea is in error.

III.   Establish on the Record a Prima Facie Case

USPTO personnel should review the totality of the evidence (e.g., the specification, claims, relevant prior art) before reaching a conclusion with regard to whether the claimed invention sets forth patent eligible subject matter. USPTO personnel must weigh the determinations made above to reach a conclusion as to whether it is more likely than not that the claimed invention as a whole either falls outside of one of the enumerated statutory classes or within one of the exceptions to statutory subject matter. “The examiner bears the initial burden … of presenting a prima facie case of unpatentability.” In re Oetiker, 977 F.2d 1443, 1445, 24 USPQ2d 1443, 1444 (Fed. Cir. 1992). If the record as a whole suggests that it is more likely than not that the claimed invention would be considered a practical application of an abstract idea, physical phenomenon, or law of nature, then USPTO personnel should not reject the claim.

After USPTO personnel identify and explain in the record the reasons why a claim is for an abstract idea, physical phenomenon, or law of nature with no practical application, then the burden shifts to the applicant to either amend the claim or make a showing of why the claim is eligible for patent protection. See, e.g., In re Brana, 51 F.3d 1560, 1566, 34 USPQ2d 1436, 1441 (Fed. Cir. 1995); see generally MPEP § 2107 (Utility Guidelines).

Under the principles of compact prosecution, each claim should be reviewed for compliance with every statutory requirement for patentability in the initial review of the application, even if one or more claims are found to be deficient with respect to the patent-eligibility requirement of 35 U.S.C. 101. Thus, Office personnel should state all non-cumulative reasons and bases for rejecting claims in the first Office action.

2106.01    Subject Matter Eligibility Analysis of Process Claims Involving Laws of Nature [R-11.2013]

I.   SUMMARY

The following guidance is intended for use in subject matter eligibility determinations during examination of process claims that involve laws of nature/natural correlations, such as the claims in Mayo Collaborative Services v. Prometheus Laboratories, Inc., 566 U.S. __, 132 S.Ct. 1289, 101 USPQ2d 1961 (2012)(Mayo). Process claims that are directed to abstract ideas, such as the claims in Bilski v. Kappos, 561 U.S. ___, 130 S. Ct. 3218, 95 USPQ2d 1001 (2010), should continue to be examined using the guidance set forth in MPEP § 2106.

The guidance set forth in this section should be followed for examination of process claims in which a law of nature, a natural phenomenon, or a naturally occurring relation or correlation (collectively referred to as a natural principle in the guidance) is a limiting element or step. In summary, process claims having a natural principle as a limiting element or step should be evaluated by determining whether the claim includes additional elements/steps or a combination of elements/steps that integrate the natural principle into the claimed invention such that the natural principle is practically applied, and are sufficient to ensure that the claim amounts to significantly more than the natural principle itself. If the claim as a whole satisfies this inquiry, the claim is directed to patent-eligible subject matter. If the claim as a whole does not satisfy this inquiry, it should be rejected under 35 U.S.C. 101 as being directed to non-statutory subject matter.

II.   ESSENTIAL INQUIRIES FOR SUBJECT MATTER ELIGIBILITY UNDER 35 U.S.C. 101

After determining what applicant invented and establishing the broadest reasonable interpretation of the claimed invention, conduct the following three inquiries on the claim as a whole to determine whether the claim is drawn to patent-eligible subject matter. Further details regarding each inquiry are provided below.

  • 1. Is the claimed invention directed to a process, defined as an act, or a series of acts or steps?

    If no, this analysis is not applicable. For product claims see MPEP § 2106. If yes, proceed to Inquiry 2.

  • 2. Does the claim focus on use of a law of nature, a natural phenomenon, or naturally occurring relation or correlation (collectively referred to as a natural principle herein)? (Is the natural principle a limiting feature of the claim?)

    If no, this analysis is complete, and the claim should be analyzed to determine if an abstract idea is claimed (see MPEP § 2106). If yes, proceed to Inquiry 3.

  • 3. Does the claim include additional elements/steps or a combination of elements/steps that integrate the natural principle into the claimed invention such that the natural principle is practically applied, and are sufficient to ensure that the claim amounts to significantly more than the natural principle itself? (Is it more than a law of nature plus the general instruction to simply “apply it”?)

    If no, the claim is not patent-eligible and should be rejected. If yes, the claim is patent-eligible, and the analysis is complete.

III.   DETAILED GUIDANCE FOR USING THE INQUIRIES

A.   Determining What Applicant Invented and the Broadest Reasonable Interpretation

Review the entire specification and claims to determine what applicant believes that he or she invented. Then review the claims to determine the boundaries of patent protection sought by the applicant and to understand how the claims relate to and define what the applicant has indicated is the invention.

Claim analysis begins by identifying and evaluating each claim limitation and then considering the claim as a whole. It is improper to dissect a claimed invention into discrete elements and then evaluate the elements in isolation because it is the combination of claim limitations functioning together that establish the boundaries of the invention and limit its scope.

Establish the broadest reasonable interpretation of the claims when read in light of the specification and from the view of one of ordinary skill in the art. This same interpretation must be used to evaluate the compliance with each statutory requirement. See MPEP § 2111 and § 2173 et seq. for further details of claim construction and compliance with 35 U.S.C. 112(b) and pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 112, second paragraph, respectively.

B.   INQUIRY 1: Process

Under this analysis, the claim must be drawn to a process. A process is defined as an act, or a series of acts or steps. Process claims are sometimes called method claims.

C.   INQUIRY 2: Natural Principle

Does the claim focus on use of a natural principle, i.e., a law of nature, a natural phenomenon, or naturally occurring relation or correlation? (Is the natural principle a limiting feature of the claim?)

A natural principle is the handiwork of nature and occurs without the hand of man. For example, the disinfecting property of sunlight is a natural principle. The relationship between blood glucose levels and diabetes is a natural principle. A correlation that occurs naturally when a man-made product, such as a drug, interacts with a naturally occurring substance, such as blood, is also considered a natural principle because, while it takes a human action to trigger a manifestation of the correlation, the correlation exists in principle apart from any human action. These are illustrative examples and are not intended to be limiting or exclusive.

For this analysis, a claim focuses on a natural principle when the natural principle is a limiting element or step. In that case, the claim must be analyzed (in Inquiry 3) to ensure that the claim is directed to a practical application of the natural principle that amounts to substantially more than the natural principle itself. So, for instance, a claim that recites a correlation used to make a diagnosis focuses on a natural principle and would require further analysis under Inquiry 3.

If a natural principle is not a limitation of the claim, the claim does not focus on the use of a natural principle and requires no further analysis under this procedure. If the claim focuses on an abstract idea, such as steps that can be performed entirely in one’s mind, methods of controlling human activity, or mere plans for performing an action, refer to MPEP § 2106 to evaluate eligibility.

D.   INQUIRY 3: Practical Application and Preemption

Does the claim include additional elements/steps or a combination of elements/steps that integrate the natural principle into the claimed invention such that the natural principle is practically applied, and are sufficient to ensure that the claim amounts to significantly more than the natural principle itself? (Is it more than a law of nature plus the general instruction to simply “apply it”?)

A claim that focuses on use of a natural principle must also include additional elements or steps to show that the inventor has practically applied, or added something significant to, the natural principle itself. See Mayo, 566 U.S.at __, 132 S.Ct. at 1294, 101 USPQ2d at 1966. To show integration, the additional elements or steps must relate to the natural principle in a significant way to impose a meaningful limit on the claim scope. The analysis turns on whether the claim has added enough to show a practical application. See id. at 1968. In other words, the claim cannot cover the natural principle itself such that it is effectively standing alone. A bare statement of a naturally occurring correlation, albeit a newly discovered natural correlation or very narrowly confined correlation, would fail this inquiry. See id. at 1965, 1971.

It is not necessary that every recited element or step integrate or relate to the natural principle as long as it is applied in some practical manner. However, there must be at least one additional element or step that applies, relies on or uses the natural principle so that the claim amounts to significantly more than the natural principle itself. Elements or steps that do not integrate the natural principle and are merely appended to it would not be sufficient. In other words, the additional elements or steps must not simply amount to insignificant extra-solution activity that imposes no meaningful limit on the performance of the claimed invention. See id. at 1966. For example, a claim to diagnosing an infection that recites the step of correlating the presence of a certain bacterium in a person’s blood with a particular type of bacterial infection with the additional step of recording the diagnosis on a chart would not be eligible because the step of recording the diagnosis on the chart is extra-solution activity that is unrelated to the correlation and does not integrate the correlation into the invention.

Along with integration, the additional steps must be sufficient to ensure that the claim amounts to significantly more than the natural principle itself by including one or more elements or steps that limit the scope of the claim and do more than generally describe the natural principle with generalized instructions to “apply it.” See id. at 1965, 1968. The additional elements or steps must narrow the scope of the claim such that others are not foreclosed from using the natural principle (a basic tool of scientific and technological work) for future innovation. Elements or steps that are well-understood, purely conventional, and routinely taken by others in order to apply the natural principle, or that only limit the use to a particular technological environment (field-of-use), would not be sufficiently specific. See id. at 1968. A claim with steps that add something of significance to the natural laws themselves would be eligible because it would confine its reach to particular patent-eligible applications of those laws, such as a typical patent on a new drug (including associated method claims) or a new way of using an existing drug. See id. at 1971; see also 35 U.S.C. 100(b). In other words, the claim must be limited so that it does not preempt the natural principle being recited by covering every substantial practical application of that principle. The process must have additional features that provide practical assurance that the process is more than a drafting effort designed to monopolize the law of nature itself. See id. at 1968.

A claim that would fail this inquiry includes, for example, a claim having a limitation that describes a law of nature and additional steps that must be taken in order to apply the law of nature by establishing the conditions under which the law of nature occurs such as a step of taking a sample recited at a high level of generality to test for a naturally occurring correlation. See id. at 1970. Adding steps to a natural biological process that only recite well-understood, routine, conventional activity previously engaged in by researchers in the field would not be sufficient. See id. at 1966, 1970. A combination of steps that amounts to nothing significantly more than an instruction to doctors to “apply” applicable natural laws when treating their patients would also not be sufficient. See id. at 1970.

Claims that do not include a natural principle as a limitation do not raise issues of subject matter eligibility under the law of nature exception. For example, a claim directed to simply administering a man-made drug that does not recite other steps or elements directed to use of a natural principle, such as a naturally occurring correlation, would be directed to eligible subject matter. Further, a claim that recites a novel drug or a new use of an existing drug, in combination with a natural principle, would be sufficiently specific to be eligible because the claim would amount to significantly more than the natural principle itself. However, a claim does not have to be novel or non-obvious to qualify as a subject matter eligible claim. Moreover, a claim that is deemed eligible is not necessarily patentable unless it also complies with the other statutory and non-statutory considerations for patentability under 35 U.S.C. 101 (utility and double patenting),102103112, and non-statutory double patenting.

The weighing factors used in MPEP § 2106 are useful tools for assisting in the evaluation. For convenience, these factors and how they may assist in the analysis are summarized below.

E.   Relevant Factors Useful for Inquiry 3

The following factors can be used to analyze the additional features in the claim to determine whether the claim recites a patent-eligible practical application of a natural principle and assist in answering Inquiry 3 above. Many of these factors originate from past eligibility factors, including the ‘Machine-or-Transformation’ (M-or-T) test. However, satisfying the M-or-T factors does not ensure eligibility if the claim features that include a particular machine or transformation do not integrate the natural principle into the claimed invention to show that the natural principle is practically applied, and are not sufficient to ensure that the claim amounts to significantly more than the natural principle itself.

  • • Appending conventional steps, specified at a high level of generality, to a natural principle does not make the claim patent-eligible.
  • • Steps that amount to instructions that are well-understood, routine, conventional activity, previously engaged in by those in the field add nothing specific to the natural principle that would render it patent-eligible.
  • • A claim that covers known and unknown uses of a natural principle and can be performed through any existing or future-devised machinery, or even without any apparatus, would lack features that are sufficient for eligibility.
  • • A particular machine or transformation recited in more than general terms may be sufficient to limit the application to just one of several possible machines or just one of several possible changes in state, such that the claim does not cover every substantial practical application of a natural principle. This can be contrasted with only adding features that limit the application to a certain technological environment (e.g., for use in catalytic conversion systems), which would cover every substantial practical application in that field.
  • • Additional limitations that are necessary for all practical applications of the natural principle, such that everyone practicing the natural principle would be required to perform those steps or every product embodying that natural principle would be required to include those features, would not be sufficient.
  • • A particular machine or transformation recited in a claim can show how the natural principle is integrated into a practical application by describing the details of how that machine and its specific parts implement the natural principle (e.g., the parts of an internal combustion engine apply the concept of combustion to produce energy) or how the transformation relates to or implements the natural principle (e.g., using ionization in a manufacturing process).
  • • A machine or transformation that is merely nominally, insignificantly, or tangentially related to the steps or elements, e.g., data gathering or data storage, would not show integration. For example, a machine that is simply incidental to execution of the method (using a computer as a counter balance weight and not as a processing device) rather than an object that implements the method or a transformation that involves only a change of position or location of an object rather than a change in state or thing does not show that these additional features integrate the natural principle into the invention as they are incidental to the claimed invention.
  • • Complete absence of a machine-or-transformation in a claim signals the likelihood that the claim is directed to a natural principle and has not been instantiated (e.g., is disembodied or can be performed entirely in one’s mind.)
  • • A mere statement of a general concept (natural principle) would effectively monopolize that concept/principle and would be insufficient. This can be contrasted with a tangible implementation with elements or steps that are recited with specificity such that all substantial applications are not covered. Such specificity may be achieved with observable and verifiable steps, for example, rather than subjective or imperceptible steps.

IV.   SAMPLE ANALYSIS

A.   Sample Claim Drawn to a Patent-Eligible Practical Application - Diamond v. Diehr

1. A method of operating a rubber-molding press for precision molded compounds with the aid of a digital computer, comprising:

providing said computer with a data base for said press including at least, natural logarithm conversion data (ln), the activation energy constant (C) unique to each batch of said compound being molded, and a constant (x) dependent upon the geometry of the particular mold of the press,

initiating an interval timer in said computer upon the closure of the press for monitoring the elapsed time of said closure,

constantly determining the temperature (Z) of the mold at a location closely adjacent to the mold cavity in the press during molding, constantly providing the computer with the temperature (Z),

repetitively calculating in the computer, at frequent intervals during each cure, the Arrhenius equation for reaction time during the cure, which is ln v = CZ + x where v is the total required cure time,

repetitively comparing in the computer at said frequent intervals during the cure each said calculation of the total required cure time calculated with the Arrhenius equation and said elapsed time,

and opening the press automatically when a said comparison indicates equivalence.

 

The above claim was found to be a patent-eligible practical application in Diamond v. Diehr, 450 U.S. 175, 209 USPQ 1 (1981). Recently, the Supreme Court looked back to this claim as an example of a patent-eligible practical application as explained in the following excerpt from Mayo:

The Court pointed out that the basic mathematical equation, like a law of nature, was not patentable. But it found the overall process patent eligible because of the way the additional steps of the process integrated the equation into the process as a whole. Those steps included “installing rubber in a press, closing the mold, constantly determining the temperature of the mold, constantly recalculating the appropriate cure time through the use of the formula and a digital computer, and automatically opening the press at the proper time.” [ ] It nowhere suggested that all these steps, or at least the combination of those steps, were in context obvious, already in use, or purely conventional. And so the patentees did not “seek to pre-empt the use of [the] equation,” but sought “only to foreclose from others the use of that equation in conjunction with all of the other steps in their claimed process.” [ ] These other steps apparently added to the formula something that in terms of patent law’s objectives had significance—they transformed the process into an inventive application of the formula. Mayo, 566 U.S.at __, 132 S.Ct. at 1298-99, 101 USPQ2d at 1969 (emphasis added).

This claim would pass Inquiries 1-3 in the above analysis as it is a process that includes the Arrhenius equation as a limitation, with additional steps that integrate the Arrhenius equation into the process and are sufficient to narrow the scope of the claim so that others are not foreclosed from using the Arrhenius equation in different applications.

B.   Sample Claim Drawn to Ineligible Subject Matter - Mayo 566 U.S.at __, 132 S.Ct. at 1295, 101 USPQ2d at 1966-67.

1. A method of optimizing therapeutic efficacy for treatment of an immune-mediated gastrointestinal disorder, comprising:

(a) administering a drug providing 6-thioguanine to a subject having said immune-mediated gastrointestinal disorder; and

(b) determining the level of 6-thioguanine in said subject having said immune-mediated gastrointestinal disorder,

wherein the level of 6-thioguanine less than about 230 pmol per 8x108 red blood cells indicates a need to increase the amount of said drug subsequently administered to said subject and

wherein the level of 6-thioguanine greater than about 400 pmol per 8x108 red blood cells indicates a need to decrease the amount of said drug subsequently administered to said subject.

 

The above claim was found to be ineligible in Mayo. The Supreme Court determined that the claim focused on use of a law of nature that was given weight during prosecution of the claim – specifically the relationships between concentrations of certain metabolites in the blood and the likelihood that a dosage of a thiopurine drug will prove ineffective or cause harm. See id. 566 U.S.at __, 132 S.Ct. at 1298, 101 USPQ2d at 1968-69. The Court analyzed the claim as follows:

The question before us is whether the claims do significantly more than simply describe these natural relations. To put the matter more precisely, do the patent claims add enough to their statements of the correlations to allow the processes they describe to qualify as patent-eligible processes that apply natural laws? We believe that the answer to this question is no. Id. 566 U.S.at __, 132 S.Ct. at 1297, 101 USPQ2d at 1968.

The upshot is that the three steps simply tell doctors to gather data from which they may draw an inference in light of the correlations. To put the matter more succinctly, the claims inform a relevant audience about certain laws of nature; any additional steps consist of well understood, routine, conventional activity already engaged in by the scientific community; and those steps, when viewed as a whole, add nothing significant beyond the sum of their parts taken separately. For these reasons we believe that the steps are not sufficient to transform unpatentable natural correlations into patentable applications of those regularities. Id. 566 U.S.at __, 132 S.Ct. at 1298, 101 USPQ2d at 1968.

This claim would pass Inquiries 1-2 and fail Inquiry 3. It is a process claim that includes a natural principle that was construed as a limiting feature of a claim during prosecution - the natural principle being the naturally occurring relationships noted above, which are a consequence of the ways in which thiopurine compounds are metabolized by the body. The Court emphasized that while it takes a human action to trigger a manifestation of this relation in a particular person, the relation itself exists in principle apart from any human action. See id. 566 U.S.at __, 132 S.Ct. at 1297, 101 USPQ2d at 1967. The additional steps integrate the relationship into the process as the administering step involves the thiopurine drug, the determining step establishes the thiopurine drug level and the wherein clauses set forth the critical levels. The steps are not sufficient, however, to narrow the application such that others could still make use of the naturally occurring relationship in other practical applications. The claim essentially sets forth a law of nature with generalized instructions to apply it.

C.   Making a Rejection

After performing the appropriate Inquiries, a claim that fails Inquiry 3 should be rejected under 35 U.S.C. 101 as not being drawn to patent-eligible subject matter. When making the rejection, identify the natural principle, identify that the claim is effectively directed to a natural principle itself, and explain the reason(s) that the additional claim features or combination of features, when the claim is taken as a whole, fail to integrate the natural principle into the claimed invention so that the natural principle is practically applied, and/or fail to be sufficient to ensure that the claim amounts to significantly more than the natural principle itself.

A sample rejection of the following claim could read as follows:

Claim 1. A method of determining effective dosage of insulin to a patient, comprising the steps of administering a dose of insulin to a patient, testing the patient’s blood for the blood sugar level, and evaluating whether the insulin dosage is effective based on the blood sugar level.

Analysis:

The claim passes Inquiry 1 because it is drawn to a process.

The claim passes Inquiry 2 because a naturally occurring correlation between insulin and blood glucose levels is a limitation of the claim.

The claim does not pass Inquiry 3 because, although the additional steps integrate or make use of the correlation in the process by administering insulin in one step and testing for the correlation in another step, the steps are not sufficient to ensure that the claim amounts to significantly more than the correlation itself since every application of the correlation would require an administration of insulin and testing of blood to observe the relationship between insulin and blood glucose levels.

The rejection:

Claim 1 is rejected under 35 U.S.C. 101 because the claimed invention is directed to non-statutory subject matter because it is not a patent-eligible practical application of a law of nature. The claim is directed to a naturally occurring correlation between insulin and blood glucose levels. The combination of steps recited in the claim taken as a whole, including the steps of administering insulin to a patient and testing blood sugar levels, are not sufficient to qualify as a patent-eligible practical application as the claim covers every substantial practical application of the correlation.

D.   Evaluating a Response

A proper response to a rejection based on failure to claim patent-eligible subject matter would be an amendment adding additional steps/features or amending existing steps/features that integrate the natural principle into the process (by practically applying or making use of the principle) and are sufficient to limit the application of the natural principle to more than the principle itself + steps that do more than simply “apply it” at a high level of generality. Examples of both eligible and ineligible hypothetical claims follow. It would also be proper for the applicant to present persuasive arguments that the additional steps add something significantly more to the claim than merely describing the natural principle. A showing that the steps are not routine, well-known or conventional could be persuasive.

For example, a claim that uses the natural disinfecting properties of sunlight would require additional steps beyond exposing an item requiring disinfection to sunlight. The additional steps could involve constructing a sanitizing device that uses ultraviolet light for disinfection with steps that integrate the ultraviolet light into the device and are sufficient to confine the use of the ultraviolet light to a particular application (not so broad as to cover all practical ways of applying ultraviolet light). A claim that sets forth the relationship between blood glucose levels and the incidence of diabetes would require additional steps that do significantly more to apply this principle than conventional blood sample testing or diagnostic activity based on recognizing a threshold blood glucose level. Such additional steps could involve a testing technique or treatment steps that would not be conventional or routine.

See the 2012 Interim Procedure for Laws of Nature guidance memo issued July 3, 2012 and posted on the USPTO Web site (http://www.uspto.gov /patents/law/exam/2012_interim_guidance.pdf) for additional examples.

2107    Guidelines for Examination of Applications for Compliance with the Utility Requirement [R-11.2013]

I.   INTRODUCTION

The following Guidelines establish the policies and procedures to be followed by Office personnel in the evaluation of any patent application for compliance with the utility requirements of 35 U.S.C. 101 and 35 U.S.C. 112(a), or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 112, first paragraph. These Guidelines have been promulgated to assist Office personnel in their review of applications for compliance with the utility requirement. The Guidelines do not alter the substantive requirements of 35 U.S.C. 101 and 35 U.S.C. 112, nor are they designed to obviate the examiner’s review of applications for compliance with all other statutory requirements for patentability. The Guidelines do not constitute substantive rulemaking and hence do not have the force and effect of law. Rejections will be based upon the substantive law, and it is these rejections which are appealable. Consequently, any perceived failure by Office personnel to follow these Guidelines is neither appealable nor petitionable.

II.   EXAMINATION GUIDELINES FOR THE UTILITY REQUIREMENT

Office personnel are to adhere to the following procedures when reviewing patent applications for compliance with the “useful invention” (“utility”) requirement of35 U.S.C. 101 and 35 U.S.C. 112(a) or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 112, first paragraph.

  • (A) Read the claims and the supporting written description.
    • (1) Determine what the applicant has claimed, noting any specific embodiments of the invention.
    • (2) Ensure that the claims define statutory subject matter (i.e., a process, machine, manufacture, composition of matter, or improvement thereof).
    • (3) If at any time during the examination, it becomes readily apparent that the claimed invention has a well-established utility, do not impose a rejection based on lack of utility. An invention has a well-established utility if (i) a person of ordinary skill in the art would immediately appreciate why the invention is useful based on the characteristics of the invention (e.g., properties or applications of a product or process), and (ii) the utility is specific, substantial, and credible.
  • (B) Review the claims and the supporting written description to determine if the applicant has asserted for the claimed invention any specific and substantial utility that is credible:
    • (1) If the applicant has asserted that the claimed invention is useful for any particular practical purpose (i.e., it has a “specific and substantial utility”) and the assertion would be considered credible by a person of ordinary skill in the art, do not impose a rejection based on lack of utility.
      • (i) A claimed invention must have a specific and substantial utility. This requirement excludes “throw-away,” “insubstantial,” or “nonspecific” utilities, such as the use of a complex invention as landfill, as a way of satisfying the utility requirement of 35 U.S.C. 101.
      • (ii) Credibility is assessed from the perspective of one of ordinary skill in the art in view of the disclosure and any other evidence of record (e.g., test data, affidavits or declarations from experts in the art, patents or printed publications) that is probative of the applicant’s assertions. An applicant need only provide one credible assertion of specific and substantial utility for each claimed invention to satisfy the utility requirement.
    • (2) If no assertion of specific and substantial utility for the claimed invention made by the applicant is credible, and the claimed invention does not have a readily apparent well-established utility, reject the claim(s) under 35 U.S.C. 101 on the grounds that the invention as claimed lacks utility. Also reject the claims under 35 U.S.C. 112(a) or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 112, first paragraph, on the basis that the disclosure fails to teach how to use the invention as claimed. The 35 U.S.C. 112(a) or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 112, first paragraph, rejection imposed in conjunction with a 35 U.S.C. 101 rejection should incorporate by reference the grounds of the corresponding 35 U.S.C. 101 rejection.
    • (3) If the applicant has not asserted any specific and substantial utility for the claimed invention and it does not have a readily apparent well-established utility, impose a rejection under 35 U.S.C. 101, emphasizing that the applicant has not disclosed a specific and substantial utility for the invention. Also impose a separate rejection under 35 U.S.C. 112(a) or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 112, first paragraph, on the basis that the applicant has not disclosed how to use the invention due to the lack of a specific and substantial utility. The 35 U.S.C. 101 and 35 U.S.C. 112 rejections shift the burden of coming forward with evidence to the applicant to:
      • (i) Explicitly identify a specific and substantial utility for the claimed invention; and
      • (ii) Provide evidence that one of ordinary skill in the art would have recognized that the identified specific and substantial utility was well-established at the time of filing. The examiner should review any subsequently submitted evidence of utility using the criteria outlined above. The examiner should also ensure that there is an adequate nexus between the evidence and the properties of the now claimed subject matter as disclosed in the application as filed. That is, the applicant has the burden to establish a probative relation between the submitted evidence and the originally disclosed properties of the claimed invention.
    • (C) Any rejection based on lack of utility should include a detailed explanation why the claimed invention has no specific and substantial credible utility. Whenever possible, the examiner should provide documentary evidence regardless of publication date (e.g., scientific or technical journals, excerpts from treatises or books, or U.S. or foreign patents) to support the factual basis for the prima facie showing of no specific and substantial credible utility. If documentary evidence is not available, the examiner should specifically explain the scientific basis for his or her factual conclusions.
      • (1) Where the asserted utility is not specific or substantial, a prima facie showing must establish that it is more likely than not that a person of ordinary skill in the art would not consider that any utility asserted by the applicant would be specific and substantial. The prima facie showing must contain the following elements:
        • (i) An explanation that clearly sets forth the reasoning used in concluding that the asserted utility for the claimed invention is not both specific and substantial nor well-established;
        • (ii) Support for factual findings relied upon in reaching this conclusion; and
        • (iii) An evaluation of all relevant evidence of record, including utilities taught in the closest prior art.
      • (2) Where the asserted specific and substantial utility is not credible, a prima facie showing of no specific and substantial credible utility must establish that it is more likely than not that a person skilled in the art would not consider credible any specific and substantial utility asserted by the applicant for the claimed invention. The prima facie showing must contain the following elements:
        • (i) An explanation that clearly sets forth the reasoning used in concluding that the asserted specific and substantial utility is not credible;
        • (ii) Support for factual findings relied upon in reaching this conclusion; and
        • (iii) An evaluation of all relevant evidence of record, including utilities taught in the closest prior art.
      • (3) Where no specific and substantial utility is disclosed or is well-established, a prima facie showing of no specific and substantial utility need only establish that applicant has not asserted a utility and that, on the record before the examiner, there is no known well-established utility.
    • (D) A rejection based on lack of utility should not be maintained if an asserted utility for the claimed invention would be considered specific, substantial, and credible by a person of ordinary skill in the art in view of all evidence of record.

Office personnel are reminded that they must treat as true a statement of fact made by an applicant in relation to an asserted utility, unless countervailing evidence can be provided that shows that one of ordinary skill in the art would have a legitimate basis to doubt the credibility of such a statement. Similarly, Office personnel must accept an opinion from a qualified expert that is based upon relevant facts whose accuracy is not being questioned; it is improper to disregard the opinion solely because of a disagreement over the significance or meaning of the facts offered.

Once a prima facie showing of no specific and substantial credible utility has been properly established, the applicant bears the burden of rebutting it. The applicant can do this by amending the claims, by providing reasoning or arguments, or by providing evidence in the form of a declaration under 37 CFR 1.132 or a patent or a printed publication that rebuts the basis or logic of the prima facie showing. If the applicant responds to the prima facie rejection, the Office personnel should review the original disclosure, any evidence relied upon in establishing the prima facie showing, any claim amendments, and any new reasoning or evidence provided by the applicant in support of an asserted specific and substantial credible utility. It is essential for Office personnel to recognize, fully consider and respond to each substantive element of any response to a rejection based on lack of utility. Only where the totality of the record continues to show that the asserted utility is not specific, substantial, and credible should a rejection based on lack of utility be maintained.

If the applicant satisfactorily rebuts a prima facie rejection based on lack of utility under 35 U.S.C. 101, withdraw the 35 U.S.C. 101 rejection and the corresponding rejection imposed under 35 U.S.C. 112(a) or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 112, first paragraph.

2107.01   General Principles Governing Utility Rejections [R-11.2013]

35 U.S.C. 101   Inventions patentable

Whoever invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof may obtain a patent therefor, subject to the conditions and requirements of this title.

See MPEP § 2107 for guidelines for the examination of applications for compliance with the utility requirement of 35 U.S.C. 101.

The Office must examine each application to ensure compliance with the “useful invention” or utility requirement of 35 U.S.C. 101. In discharging this obligation, however, Office personnel must keep in mind several general principles that control application of the utility requirement. As interpreted by the Federal courts, 35 U.S.C. 101 has three purposes. First, 35 U.S.C. 101 limits an inventor to ONE patent for a claimed invention. If more than one patent is sought, a patent applicant will receive a statutory double patenting rejection for claims included in more than one application that are directed to the same invention. See MPEP § 804. Second, 35 U.S.C. 101 defines which categories of inventions are eligible for patent protection. An invention that is not a machine, an article of manufacture, a composition or a process cannot be patented. See Diamond v. Chakrabarty, 447 U.S. 303, 206 USPQ 193 (1980); Diamond v. Diehr, 450 U.S. 175, 209 USPQ 1 (1981); In re Nuijten, 500 F.3d 1346, 1354, 84 USPQ2d 1495, 1500 (Fed. Cir. 2007). Third 35 U.S.C. 101 serves to ensure that patents are granted on only those inventions that are “useful.” This second purpose has a Constitutional footing — Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution authorizes Congress to provide exclusive rights to inventors to promote the “useful arts.” See Carl Zeiss Stiftung v. Renishaw PLC, 945 F.2d 1173, 20 USPQ2d 1094 (Fed. Cir. 1991). Thus, to satisfy the requirements of 35 U.S.C. 101, an applicant must claim an invention that is statutory subject matter and must show that the claimed invention is “useful” for some purpose either explicitly or implicitly. Application of this latter element of 35 U.S.C. 101 is the focus of these guidelines.

Deficiencies under the “useful invention” requirement of 35 U.S.C. 101 will arise in one of two forms. The first is where it is not apparent why the invention is “useful.” This can occur when an applicant fails to identify any specific and substantial utility for the invention or fails to disclose enough information about the invention to make its usefulness immediately apparent to those familiar with the technological field of the invention. Brenner v. Manson, 383 U.S. 519, 148 USPQ 689 (1966); In re Fisher, 421 F.3d 1365, 76 USPQ2d 1225 (Fed. Cir. 2005); In re Ziegler, 992 F.2d 1197, 26 USPQ2d 1600 (Fed. Cir. 1993). The second type of deficiency arises in the rare instance where an assertion of specific and substantial utility for the invention made by an applicant is not credible.

I.   SPECIFIC AND SUBSTANTIAL REQUIREMENTS

To satisfy 35 U.S.C. 101, an invention must be “useful.” Courts have recognized that the term “useful” used with reference to the utility requirement can be a difficult term to define. Brenner v. Manson, 383 U.S. 519, 529, 148 USPQ 689, 693 (1966) (simple everyday word like “useful” can be “pregnant with ambiguity when applied to the facts of life.”). Where an applicant has set forth a specific and substantial utility, courts have been reluctant to uphold a rejection under 35 U.S.C. 101 solely on the basis that the applicant’s opinion as to the nature of the specific and substantial utility was inaccurate. For example, in Nelson v.Bowler, 626 F.2d 853, 206 USPQ 881 (CCPA 1980), the court reversed a finding by the Office that the applicant had not set forth a “practical” utility under 35 U.S.C. 101. In this case the applicant asserted that the composition was “useful” in a particular pharmaceutical application and provided evidence to support that assertion. Courts have used the labels “practical utility,” “substantial utility,” or “specific utility” to refer to this aspect of the “useful invention” requirement of 35 U.S.C. 101. The Court of Customs and Patent Appeals has stated:

Practical utility is a shorthand way of attributing “real-world” value to claimed subject matter. In other words, one skilled in the art can use a claimed discovery in a manner which provides some immediate benefit to the public.

Nelson v. Bowler, 626 F.2d 853, 856, 206 USPQ 881, 883 (CCPA 1980).

Practical considerations require the Office to rely on the inventor’s understanding of his or her invention in determining whether and in what regard an invention is believed to be “useful.” Because of this, Office personnel should focus on and be receptive to assertions made by the applicant that an invention is “useful” for a particular reason.

A.   Specific Utility

A “specific utility” is specific to the subject matter claimed and can “provide a well-defined and particular benefit to the public.” In re Fisher, 421 F.3d 1365, 1371, 76 USPQ2d 1225, 1230 (Fed. Cir. 2005). This contrasts with a general utility that would be applicable to the broad class of the invention. Office personnel should distinguish between situations where an applicant has disclosed a specific use for or application of the invention and situations where the applicant merely indicates that the invention may prove useful without identifying with specificity why it is considered useful. For example, indicating that a compound may be useful in treating unspecified disorders, or that the compound has “useful biological” properties, would not be sufficient to define a specific utility for the compound. See, e.g., In re Kirk, 376 F.2d 936, 153 USPQ 48 (CCPA 1967); In re Joly, 376 F.2d 906, 153 USPQ 45 (CCPA 1967). Similarly, a claim to a polynucleotide whose use is disclosed simply as a “gene probe” or “chromosome marker” would not be considered to be specific in the absence of a disclosure of a specific DNA target. See In re Fisher, 421 F.3d at 1374, 76 USPQ2d at 1232 (“Any EST [expressed sequence tag] transcribed from any gene in the maize genome has the potential to perform any one of the alleged uses…. Nothing about [applicant’s] seven alleged uses set the five claimed ESTs apart from the more than 32,000 ESTs disclosed in the [ ] application or indeed from any EST derived from any organism. Accordingly, we conclude that [applicant] has only disclosed general uses for its claimed ESTs, not specific ones that satisfy § 101.”). A general statement of diagnostic utility, such as diagnosing an unspecified disease, would ordinarily be insufficient absent a disclosure of what condition can be diagnosed. Contrast the situation where an applicant discloses a specific biological activity and reasonably correlates that activity to a disease condition. Assertions falling within the latter category are sufficient to identify a specific utility for the invention. Assertions that fall in the former category are insufficient to define a specific utility for the invention, especially if the assertion takes the form of a general statement that makes it clear that a “useful” invention may arise from what has been disclosed by the applicant. Knapp v. Anderson, 477 F.2d 588, 177 USPQ 688 (CCPA 1973).

B.   Substantial Utility

“[A]n application must show that an invention is useful to the public as disclosed in its current form, not that it may prove useful at some future date after further research. Simply put, to satisfy the ‘substantial’ utility requirement, an asserted use must show that the claimed invention has a significant and presently available benefit to the public.” Fisher, 421 F.3d at 1371, 76 USPQ2d at 1230. The claims at issue in Fisher were directed to expressed sequence tags (ESTs), which are short nucleotide sequences that can be used to discover what genes and downstream proteins are expressed in a cell. The court held that “the claimed ESTs can be used only to gain further information about the underlying genes and the proteins encoded for by those genes. The claimed ESTs themselves are not an end of [applicant’s] research effort, but only tools to be used along the way in the search for a practical utility…. [Applicant] does not identify the function for the underlying protein-encoding genes. Absent such identification, we hold that the claimed ESTs have not been researched and understood to the point of providing an immediate, well-defined, real world benefit to the public meriting the grant of a patent.” Id. at 1376, 76 USPQ2d at 1233-34). Thus a “substantial utility” defines a “real world” use. Utilities that require or constitute carrying out further research to identify or reasonably confirm a “real world” context of use are not substantial utilities. For example, both a therapeutic method of treating a known or newly discovered disease and an assay method for identifying compounds that themselves have a “substantial utility” define a “real world” context of use. An assay that measures the presence of a material which has a stated correlation to a predisposition to the onset of a particular disease condition would also define a “real world” context of use in identifying potential candidates for preventive measures or further monitoring. On the other hand, the following are examples of situations that require or constitute carrying out further research to identify or reasonably confirm a “real world” context of use and, therefore, do not define “substantial utilities”:

  • (A) Basic research such as studying the properties of the claimed product itself or the mechanisms in which the material is involved;
  • (B) A method of treating an unspecified disease or condition;
  • (C) A method of assaying for or identifying a material that itself has no specific and/or substantial utility;
  • (D) A method of making a material that itself has no specific, substantial, and credible utility; and
  • (E) A claim to an intermediate product for use in making a final product that has no specific, substantial and credible utility.

Office personnel must be careful not to interpret the phrase “immediate benefit to the public” or similar formulations in other cases to mean that products or services based on the claimed invention must be “currently available” to the public in order to satisfy the utility requirement. See, e.g., Brenner v. Manson,383 U.S. 519, 534-35, 148 USPQ 689, 695 (1966). Rather, any reasonable use that an applicant has identified for the invention that can be viewed as providing a public benefit should be accepted as sufficient, at least with regard to defining a “substantial” utility.

C.   Research Tools

Some confusion can result when one attempts to label certain types of inventions as not being capable of having a specific and substantial utility based on the setting in which the invention is to be used. One example is inventions to be used in a research or laboratory setting. Many research tools such as gas chromatographs, screening assays, and nucleotide sequencing techniques have a clear, specific and unquestionable utility (e.g., they are useful in analyzing compounds). An assessment that focuses on whether an invention is useful only in a research setting thus does not address whether the invention is in fact “useful” in a patent sense. Instead, Office personnel must distinguish between inventions that have a specifically identified substantial utility and inventions whose asserted utility requires further research to identify or reasonably confirm. Labels such as “research tool,” “intermediate” or “for research purposes” are not helpful in determining if an applicant has identified a specific and substantial utility for the invention.

II.   WHOLLY INOPERATIVE INVENTIONS; “INCREDIBLE” UTILITY

An invention that is “inoperative” (i.e., it does not operate to produce the results claimed by the patent applicant) is not a “useful” invention in the meaning of the patent law. See, e.g., Newman v. Quigg, 877 F.2d 1575, 1581, 11 USPQ2d 1340, 1345 (Fed. Cir. 1989); In re Harwood, 390 F.2d 985, 989, 156 USPQ 673, 676 (CCPA 1968) (“An inoperative invention, of course, does not satisfy the requirement of 35 U.S.C. 101 that an invention be useful.”). However, as the Federal Circuit has stated, “[t]o violate [35 U.S.C.] 101 the claimed device must be totally incapable of achieving a useful result.” Brooktree Corp. v. Advanced Micro Devices, Inc., 977 F.2d 1555, 1571, 24 USPQ2d 1401, 1412 (Fed. Cir. 1992) (emphasis added). See also E.I. du Pont De Nemours and Co. v. Berkley and Co.,620 F.2d 1247, 1260 n.17, 205 USPQ 1, 10 n.17 (8th Cir. 1980) (“A small degree of utility is sufficient . . . The claimed invention must only be capable of performing some beneficial function . . . An invention does not lack utility merely because the particular embodiment disclosed in the patent lacks perfection or performs crudely . . . A commercially successful product is not required . . . Nor is it essential that the invention accomplish all its intended functions . . . or operate under all conditions . . . partial success being sufficient to demonstrate patentable utility . . . In short, the defense of non-utility cannot be sustained without proof of total incapacity.” If an invention is only partially successful in achieving a useful result, a rejection of the claimed invention as a whole based on a lack of utility is not appropriate. See In re Brana, 51 F.3d 1560, 34 USPQ2d 1436 (Fed. Cir. 1995); In re Gardner, 475 F.2d 1389, 177 USPQ 396 (CCPA), reh’g denied, 480 F.2d 879 (CCPA 1973); In re Marzocchi, 439 F.2d 220, 169 USPQ 367 (CCPA 1971).

Situations where an invention is found to be “inoperative” and therefore lacking in utility are rare, and rejections maintained solely on this ground by a Federal court even rarer. In many of these cases, the utility asserted by the applicant was thought to be “incredible in the light of the knowledge of the art, or factually misleading” when initially considered by the Office. In re Citron, 325 F.2d 248, 253, 139 USPQ 516, 520 (CCPA 1963). Other cases suggest that on initial evaluation, the Office considered the asserted utility to be inconsistent with known scientific principles or “speculative at best” as to whether attributes of the invention necessary to impart the asserted utility were actually present in the invention. In re Sichert, 566 F.2d 1154, 196 USPQ 209 (CCPA 1977). However cast, the underlying finding by the court in these cases was that, based on the factual record of the case, it was clear that the invention could not and did not work as the inventor claimed it did. Indeed, the use of many labels to describe a single problem (e.g., a false assertion regarding utility) has led to some of the confusion that exists today with regard to a rejection based on the “utility” requirement. Examples of such cases include: an invention asserted to change the taste of food using a magnetic field (Fregeau v. Mossinghoff, 776 F.2d 1034, 227 USPQ 848 (Fed. Cir. 1985)), a perpetual motion machine (Newman v. Quigg,877 F.2d 1575, 11 USPQ2d 1340 (Fed. Cir. 1989)), a flying machine operating on “flapping or flutter function” (In re Houghton, 433 F.2d 820, 167 USPQ 687 (CCPA 1970)), a “cold fusion” process for producing energy (In re Swartz, 232 F.3d 862, 56 USPQ2d 1703 (Fed. Cir. 2000)), a method for increasing the energy output of fossil fuels upon combustion through exposure to a magnetic field (In re Ruskin, 354 F.2d 395, 148 USPQ 221 (CCPA 1966)), uncharacterized compositions for curing a wide array of cancers (In re Citron, 325 F.2d 248, 139 USPQ 516 (CCPA 1963)), and a method of controlling the aging process (In re Eltgroth, 419 F.2d 918, 164 USPQ 221 (CCPA 1970)). These examples are fact specific and should not be applied as a per se rule. Thus, in view of the rare nature of such cases, Office personnel should not label an asserted utility “incredible,” “speculative” or otherwise unless it is clear that a rejection based on “lack of utility” is proper.

III.   THERAPEUTIC OR PHARMACOLOGICAL UTILITY

Inventions asserted to have utility in the treatment of human or animal disorders are subject to the same legal requirements for utility as inventions in any other field of technology. In re Chilowsky, 229 F.2d 457, 461-2, 108 USPQ 321, 325 (CCPA 1956) (“There appears to be no basis in the statutes or decisions for requiring any more conclusive evidence of operativeness in one type of case than another. The character and amount of evidence needed may vary, depending on whether the alleged operation described in the application appears to accord with or to contravene established scientific principles or to depend upon principles alleged but not generally recognized, but the degree of certainty as to the ultimate fact of operativeness or inoperativeness should be the same in all cases”); In re Gazave, 379 F.2d 973, 978, 154 USPQ 92, 96 (CCPA 1967) (“Thus, in the usual case where the mode of operation alleged can be readily understood and conforms to the known laws of physics and chemistry, operativeness is not questioned, and no further evidence is required.”). As such, pharmacological or therapeutic inventions that provide any “immediate benefit to the public” satisfy 35 U.S.C. 101. The utility being asserted in Nelson related to a compound with pharmacological utility. Nelson v. Bowler, 626 F.2d 853, 856, 206 USPQ 881, 883 (CCPA 1980). Office personnel should rely on Nelson and other cases as providing general guidance when evaluating the utility of an invention that is based on any therapeutic, prophylactic, or pharmacological activities of that invention.

Courts have repeatedly found that the mere identification of a pharmacological activity of a compound that is relevant to an asserted pharmacological use provides an “immediate benefit to the public” and thus satisfies the utility requirement. As the Court of Customs and Patent Appeals held in Nelson v. Bowler:

Knowledge of the pharmacological activity of any compound is obviously beneficial to the public. It is inherently faster and easier to combat illnesses and alleviate symptoms when the medical profession is armed with an arsenal of chemicals having known pharmacological activities. Since it is crucial to provide researchers with an incentive to disclose pharmacological activities in as many compounds as possible, we conclude that adequate proof of any such activity constitutes a showing of practical utility.

Nelson v. Bowler, 626 F.2d 853, 856, 206 USPQ 881, 883 (CCPA 1980).

In Nelson v. Bowler, the court addressed the practical utility requirement in the context of an interference proceeding. Bowler challenged the patentability of the invention claimed by Nelson on the basis that Nelson had failed to sufficiently and persuasively disclose in his application a practical utility for the invention. Nelson had developed and claimed a class of synthetic prostaglandins modeled on naturally occurring prostaglandins. Naturally occurring prostaglandins are bioactive compounds that, at the time of Nelson’s application, had a recognized value in pharmacology (e.g., the stimulation of uterine smooth muscle which resulted in labor induction or abortion, the ability to raise or lower blood pressure, etc.). To support the utility he identified in his disclosure, Nelson included in his application the results of tests demonstrating the bioactivity of his new substituted prostaglandins relative to the bioactivity of naturally occurring prostaglandins. The court concluded that Nelson had satisfied the practical utility requirement in identifying the synthetic prostaglandins as pharmacologically active compounds. In reaching this conclusion, the court considered and rejected arguments advanced by Bowler that attacked the evidentiary basis for Nelson’s assertions that the compounds were pharmacologically active.

In In re Jolles, 628 F.2d 1322, 206 USPQ 885 (CCPA 1980), an inventor claimed protection for pharmaceutical compositions for treating leukemia. The active ingredient in the compositions was a structural analog to a known anticancer agent. The applicant provided evidence showing that the claimed analogs had the same general pharmaceutical activity as the known anticancer agents. The court reversed the Board’s finding that the asserted pharmaceutical utility was “incredible,” pointing to the evidence that showed the relevant pharmacological activity.

In Cross v. Iizuka, 753 F.2d 1040, 224 USPQ 739 (Fed. Cir. 1985), the Federal Circuit affirmed a finding by the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences that a pharmacological utility had been disclosed in the application of one party to an interference proceeding. The invention that was the subject of the interference count was a chemical compound used for treating blood disorders. Cross had challenged the evidence in Iizuka’s specification that supported the claimed utility. However, the Federal Circuit relied extensively on Nelson v. Bowler in finding that Iizuka’s application had sufficiently disclosed a pharmacological utility for the compounds. It distinguished the case from cases where only a generalized “nebulous” expression, such as “biological properties,” had been disclosed in a specification. Such statements, the court held, “convey little explicit indication regarding the utility of a compound.” Cross, 753 F.2d at 1048, 224 USPQ at 745 (citing In re Kirk, 376 F.2d 936, 941, 153 USPQ 48, 52 (CCPA 1967)).

Similarly, courts have found utility for therapeutic inventions despite the fact that an applicant is at a very early stage in the development of a pharmaceutical product or therapeutic regimen based on a claimed pharmacological or bioactive compound or composition. The Federal Circuit, in Cross v. Iizuka, 753 F.2d 1040, 1051, 224 USPQ 739, 747-48 (Fed. Cir. 1985), commented on the significance of data from in vitro testing that showed pharmacological activity:

We perceive no insurmountable difficulty, under appropriate circumstances, in finding that the first link in the screening chain, in vitro testing, may establish a practical utility for the compound in question. Successful in vitro testing will marshal resources and direct the expenditure of effort to further in vivo testing of the most potent compounds, thereby providing an immediate benefit to the public, analogous to the benefit provided by the showing of an in vivo utility.

The Federal Circuit has reiterated that therapeutic utility sufficient under the patent laws is not to be confused with the requirements of the FDA with regard to safety and efficacy of drugs to marketed in the United States.

FDA approval, however, is not a prerequisite for finding a compound useful within the meaning of the patent laws. Scott v. Finney, 34 F.3d 1058, 1063, 32 USPQ2d 1115, 1120 [(Fed.Cir. 1994)]. Usefulness in patent law, and in particular in the context of pharmaceutical inventions, necessarily includes the expectation of further research and development. The stage at which an invention in this field becomes useful is well before it is ready to be administered to humans. Were we to require Phase II testing in order to prove utility, the associated costs would prevent many companies from obtaining patent protection on promising new inventions, thereby eliminating an incentive to pursue, through research and development, potential cures in many crucial areas such as the treatment of cancer.

In re Brana, 51 F.3d 1560, 34 USPQ2d 1436 (Fed. Cir. 1995). Accordingly, Office personnel should not construe 35 U.S.C. 101, under the logic of “practical” utility or otherwise, to require that an applicant demonstrate that a therapeutic agent based on a claimed invention is a safe or fully effective drug for humans. See, e.g., In re Sichert, 566 F.2d 1154, 196 USPQ 209 (CCPA 1977); In re Hartop, 311 F.2d 249, 135 USPQ 419 (CCPA 1962); In re Anthony, 414 F.2d 1383, 162 USPQ 594 (CCPA 1969); In re Watson, 517 F.2d 465, 186 USPQ 11 (CCPA 1975).

These general principles are equally applicable to situations where an applicant has claimed a process for treating a human or animal disorder. In such cases, the asserted utility is usually clear — the invention is asserted to be useful in treating the particular disorder. If the asserted utility is credible, there is no basis to challenge such a claim on the basis that it lacks utility under 35 U.S.C. 101.

See MPEP § 2107.03 for special considerations for asserted therapeutic or pharmacological utilities.

IV.   RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN 35 U.S.C. 112(a) or Pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 112, FIRST PARAGRAPH, AND 35 U.S.C. 101

A deficiency under the utility prong of35 U.S.C. 101 also creates a deficiency under 35 U.S.C. 112(a) or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 112, first paragraph. See In re Brana,51 F.3d 1560, 34 USPQ2d 1436 (Fed. Cir. 1995); In re Jolles, 628 F.2d 1322, 1326 n.10, 206 USPQ 885, 889 n.11 (CCPA 1980); In re Fouche, 439 F.2d 1237, 1243, 169 USPQ 429, 434 (CCPA 1971) (“If such compositions are in fact useless, appellant’s specification cannot have taught how to use them.”). Courts have also cast the 35 U.S.C. 101/35 U.S.C. 112 relationship such that 35 U.S.C. 112 presupposes compliance with 35 U.S.C. 101. See In re Ziegler, 992 F.2d 1197, 1200-1201, 26 USPQ2d 1600, 1603 (Fed. Cir. 1993) (“The how to use prong of section 112 incorporates as a matter of law the requirement of 35 U.S.C. 101that the specification disclose as a matter of fact a practical utility for the invention. ... If the application fails as a matter of fact to satisfy 35 U.S.C. § 101, then the application also fails as a matter of law to enable one of ordinary skill in the art to use the invention under 35 U.S.C. § 112.”); In re Kirk, 376 F.2d 936, 942, 153 USPQ 48, 53 (CCPA 1967) (“Necessarily, compliance with § 112 requires a description of how to use presently useful inventions, otherwise an applicant would anomalously be required to teach how to use a useless invention.”). For example, the Federal Circuit noted, “[o]bviously, if a claimed invention does not have utility, the specification cannot enable one to use it.” In re Brana, 51 F.3d 1560, 34 USPQ2d 1436 (Fed. Cir. 1995). As such, a rejection properly imposed under 35 U.S.C. 101 for lack of utility should be accompanied with a rejection under 35 U.S.C. 112(a) or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 112, first paragraph. It is equally clear that a rejection based on “lack of utility,” whether grounded upon 35 U.S.C. 101 or 35 U.S.C. 112(a) or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 112, first paragraph, rests on the same basis (i.e., the asserted utility is not credible). To avoid confusion, any lack of utility rejection that is imposed on the basis of 35 U.S.C. 101 should be accompanied by a rejection based on 35 U.S.C. 112(a) or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 112, first paragraph. The 35 U.S.C. 112(a) or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 112, first paragraph, rejection should be set out as a separate rejection that incorporates by reference the factual basis and conclusions set forth in the 35 U.S.C. 101rejection. The 35 U.S.C. 112(a) or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 112, first paragraph, rejection should indicate that because the invention as claimed does not have utility, a person skilled in the art would not be able to use the invention as claimed, and as such, the claim is defective under 35 U.S.C. 112(a) or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 112, first paragraph. A 35 U.S.C. 112(a) or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 112, first paragraph, rejection based on lack of utility should not be imposed or maintained unless an appropriate basis exists for imposing a utility rejection under 35 U.S.C. 101. In other words, Office personnel should not impose a 35 U.S.C. 112(a) or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 112, first paragraph, rejection grounded on a “lack of utility” basis unless a 35 U.S.C. 101 rejection is proper. In particular, the factual showing needed to impose a rejection under 35 U.S.C. 101 must be provided if a rejection under 35 U.S.C. 112(a) or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 112, first paragraph, is to be imposed on “lack of utility” grounds.

It is important to recognize that 35 U.S.C. 112(a) or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 112, first paragraph, addresses matters other than those related to the question of whether or not an invention lacks utility. These matters include whether the claims are fully supported by the disclosure (In re Vaeck, 947 F.2d 488, 495, 20 USPQ2d 1438, 1444 (Fed. Cir. 1991)), whether the applicant has provided an enabling disclosure of the claimed subject matter (In re Wright, 999 F.2d 1557, 1561-1562, 27 USPQ2d 1510, 1513 (Fed. Cir. 1993)), whether the applicant has provided an adequate written description of the invention and whether the applicant has disclosed the best mode of practicing the claimed invention (Chemcast Corp. v. Arco Indus. Corp., 913 F.2d 923, 927-928, 16 USPQ2d 1033, 1036-1037 (Fed. Cir. 1990)). See also Transco Products Inc. v. Performance Contracting Inc., 38 F.3d 551, 32 USPQ2d 1077 (Fed. Cir. 1994); Glaxo Inc. v.Novopharm Ltd., 52 F.3d 1043, 34 USPQ2d 1565 (Fed. Cir. 1995). The fact that an applicant has disclosed a specific utility for an invention and provided a credible basis supporting that specific utility does not provide a basis for concluding that the claims comply with all the requirements of 35 U.S.C. 112(a) or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 112, first paragraph. For example, if an applicant has claimed a process of treating a certain disease condition with a certain compound and provided a credible basis for asserting that the compound is useful in that regard, but to actually practice the invention as claimed a person skilled in the relevant art would have to engage in an undue amount of experimentation, the claim may be defective under 35 U.S.C. 112, but not 35 U.S.C. 101. To avoid confusion during examination, any rejection under 35 U.S.C. 112(a) or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 112, first paragraph, based on grounds other than “lack of utility” should be imposed separately from any rejection imposed due to “lack of utility” under 35 U.S.C. 101 and 35 U.S.C. 112(a) or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 112, first paragraph.

2107.02   Procedural Considerations Related to Rejections for Lack of Utility [R-11.2013]

I.   THE CLAIMED INVENTION IS THE FOCUS OF THE UTILITY REQUIREMENT

The claimed invention is the focus of the assessment of whether an applicant has satisfied the utility requirement. Each claim (i.e., each “invention”), therefore, must be evaluated on its own merits for compliance with all statutory requirements. Generally speaking, however, a dependent claim will define an invention that has utility if the independent claim from which the dependent claim depends is drawn to the same statutory class of invention as the dependent claim and the independent claim defines an invention having utility. An exception to this general rule is where the utility specified for the invention defined in a dependent claim differs from that indicated for the invention defined in the independent claim from which the dependent claim depends. Where an applicant has established utility for a species that falls within an identified genus of compounds, and presents a generic claim covering the genus, as a general matter, that claim should be treated as being sufficient under 35 U.S.C. 101. Only where it can be established that other species clearly encompassed by the claim do not have utility should a rejection be imposed on the generic claim. In such cases, the applicant should be encouraged to amend the generic claim so as to exclude the species that lack utility.

It is common and sensible for an applicant to identify several specific utilities for an invention, particularly where the invention is a product (e.g., a machine, an article of manufacture or a composition of matter). However, regardless of the category of invention that is claimed (e.g., product or process), an applicant need only make one credible assertion of specific utility for the claimed invention to satisfy 35 U.S.C. 101 and 35 U.S.C. 112; additional statements of utility, even if not “credible,” do not render the claimed invention lacking in utility. See, e.g., Raytheon v. Roper, 724 F.2d 951, 958, 220 USPQ 592, 598 (Fed. Cir. 1983), cert. denied, 469 U.S. 835 (1984) (“When a properly claimed invention meets at least one stated objective, utility under 35 U.S.C. 101 is clearly shown.”); In re Gottlieb, 328 F.2d 1016, 1019, 140 USPQ 665, 668 (CCPA 1964) (“Having found that the antibiotic is useful for some purpose, it becomes unnecessary to decide whether it is in fact useful for the other purposes ‘indicated’ in the specification as possibly useful.”); In re Malachowski, 530 F.2d 1402, 189 USPQ 432 (CCPA 1976); Hoffman v. Klaus, 9 USPQ2d 1657 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1988). Thus, if applicant makes one credible assertion of utility, utility for the claimed invention as a whole is established.

Statements made by the applicant in the specification or incident to prosecution of the application before the Office cannot, standing alone, be the basis for a lack of utility rejection under 35 U.S.C. 101 or 35 U.S.C. 112Tol-O-Matic, Inc. v. Proma Produkt-Und Mktg. Gesellschaft m.b.h., 945 F.2d 1546, 1553, 20 USPQ2d 1332, 1338 (Fed. Cir. 1991) (It is not required that a particular characteristic set forth in the prosecution history be achieved in order to satisfy35 U.S.C. 101.). An applicant may include statements in the specification whose technical accuracy cannot be easily confirmed if those statements are not necessary to support the patentability of an invention with regard to any statutory basis. Thus, the Office should not require an applicant to strike nonessential statements relating to utility from a patent disclosure, regardless of the technical accuracy of the statement or assertion it presents. Office personnel should also be especially careful not to read into a claim unclaimed results, limitations or embodiments of an invention. See Carl Zeiss Stiftung v. Renishaw PLC, 945 F.2d 1173, 20 USPQ2d 1094 (Fed. Cir. 1991); In re Krimmel, 292 F.2d 948, 130 USPQ 215 (CCPA 1961). Doing so can inappropriately change the relationship of an asserted utility to the claimed invention and raise issues not relevant to examination of that claim.

II.   IS THERE AN ASSERTED OR WELL-ESTABLISHED UTILITY FOR THE CLAIMED INVENTION?

Upon initial examination, the examiner should review the specification to determine if there are any statements asserting that the claimed invention is useful for any particular purpose. A complete disclosure should include a statement which identifies a specific and substantial utility for the invention.

A.   An Asserted Utility Must Be Specific and Substantial

A statement of specific and substantial utility should fully and clearly explain why the applicant believes the invention is useful. Such statements will usually explain the purpose of or how the invention may be used (e.g., a compound is believed to be useful in the treatment of a particular disorder). Regardless of the form of statement of utility, it must enable one ordinarily skilled in the art to understand why the applicant believes the claimed invention is useful.

Except where an invention has a well-established utility, the failure of an applicant to specifically identify why an invention is believed to be useful renders the claimed invention deficient under 35 U.S.C. 101 and 35 U.S.C. 112(a) or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 112, first paragraph. In such cases, the applicant has failed to identify a “specific and substantial utility” for the claimed invention. For example, a statement that a composition has an unspecified “biological activity” or that does not explain why a composition with that activity is believed to be useful fails to set forth a “specific and substantial utility.” Brenner v. Manson, 383 US 519, 148 USPQ 689 (1966) (general assertion of similarities to known compounds known to be useful without sufficient corresponding explanation why claimed compounds are believed to be similarly useful insufficient under 35 U.S.C. 101); In re Ziegler, 992 F.2d 1197, 1201, 26 USPQ2d 1600, 1604 (Fed. Cir. 1993) (disclosure that composition is “plastic-like” and can form “films” not sufficient to identify specific and substantial utility for invention); In re Kirk, 376 F.2d 936, 153 USPQ 48 (CCPA 1967) (indication that compound is “biologically active” or has “biological properties” insufficient standing alone). See also In re Joly, 376 F.2d 906, 153 USPQ 45 (CCPA 1967); Kawai v. Metlesics, 480 F.2d 880, 890, 178 USPQ 158, 165 (CCPA 1973) (contrasting description of invention as sedative which did suggest specific utility to general suggestion of “pharmacological effects on the central nervous system” which did not). In contrast, a disclosure that identifies a particular biological activity of a compound and explains how that activity can be utilized in a particular therapeutic application of the compound does contain an assertion of specific and substantial utility for the invention.

Situations where an applicant either fails to indicate why an invention is considered useful, or where the applicant inaccurately describes the utility should rarely arise. One reason for this is that applicants are required to disclose the best mode known to them of practicing the invention at the time they file their application. An applicant who omits a description of the specific and substantial utility of the invention, or who incompletely describes that utility, may encounter problems with respect to the best mode requirement of 35 U.S.C. 112(a) or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 112, first paragraph.

B.   No Statement of Utility for the Claimed Invention in the Specification Does Not Per Se Negate Utility

Occasionally, an applicant will not explicitly state in the specification or otherwise assert a specific and substantial utility for the claimed invention. If no statements can be found asserting a specific and substantial utility for the claimed invention in the specification, Office personnel should determine if the claimed invention has a well-established utility. An invention has a well-established utility if (i) a person of ordinary skill in the art would immediately appreciate why the invention is useful based on the characteristics of the invention (e.g., properties or applications of a product or process), and (ii) the utility is specific, substantial, and credible. If an invention has a well- established utility, rejections under 35 U.S.C. 101 and 35 U.S.C. 112(a) or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 112, first paragraph, based on lack of utility should not be imposed. In re Folkers, 344 F.2d 970, 145 USPQ 390 (CCPA 1965). For example, if an application teaches the cloning and characterization of the nucleotide sequence of a well-known protein such as insulin, and those skilled in the art at the time of filing knew that insulin had a well-established use, it would be improper to reject the claimed invention as lacking utility solely because of the omitted statement of specific and substantial utility.

If a person of ordinary skill would not immediately recognize a specific and substantial utility for the claimed invention (i.e., why it would be useful) based on the characteristics of the invention or statements made by the applicant, the examiner should reject the application under 35 U.S.C. 101 and under 35 U.S.C. 112(a)or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 112, first paragraph, as failing to identify a specific and substantial utility for the claimed invention. The rejection should clearly indicate that the basis of the rejection is that the application fails to identify a specific and substantial utility for the invention. The rejection should also specify that the applicant must reply by indicating why the invention is believed useful and where support for any subsequently asserted utility can be found in the specification as filed. See MPEP § 2701.

If the applicant subsequently indicates why the invention is useful, Office personnel should review that assertion according to the standards articulated below for review of the credibility of an asserted utility.

III.   EVALUATING THE CREDIBILITY OF AN ASSERTED UTILITY

A.   An Asserted Utility Creates a Presumption of Utility

In most cases, an applicant’s assertion of utility creates a presumption of utility that will be sufficient to satisfy the utility requirement of 35 U.S.C. 101. See, e.g.,In re Jolles, 628 F.2d 1322, 206 USPQ 885 (CCPA 1980); In re Irons, 340 F.2d 974, 144 USPQ 351 (CCPA 1965); In re Langer, 503 F.2d 1380, 183 USPQ 288 (CCPA 1974); In re Sichert, 566 F.2d 1154, 1159, 196 USPQ 209, 212-13 (CCPA 1977). As the Court of Customs and Patent Appeals stated in In re Langer:

As a matter of Patent Office practice, a specification which contains a disclosure of utility which corresponds in scope to the subject matter sought to be patented must be taken as sufficient to satisfy the utility requirement of § 101 for the entire claimed subject matter unless there is a reason for one skilled in the art to question the objective truth of the statement of utility or its scope.

In re Langer, 503 F.2d at 1391, 183 USPQ at 297 (emphasis in original). The “Langer” test for utility has been used by both the Federal Circuit and the Court of Customs and Patent Appeals in evaluation of rejections under 35 U.S.C. 112(a) or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 112, first paragraph, where the rejection is based on a deficiency under 35 U.S.C. 101. In In re Brana, 51 F.3d 1560, 34 USPQ2d 1436 (Fed. Cir. 1995), the Federal Circuit explicitly adopted the Court of Customs and Patent Appeals formulation of the “Langer” standard for 35 U.S.C. 112(a) or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 112, first paragraph rejections, as it was expressed in a slightly reworded format in In re Marzocchi, 439 F.2d 220, 223, 169 USPQ 367, 369 (CCPA 1971), namely:

[A] specification disclosure which contains a teaching of the manner and process of making and using the invention in terms which correspond in scope to those used in describing and defining the subject matter sought to be patented must be taken as in compliance with the enabling requirement of the first paragraph of § 112 unless there is reason to doubt the objective truth of the statements contained therein which must be relied on for enabling support. (emphasis added).

Thus, Langer and subsequent cases direct the Office to presume that a statement of utility made by an applicant is true. See In re Langer, 503 F.2d at 1391, 183 USPQ at 297; In re Malachowski, 530 F.2d 1402, 1404, 189 USPQ 432, 435 (CCPA 1976); In re Brana, 51 F.3d 1560, 34 USPQ2d 1436 (Fed. Cir. 1995). For obvious reasons of efficiency and in deference to an applicant’s understanding of his or her invention, when a statement of utility is evaluated, Office personnel should not begin by questioning the truth of the statement of utility. Instead, any inquiry must start by asking if there is any reason to question the truth of the statement of utility. This can be done by simply evaluating the logic of the statements made, taking into consideration any evidence cited by the applicant. If the asserted utility is credible (i.e., believable based on the record or the nature of the invention), a rejection based on “lack of utility” is not appropriate. Clearly, Office personnel should not begin an evaluation of utility by assuming that an asserted utility is likely to be false, based on the technical field of the invention or for other general reasons.

Compliance with 35 U.S.C. 101 is a question of fact. Raytheon v. Roper, 724 F.2d 951, 956, 220 USPQ 592, 596 (Fed. Cir. 1983) cert. denied, 469 U.S. 835 (1984). Thus, to overcome the presumption of truth that an assertion of utility by the applicant enjoys, Office personnel must establish that it is more likely than not that one of ordinary skill in the art would doubt (i.e., “question”) the truth of the statement of utility. The evidentiary standard to be used throughout ex parteexamination in setting forth a rejection is a preponderance of the totality of the evidence under consideration. In re Oetiker, 977 F.2d 1443, 1445, 24 USPQ2d 1443, 1444 (Fed. Cir. 1992) (“After evidence or argument is submitted by the applicant in response, patentability is determined on the totality of the record, by a preponderance of evidence with due consideration to persuasiveness of argument.”); In re Corkill, 771 F.2d 1496, 1500, 226 USPQ 1005, 1008 (Fed. Cir. 1985). A preponderance of the evidence exists when it suggests that it is more likely than not that the assertion in question is true. Herman v. Huddleston, 459 U.S. 375, 390 (1983). To do this, Office personnel must provide evidence sufficient to show that the statement of asserted utility would be considered “false” by a person of ordinary skill in the art. Of course, a person of ordinary skill must have the benefit of both facts and reasoning in order to assess the truth of a statement. This means that if the applicant has presented facts that support the reasoning used in asserting a utility, Office personnel must present countervailing facts and reasoning sufficient to establish that a person of ordinary skill would not believe the applicant’s assertion of utility. In re Brana, 51 F.3d 1560, 34 USPQ2d 1436 (Fed. Cir. 1995). The initial evidentiary standard used during evaluation of this question is a preponderance of the evidence (i.e., the totality of facts and reasoning suggest that it is more likely than not that the statement of the applicant is false).

B.   When Is an Asserted Utility Not Credible?

Where an applicant has specifically asserted that an invention has a particular utility, that assertion cannot simply be dismissed by Office personnel as being “wrong,” even when there may be reason to believe that the assertion is not entirely accurate. Rather, Office personnel must determine if the assertion of utility iscredible (i.e., whether the assertion of utility is believable to a person of ordinary skill in the art based on the totality of evidence and reasoning provided). An assertion is credible unless (A) the logic underlying the assertion is seriously flawed, or (B) the facts upon which the assertion is based are inconsistent with the logic underlying the assertion. Credibility as used in this context refers to the reliability of the statement based on the logic and facts that are offered by the applicant to support the assertion of utility.

One situation where an assertion of utility would not be considered credible is where a person of ordinary skill would consider the assertion to be “incredible in view of contemporary knowledge” and where nothing offered by the applicant would counter what contemporary knowledge might otherwise suggest. Office personnel should be careful, however, not to label certain types of inventions as “incredible” or “speculative” as such labels do not provide the correct focus for the evaluation of an assertion of utility. “Incredible utility” is a conclusion, not a starting point for analysis under 35 U.S.C. 101. A conclusion that an asserted utility is incredible can be reached only after the Office has evaluated both the assertion of the applicant regarding utility and any evidentiary basis of that assertion. The Office should be particularly careful not to start with a presumption that an asserted utility is, per se, “incredible” and then proceed to base a rejection under 35 U.S.C. 101 on that presumption.

Rejections under 35 U.S.C. 101 based on a lack of credible utility have been sustained by federal courts when, for example, the applicant failed to disclose any utility for the invention or asserted a utility that could only be true if it violated a scientific principle, such as the second law of thermodynamics, or a law of nature, or was wholly inconsistent with contemporary knowledge in the art. In re Gazave, 379 F.2d 973, 978, 154 USPQ 92, 96 (CCPA 1967). Special care should be taken when assessing the credibility of an asserted therapeutic utility for a claimed invention. In such cases, a previous lack of success in treating a disease or condition, or the absence of a proven animal model for testing the effectiveness of drugs for treating a disorder in humans, should not, standing alone, serve as a basis for challenging the asserted utility under 35 U.S.C. 101. See MPEP § 2107.03 for additional guidance with regard to therapeutic or pharmacological utilities.

IV.   INITIAL BURDEN IS ON THE OFFICE TO ESTABLISH A PRIMA FACIE CASE AND PROVIDE EVIDENTIARY SUPPORT THEREOF

To properly reject a claimed invention under 35 U.S.C. 101, the Office must (A) make a prima facie showing that the claimed invention lacks utility, and (B) provide a sufficient evidentiary basis for factual assumptions relied upon in establishing the prima facie showing. In re Gaubert, 524 F.2d 1222, 1224, 187 USPQ 664, 666 (CCPA 1975) "Accordingly, the PTO must do more than merely question operability - it must set forth factual reasons which would lead one skilled in the art to question the objective truth of  the statement of operability." If the Office cannot develop a proper prima facie case and provide evidentiary support for a rejection under 35 U.S.C. 101, a rejection on this ground should not be imposed. See, e.g., In re Oetiker, 977 F.2d 1443, 1445, 24 USPQ2d 1443, 1444 (Fed. Cir. 1992) (“[T]he examiner bears the initial burden, on review of the prior art or on any other ground, of presenting a prima facie case of unpatentability. If that burden is met, the burden of coming forward with evidence or argument shifts to the applicant.... If examination at the initial stage does not produce a prima faciecase of unpatentability, then without more the applicant is entitled to grant of the patent.”). See also Fregeau v. Mossinghoff, 776 F.2d 1034, 227 USPQ 848 (Fed. Cir. 1985) (applying prima facie case law to 35 U.S.C. 101); In re Piasecki, 745 F.2d 1468, 223 USPQ 785 (Fed. Cir. 1984).

The prima facie showing must be set forth in a well-reasoned statement. Any rejection based on lack of utility should include a detailed explanation why the claimed invention has no specific and substantial credible utility. Whenever possible, the examiner should provide documentary evidence regardless of publication date (e.g., scientific or technical journals, excerpts from treatises or books, or U.S. or foreign patents) to support the factual basis for the prima facieshowing of no specific and substantial credible utility. If documentary evidence is not available, the examiner should specifically explain the scientific basis for his or her factual conclusions.

Where the asserted utility is not specific or substantial, a prima facie showing must establish that it is more likely than not that a person of ordinary skill in the art would not consider that any utility asserted by the applicant would be specific and substantial. The prima facie showing must contain the following elements:

  • (A) An explanation that clearly sets forth the reasoning used in concluding that the asserted utility for the claimed invention is neither both specific and substantial nor well-established;
  • (B) Support for factual findings relied upon in reaching this conclusion; and
  • (C) An evaluation of all relevant evidence of record, including utilities taught in the closest prior art.

Where the asserted specific and substantial utility is not credible, a prima facie showing of no specific and substantial credible utility must establish that it is more likely than not that a person skilled in the art would not consider credible any specific and substantial utility asserted by the applicant for the claimed invention. The prima facie showing must contain the following elements:

  • (A) An explanation that clearly sets forth the reasoning used in concluding that the asserted specific and substantial utility is not credible;
  • (B) Support for factual findings relied upon in reaching this conclusion; and
  • (C) An evaluation of all relevant evidence of record, including utilities taught in the closest prior art.

Where no specific and substantial utility is disclosed or is well-established, a prima facie showing of no specific and substantial utility need only establish that applicant has not asserted a utility and that, on the record before the examiner, there is no known well-established utility.

It is imperative that Office personnel use specificity in setting forth and initial rejection under 35 U.S.C. 101 and support any factual conclusions made in theprima facie showing.

By using specificity, the applicant will be able to identify the assumptions made by the Office in setting forth the rejection and will be able to address those assumptions properly.

V.   EVIDENTIARY REQUESTS BY AN EXAMINER TO SUPPORT AN ASSERTED UTILITY

In appropriate situations the Office may require an applicant to substantiate an asserted utility for a claimed invention. See In re Pottier, 376 F.2d 328, 330, 153 USPQ 407, 408 (CCPA 1967) (“When the operativeness of any process would be deemed unlikely by one of ordinary skill in the art, it is not improper for the examiner to call for evidence of operativeness.”). See also In re Jolles, 628 F.2d 1322, 1327, 206 USPQ 885, 890 (CCPA 1980); In re Citron, 325 F.2d 248, 139 USPQ 516 (CCPA 1963); In re Novak, 306 F.2d 924, 928, 134 USPQ 335, 337 (CCPA1962). In In re Citron, the court held that when an “alleged utility appears to be incredible in the light of the knowledge of the art, or factually misleading, applicant must establish the asserted utility by acceptable proof.” 325 F.2d at 253, 139 USPQ at 520. The court approved of the board’s decision which affirmed the rejection under 35 U.S.C. 101 “in view of the art knowledge of the lack of a cure for cancer and the absence of any clinical data to substantiate the allegation.” 325 F.2d at 252, 139 USPQ at 519 (emphasis in original). The court thus established a higher burden on the applicant where the statement of use is incredible or misleading. In such a case, the examiner should challenge the use and require sufficient evidence of operativeness. The purpose of this authority is to enable an applicant to cure an otherwise defective factual basis for the operability of an invention. Because this is a curative authority (e.g., evidence is requested to enable an applicant to support an assertion that is inconsistent with the facts of record in the application), Office personnel should indicate not only why the factual record is defective in relation to the assertions of the applicant, but also, where appropriate, what type of evidentiary showing can be provided by the applicant to remedy the problem.

Requests for additional evidence should be imposed rarely, and only if necessary to support the scientific credibility of the asserted utility (e.g., if the asserted utility is not consistent with the evidence of record and current scientific knowledge). As the Federal Circuit recently noted, “[o]nly after the PTO provides evidence showing that one of ordinary skill in the art would reasonably doubt the asserted utility does the burden shift to the applicant to provide rebuttal evidence sufficient to convince such a person of the invention’s asserted utility.” In re Brana, 51 F.3d 1560, 34 USPQ2d 1436 (Fed. Cir. 1995) (citing In re Bundy, 642 F.2d 430, 433, 209 USPQ 48, 51 (CCPA 1981)). In Brana, the court pointed out that the purpose of treating cancer with chemical compounds does not suggest, per se, an incredible utility. Where the prior art disclosed “structurally similar compounds to those claimed by applicants which have been proven in vivo to be effective as chemotherapeutic agents against various tumor models . . ., one skilled in the art would be without basis to reasonably doubt applicants’ asserted utility on its face.” 51 F.3d at 1566, 34 USPQ2d at 1441. As courts have stated, “it is clearly improper for the examiner to make a demand for further test data, which as evidence would be essentially redundant and would seem to serve for nothing except perhaps to unduly burden the applicant.” In re Isaacs,347 F.2d 887, 890, 146 USPQ 193, 196 (CCPA 1965).

VI.   CONSIDERATION OF A REPLY TO A PRIMA FACIE REJECTION FOR LACK OF UTILITY

If a rejection under 35 U.S.C. 101 has been properly imposed, along with a corresponding rejection under 35 U.S.C. 112(a) or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 112, first paragraph, the burden shifts to the applicant to rebut the prima facie showing. In re Oetiker, 977 F.2d 1443, 1445, 24 USPQ2d 1443, 1444 (Fed. Cir. 1992) (“The examiner bears the initial burden, on review of the prior art or on any other ground, of presenting a prima facie case of unpatentability. If that burden is met, the burden of coming forward with evidence or argument shifts to the applicant. . . After evidence or argument is submitted by the applicant in response, patentability is determined on the totality of the record, by a preponderance of evidence with due consideration to persuasiveness of argument.”). An applicant can do this using any combination of the following: amendments to the claims, arguments or reasoning, or new evidence submitted in an affidavit or declaration under 37 CFR 1.132, or in a printed publication. New evidence provided by an applicant must be relevant to the issues raised in the rejection. For example, declarations in which conclusions are set forth without establishing a nexus between those conclusions and the supporting evidence, or which merely express opinions, may be of limited probative value with regard to rebutting a prima facie case. In re Grunwell, 609 F.2d 486, 203 USPQ 1055 (CCPA 1979); In re Buchner, 929 F.2d 660, 18 USPQ2d 1331 (Fed. Cir. 1991). See MPEP § 716.01(a) through MPEP § 716.01(c).

If the applicant responds to the prima facie rejection, Office personnel should review the original disclosure, any evidence relied upon in establishing the prima facie showing, any claim amendments, and any new reasoning or evidence provided by the applicant in support of an asserted specific and substantial credible utility. It is essential for Office personnel to recognize, fully consider and respond to each substantive element of any response to a rejection based on lack of utility. Only where the totality of the record continues to show that the asserted utility is not specific, substantial, and credible should a rejection based on lack of utility be maintained. If the record as a whole would make it more likely than not that the asserted utility for the claimed invention would be considered credible by a person of ordinary skill in the art, the Office cannot maintain the rejection. In re Rinehart, 531 F.2d 1048, 1052, 189 USPQ 143, 147 (CCPA 1976).

VII.   EVALUATION OF EVIDENCE RELATED TO UTILITY

There is no predetermined amount or character of evidence that must be provided by an applicant to support an asserted utility, therapeutic or otherwise. Rather, the character and amount of evidence needed to support an asserted utility will vary depending on what is claimed (Ex parte Ferguson, 117 USPQ 229 (Bd. App. 1957)), and whether the asserted utility appears to contravene established scientific principles and beliefs. In re Gazave, 379 F.2d 973, 978, 154 USPQ 92, 96 (CCPA 1967); In re Chilowsky, 229 F.2d 457, 462, 108 USPQ 321, 325 (CCPA 1956). Furthermore, the applicant does not have to provide evidence sufficient to establish that an asserted utility is true “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In re Irons, 340 F.2d 974, 978, 144 USPQ 351, 354 (CCPA 1965). Nor must an applicant provide evidence such that it establishes an asserted utility as a matter of statistical certainty. Nelson v. Bowler, 626 F.2d 853, 856-57, 206 USPQ 881, 883-84 (CCPA 1980) (reversing the Board and rejecting Bowler’s arguments that the evidence of utility was statistically insignificant. The court pointed out that a rigorous correlation is not necessary when the test is reasonably predictive of the response). See also Rey-Bellet v. Englehardt, 493 F.2d 1380, 181 USPQ 453 (CCPA 1974) (data from animal testing is relevant to asserted human therapeutic utility if there is a “satisfactory correlation between the effect on the animal and that ultimately observed in human beings”). Instead, evidence will be sufficient if, considered as a whole, it leads a person of ordinary skill in the art to conclude that the asserted utility is more likely than not true.

2107.03   Special Considerations for Asserted Therapeutic or Pharmacological Utilities [R-08.2012]

The Federal courts have consistently reversed rejections by the Office asserting a lack of utility for inventions claiming a pharmacological or therapeutic utility where an applicant has provided evidence that reasonably supports such a utility. In view of this, Office personnel should be particularly careful in their review of evidence provided in support of an asserted therapeutic or pharmacological utility.

I.   A REASONABLE CORRELATION BETWEEN THE EVIDENCE AND THE ASSERTED UTILITY IS SUFFICIENT

As a general matter, evidence of pharmacological or other biological activity of a compound will be relevant to an asserted therapeutic use if there is areasonable correlation between the activity in question and the asserted utility. Cross v. Iizuka, 753 F.2d 1040, 224 USPQ 739 (Fed. Cir. 1985); In re Jolles, 628 F.2d 1322, 206 USPQ 885 (CCPA 1980); Nelson v. Bowler, 626 F.2d 853, 206 USPQ 881 (CCPA 1980). An applicant can establish this reasonable correlation by relying on statistically relevant data documenting the activity of a compound or composition, arguments or reasoning, documentary evidence (e.g., articles in scientific journals), or any combination thereof. The applicant does not have to prove that a correlation exists between a particular activity and an asserted therapeutic use of a compound as a matter of statistical certainty, nor does he or she have to provide actual evidence of success in treating humans where such a utility is asserted. Instead, as the courts have repeatedly held, all that is required is a reasonable correlation between the activity and the asserted use. Nelsonv. Bowler, 626 F.2d 853, 857, 206 USPQ 881, 884 (CCPA 1980).

II.   STRUCTURAL SIMILARITY TO COMPOUNDS WITH ESTABLISHED UTILITY

Courts have routinely found evidence of structural similarity to a compound known to have a particular therapeutic or pharmacological utility as being supportive of an assertion of therapeutic utility for a new compound. In In re Jolles, 628 F.2d 1322, 206 USPQ 885 (CCPA 1980), the claimed compounds were found to have utility based on a finding of a close structural relationship to daunorubicin and doxorubicin and shared pharmacological activity with those compounds, both of which were known to be useful in cancer chemotherapy. The evidence of close structural similarity with the known compounds was presented in conjunction with evidence demonstrating substantial activity of the claimed compounds in animals customarily employed for screening anticancer agents. Such evidence should be given appropriate weight in determining whether one skilled in the art would find the asserted utility credible. Office personnel should evaluate not only the existence of the structural relationship, but also the reasoning used by the applicant or a declarant to explain why that structural similarity is believed to be relevant to the applicant's assertion of utility.

III.   DATA FROM IN VITRO OR ANIMAL TESTING IS GENERALLY SUFFICIENT TO SUPPORT THERAPEUTIC UTILITY

If reasonably correlated to the particular therapeutic or pharmacological utility, data generated using in vitro assays, or from testing in an animal model or a combination thereof almost invariably will be sufficient to establish therapeutic or pharmacological utility for a compound, composition or process. A cursory review of cases involving therapeutic inventions where 35 U.S.C. 101 was the dispositive issue illustrates the fact that the Federal courts are not particularly receptive to rejections under 35 U.S.C. 101 based on inoperability. Most striking is the fact that in those cases where an applicant supplied a reasonable evidentiary showing supporting an asserted therapeutic utility, almost uniformly the 35 U.S.C. 101-based rejection was reversed. See, e.g., In re Brana, 51 F.3d 1560, 34 USPQ 1436 (Fed. Cir. 1995); Cross v. Iizuka, 753 F.2d 1040, 224 USPQ 739 (Fed. Cir. 1985); In re Jolles, 628 F.2d 1322, 206 USPQ 885 (CCPA 1980); Nelson v. Bowler, 626 F.2d 853, 856, 206 USPQ 881, 883 (CCPA 1980); In re Malachowski, 530 F.2d 1402, 189 USPQ 432 (CCPA 1976); In re Gaubert,530 F.2d 1402, 189 USPQ 432 (CCPA 1975); In re Gazave, 379 F.2d 973, 154 USPQ 92 (CCPA 1967); In re Hartop, 311 F.2d 249, 135 USPQ 419 (CCPA 1962); In re Krimmel, 292 F.2d 948, 130 USPQ 215 (CCPA 1961). Only in those cases where the applicant was unable to come forward with any relevant evidence to rebut a finding by the Office that the claimed invention was inoperative was a 35 U.S.C. 101 rejection affirmed by the court. In re Citron, 325 F.2d 248, 253, 139 USPQ 516, 520 (CCPA 1963) (therapeutic utility for an uncharacterized biological extract not supported or scientifically credible); In re Buting, 418 F.2d 540, 543, 163 USPQ 689, 690 (CCPA 1969) (record did not establish a credible basis for the assertion that the single class of compounds in question would be useful in treating disparate types of cancers); In re Novak, 306 F.2d 924, 134 USPQ 335 (CCPA 1962) (claimed compounds did not have capacity to effect physiological activity upon which utility claim based). Contrast, however, In re Buting to In re Gardner, 475 F.2d 1389, 177 USPQ 396 (CCPA 1973), reh'g denied, 480 F.2d 879 (CCPA 1973), in which the court held that utility for a genus was found to be supported through a showing of utility for one species. In no case has a Federal court required an applicant to support an asserted utility with data from human clinical trials.

If an applicant provides data, whether from in vitro assays or animal tests or both, to support an asserted utility, and an explanation of why that data supports the asserted utility, the Office will determine if the data and the explanation would be viewed by one skilled in the art as being reasonably predictive of the asserted utility. See, e.g., Ex parte Maas, 9 USPQ2d 1746 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1987); Ex parte Balzarini, 21 USPQ2d 1892 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1991). Office personnel must be careful to evaluate all factors that might influence the conclusions of a person of ordinary skill in the art as to this question, including the test parameters, choice of animal, relationship of the activity to the particular disorder to be treated, characteristics of the compound or composition, relative significance of the data provided and, most importantly, the explanation offered by the applicant as to why the information provided is believed to support the asserted utility. If the data supplied is consistent with the asserted utility, the Office cannot maintain a rejection under 35 U.S.C. 101.

Evidence does not have to be in the form of data from an art-recognized animal model for the particular disease or disease condition to which the asserted utility relates. Data from any test that the applicant reasonably correlates to the asserted utility should be evaluated substantively. Thus, an applicant may provide data generated using a particular animal model with an appropriate explanation as to why that data supports the asserted utility. The absence of a certification that the test in question is an industry-accepted model is not dispositive of whether data from an animal model is in fact relevant to the asserted utility. Thus, if one skilled in the art would accept the animal tests as being reasonably predictive of utility in humans, evidence from those tests should be considered sufficient to support the credibility of the asserted utility. In re Hartop, 311 F.2d 249, 135 USPQ 419 (CCPA 1962); In re Krimmel, 292 F.2d 948, 953, 130 USPQ 215, 219 (CCPA 1961); Ex parte Krepelka, 231 USPQ 746 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1986). Office personnel should be careful not to find evidence unpersuasive simply because no animal model for the human disease condition had been established prior to the filing of the application. See In re Chilowsky, 229 F.2d 457, 461, 108 USPQ 321, 325 (CCPA 1956) (“The mere fact that something has not previously been done clearly is not, in itself, a sufficient basis for rejecting all applications purporting to disclose how to do it.”); In re Wooddy, 331 F.2d 636, 639, 141 USPQ 518, 520 (CCPA 1964) (“It appears that no one on earth is certain as of the present whether the process claimed will operate in the manner claimed. Yet absolute certainty is not required by the law. The mere fact that something has not previously been done clearly is not, in itself, a sufficient basis for rejecting all applications purporting to disclose how to do it.”).

IV.   HUMAN CLINICAL DATA

Office personnel should not impose on applicants the unnecessary burden of providing evidence from human clinical trials. There is no decisional law that requires an applicant to provide data from human clinical trials to establish utility for an invention related to treatment of human disorders (see In re Isaacs, 347 F.2d 889, 146 USPQ 193 (CCPA 1963); In re Langer, 503 F.2d 1380, 183 USPQ 288 (CCPA 1974)), even with respect to situations where no art-recognized animal models existed for the human disease encompassed by the claims. Ex parte Balzarini, 21 USPQ2d 1892 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1991) (human clinical data is not required to demonstrate the utility of the claimed invention, even though those skilled in the art might not accept other evidence to establish the efficacy of the claimed therapeutic compositions and the operativeness of the claimed methods of treating humans). Before a drug can enter human clinical trials, the sponsor, often the applicant, must provide a convincing rationale to those especially skilled in the art (e.g., the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)) that the investigation may be successful. Such a rationale would provide a basis for the sponsor’s expectation that the investigation may be successful. In order to determine a protocol for phase I testing, the first phase of clinical investigation, some credible rationale of how the drug might be effective or could be effective would be necessary. Thus, as a general rule, if an applicant has initiated human clinical trials for a therapeutic product or process, Office personnel should presume that the applicant has established that the subject matter of that trial is reasonably predictive of having the asserted therapeutic utility.

V.   SAFETY AND EFFICACY CONSIDERATIONS

The Office must confine its review of patent applications to the statutory requirements of the patent law. Other agencies of the government have been assigned the responsibility of ensuring conformance to standards established by statute for the advertisement, use, sale or distribution of drugs. The FDA pursues a two-prong test to provide approval for testing. Under that test, a sponsor must show that the investigation does not pose an unreasonable and significant risk of illness or injury and that there is an acceptable rationale for the study. As a review matter, there must be a rationale for believing that the compound could be effective. If the use reviewed by the FDA is not set forth in the specification, FDA review may not satisfy 35 U.S.C. 101. However, if the reviewed use is one set forth in the specification, Office personnel must be extremely hesitant to challenge utility. In such a situation, experts at the FDA have assessed the rationale for the drug or research study upon which an asserted utility is based and found it satisfactory. Thus, in challenging utility, Office personnel must be able to carry their burden that there is no sound rationale for the asserted utility even though experts designated by Congress to decide the issue have come to an opposite conclusion. “FDA approval, however, is not a prerequisite for finding a compound useful within the meaning of the patent laws.” In re Brana, 51 F.3d 1560, 34 USPQ2d 1436 (Fed. Cir. 1995) (citing Scott v. Finney, 34 F.3d 1058, 1063, 32 USPQ2d 1115, 1120 (Fed. Cir. 1994)).

Thus, while an applicant may on occasion need to provide evidence to show that an invention will work as claimed, it is improper for Office personnel to request evidence of safety in the treatment of humans, or regarding the degree of effectiveness. See In re Sichert, 566 F.2d 1154, 196 USPQ 209 (CCPA 1977); In re Hartop, 311 F.2d 249, 135 USPQ 419 (CCPA 1962); In re Anthony, 414 F.2d 1383, 162 USPQ 594 (CCPA 1969); In re Watson, 517 F.2d 465, 186 USPQ 11 (CCPA 1975); In re Krimmel, 292 F.2d 948, 130 USPQ 215 (CCPA 1961); Ex parte Jovanovics, 211 USPQ 907 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1981).

VI.   TREATMENT OF SPECIFIC DISEASE CONDITIONS

Claims directed to a method of treating or curing a disease for which there have been no previously successful treatments or cures warrant careful review for compliance with 35 U.S.C. 101. The credibility of an asserted utility for treating a human disorder may be more difficult to establish where current scientific understanding suggests that such a task would be impossible. Such a determination has always required a good understanding of the state of the art as of the time that the invention was made. For example, prior to the 1980’s, there were a number of cases where an asserted use in treating cancer in humans was viewed as “incredible.” In re Jolles, 628 F.2d 1322, 206 USPQ 885 (CCPA 1980); In re Buting, 418 F.2d 540, 163 USPQ 689 (CCPA 1969); Ex parte Stevens, 16 USPQ2d 1379 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1990); Ex parte Busse, 1 USPQ2d 1908 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1986); Ex parte Krepelka, 231 USPQ 746 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1986); Ex parte Jovanovics, 211 USPQ 907 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1981). The fact that there is no known cure for a disease, however, cannot serve as the basis for a conclusion that such an invention lacks utility. Rather, Office personnel must determine if the asserted utility for the invention is credible based on the information disclosed in the application. Only those claims for which an asserted utility is not credible should be rejected. In such cases, the Office should carefully review what is being claimed by the applicant. An assertion that the claimed invention is useful in treating a symptom of an incurable disease may be considered credible by a person of ordinary skill in the art on the basis of a fairly modest amount of evidence or support. In contrast, an assertion that the claimed invention will be useful in “curing” the disease may require a significantly greater amount of evidentiary support to be considered credible by a person of ordinary skill in the art. In re Sichert, 566 F.2d 1154, 196 USPQ 209 (CCPA 1977); In re Jolles, 628 F.2d 1322, 206 USPQ 885 (CCPA 1980). See also Ex parte Ferguson, 117 USPQ 229 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1957).

In these cases, it is important to note that the Food and Drug Administration has promulgated regulations that enable a party to conduct clinical trials for drugs used to treat life threatening and severely-debilitating illnesses, even where no alternative therapy exists. See 21 CFR 312.80-88 (1994). Implicit in these regulations is the recognition that experts qualified to evaluate the effectiveness of therapeutics can and often do find a sufficient basis to conduct clinical trials of drugs for incurable or previously untreatable illnesses. Thus, affidavit evidence from experts in the art indicating that there is a reasonable expectation of success, supported by sound reasoning, usually should be sufficient to establish that such a utility is credible.

2108-2110    [Reserved]

 

2111    Claim Interpretation; Broadest Reasonable Interpretation [R-11.2013]

  CLAIMS MUST BE GIVEN THEIR BROADEST REASONABLE INTERPRETATION IN LIGHT OF THE SPECIFICATION

During patent examination, the pending claims must be “given their broadest reasonable interpretation consistent with the specification.” The Federal Circuit’s en banc decision in Phillips v. AWH Corp., 415 F.3d 1303, 1316, 75 USPQ2d 1321, 1329 (Fed. Cir. 2005) expressly recognized that the USPTO employs the “broadest reasonable interpretation” standard:

The Patent and Trademark Office (“PTO”) determines the scope of claims in patent applications not solely on the basis of the claim language, but upon giving claims their broadest reasonable construction “in light of the specification as it would be interpreted by one of ordinary skill in the art.” In re Am. Acad. of Sci. Tech. Ctr., 367 F.3d 1359, 1364[, 70 USPQ2d 1827, 1830] (Fed. Cir. 2004). Indeed, the rules of the PTO require that application claims must “conform to the invention as set forth in the remainder of the specification and the terms and phrases used in the claims must find clear support or antecedent basis in the description so that the meaning of the terms in the claims may be ascertainable by reference to the description.”37 CFR 1.75(d)(1).

See also In re Hyatt, 211 F.3d 1367, 1372, 54 USPQ2d 1664, 1667 (Fed. Cir. 2000). Because applicant has the opportunity to amend the claims during prosecution, giving a claim its broadest reasonable interpretation will reduce the possibility that the claim, once issued, will be interpreted more broadly than is justified. In re Yamamoto, 740 F.2d 1569, 1571 (Fed. Cir. 1984); In re Zletz, 893 F.2d 319, 321, 13 USPQ2d 1320, 1322 (Fed. Cir. 1989) (“During patent examination the pending claims must be interpreted as broadly as their terms reasonably allow.”); In re Prater, 415 F.2d 1393, 1404-05, 162 USPQ 541, 550-51 (CCPA 1969) (Claim 9 was directed to a process of analyzing data generated by mass spectrographic analysis of a gas. The process comprised selecting the data to be analyzed by subjecting the data to a mathematical manipulation. The examiner made rejections under 35 U.S.C. 101 and 35 U.S.C. 102. In the 35 U.S.C. 102 rejection, the examiner explained that the claim was anticipated by a mental process augmented by pencil and paper markings. The court agreed that the claim was not limited to using a machine to carry out the process since the claim did not explicitly set forth the machine. The court explained that “reading a claim in light of the specification, to thereby interpret limitations explicitly recited in the claim, is a quite different thing from ‘reading limitations of the specification into a claim,’ to thereby narrow the scope of the claim by implicitly adding disclosed limitations which have no express basis in the claim.” The court found that applicant was advocating the latter, i.e., the impermissible importation of subject matter from the specification into the claim.). See also In re Morris,127 F.3d 1048, 1054-55, 44 USPQ2d 1023, 1027-28 (Fed. Cir. 1997) (The court held that the PTO is not required, in the course of prosecution, to interpret claims in applications in the same manner as a court would interpret claims in an infringement suit. Rather, the “PTO applies to verbiage of the proposed claims the broadest reasonable meaning of the words in their ordinary usage as they would be understood by one of ordinary skill in the art, taking into account whatever enlightenment by way of definitions or otherwise that may be afforded by the written description contained in applicant’s specification.”).

The broadest reasonable interpretation of the claims must also be consistent with the interpretation that those skilled in the art would reach. In re Cortright, 165 F.3d 1353, 1359, 49 USPQ2d 1464, 1468 (Fed. Cir. 1999) (The Board’s construction of the claim limitation “restore hair growth” as requiring the hair to be returned to its original state was held to be an incorrect interpretation of the limitation. The court held that, consistent with applicant’s disclosure and the disclosure of three patents from analogous arts using the same phrase to require only some increase in hair growth, one of ordinary skill would construe “restore hair growth” to mean that the claimed method increases the amount of hair grown on the scalp, but does not necessarily produce a full head of hair.). Thus the focus of the inquiry regarding the meaning of a claim should be what would be reasonable from the perspective of one of ordinary skill in the art. In re Suitco Surface, Inc., 603 F.3d 1255, 1260, 94 USPQ2d 1640, 1644 (Fed. Cir. 2010); In re Buszard, 504 F.3d 1364, 84 USPQ2d 1749 (Fed. Cir. 2007). In Buszard, the claim was directed to a flame retardant composition comprising a flexible polyurethane foam reaction mixture. 504 F.3d at 1365, 84 USPQ2d at 1750. The Federal Circuit found that the Board’s interpretation that equated a “flexible” foam with a crushed “rigid” foam was not reasonable.Id. at 1367, 84 USPQ2d at 1751. Persuasive argument was presented that persons experienced in the field of polyurethane foams know that a flexible mixture is different than a rigid foam mixture. Id. at 1366, 84 USPQ2d at 1751.

See MPEP § 2173.02 for further discussion of claim interpretation in the context of analyzing claims for compliance with 35 U.S.C. 112(b) or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 112, second paragraph.

2111.01   Plain Meaning [R-11.2013]

[Editor Note: This MPEP section is applicable to applications subject to the first inventor to file (FITF) provisions of the AIA except that the relevant date is the "effective filing date" of the claimed invention instead of the "time of the invention," which is only applicable to applications subject to pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102. See35 U.S.C. 100 (note) and MPEP § 2150 et seq.]

I.   THE WORDS OF A CLAIM MUST BE GIVEN THEIR “PLAIN MEANING” UNLESS SUCH MEANING IS INCONSISTENT WITH THE SPECIFICATION

Under a broadest reasonable interpretation, words of the claim must be given their plain meaning, unless such meaning is inconsistent with the specification. The plain meaning of a term means the ordinary and customary meaning given to the term by those of ordinary skill in the art at the time of the invention. The ordinary and customary meaning of a term may be evidenced by a variety of sources, including the words of the claims themselves, the specification, drawings, and prior art. However, the best source for determining the meaning of a claim term is the specification - the greatest clarity is obtained when the specification serves as a glossary for the claim terms. The presumption that a term is given its ordinary and customary meaning may be rebutted by the applicant by clearly setting forth a different definition of the term in the specification. In re Morris, 127 F.3d 1048, 1054, 44 USPQ2d 1023, 1028 (Fed. Cir. 1997) (the USPTO looks to the ordinary use of the claim terms taking into account definitions or other “enlightenment” contained in the written description); But c.f. In re Am. Acad. of Sci. Tech. Ctr., 367 F.3d 1359, 1369, 70 USPQ2d 1827, 1834 (Fed. Cir. 2004) (“We have cautioned against reading limitations into a claim from the preferred embodiment described in the specification, even if it is the only embodiment described, absent clear disclaimer in the specification.”). When the specification sets a clear path to the claim language, the scope of the claims is more easily determined and the public notice function of the claims is best served.

Although claims of issued patents are interpreted in light of the specification, prosecution history, prior art and other claims, this is not the mode of claim interpretation to be applied during examination. During examination, the claims must be interpreted as broadly as their terms reasonably allow. In re American Academy of Science Tech Center, 367 F.3d 1359, 1369, 70 USPQ2d 1827, 1834 (Fed. Cir. 2004) (The USPTO uses a different standard for construing claims than that used by district courts; during examination the USPTO must give claims their broadest reasonable interpretation in light of the specification.). This means that the words of the claim must be given their plain meaning unless the plain meaning is inconsistent with the specification. In re Zletz, 893 F.2d 319, 321, 13 USPQ2d 1320, 1322 (Fed. Cir. 1989) (discussed below); Chef America, Inc. v. Lamb-Weston, Inc., 358 F.3d 1371, 1372, 69 USPQ2d 1857 (Fed. Cir. 2004) (Ordinary, simple English words whose meaning is clear and unquestionable, absent any indication that their use in a particular context changes their meaning, are construed to mean exactly what they say. Thus, “heating the resulting batter-coated dough to a temperature in the range of about 400oF to 850oF” required heating the dough, rather than the air inside an oven, to the specified temperature.).

II.   IT IS IMPROPER TO IMPORT CLAIM LIMITATIONS FROM THE SPECIFICATION

“Though understanding the claim language may be aided by explanations contained in the written description, it is important not to import into a claim limitations that are not part of the claim. For example, a particular embodiment appearing in the written description may not be read into a claim when the claim language is broader than the embodiment.” Superguide Corp. v. DirecTV Enterprises, Inc., 358 F.3d 870, 875, 69 USPQ2d 1865, 1868 (Fed. Cir. 2004). See also Liebel-Flarsheim Co. v. Medrad Inc., 358 F.3d 898, 906, 69 USPQ2d 1801, 1807 (Fed. Cir. 2004) (discussing recent cases wherein the court expressly rejected the contention that if a patent describes only a single embodiment, the claims of the patent must be construed as being limited to that embodiment); E-Pass Techs., Inc. v. 3Com Corp., 343 F.3d 1364, 1369, 67 USPQ2d 1947, 1950 (Fed. Cir. 2003) (“Interpretation of descriptive statements in a patent’s written description is a difficult task, as an inherent tension exists as to whether a statement is a clear lexicographic definition or a description of a preferred embodiment. The problem is to interpret claims ‘in view of the specification’ without unnecessarily importing limitations from the specification into the claims.”); Altiris Inc. v. Symantec Corp., 318 F.3d 1363, 1371, 65 USPQ2d 1865, 1869-70 (Fed. Cir. 2003) (Although the specification discussed only a single embodiment, the court held that it was improper to read a specific order of steps into method claims where, as a matter of logic or grammar, the language of the method claims did not impose a specific order on the performance of the method steps, and the specification did not directly or implicitly require a particular order). See also subsection IV., below. When an element is claimed using language falling under the scope of 35 U.S.C. 112(a) or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 112, 6th paragraph (often broadly referred to as means- (or step-) plus- function language), the specification must be consulted to determine the structure, material, or acts corresponding to the function recited in the claim. In re Donaldson, 16 F.3d 1189, 29 USPQ2d 1845 (Fed. Cir. 1994) (see MPEP § 2181MPEP § 2186).

In In re Zletz, supra, the examiner and the Board had interpreted claims reading “normally solid polypropylene” and “normally solid polypropylene having a crystalline polypropylene content” as being limited to “normally solid linear high homopolymers of propylene which have a crystalline polypropylene content.” The court ruled that limitations, not present in the claims, were improperly imported from the specification. See also In re Marosi, 710 F.2d 799, 802, 218 USPQ 289, 292 (Fed. Cir. 1983) (“'claims are not to be read in a vacuum, and limitations therein are to be interpreted in light of the specification in giving them their ‘broadest reasonable interpretation.'” (quoting In re Okuzawa, 537 F.2d 545, 548, 190 USPQ 464, 466 (CCPA 1976)). The court looked to the specification to construe “essentially free of alkali metal” as including unavoidable levels of impurities but no more.). Compare In re Weiss, 989 F.2d 1202, 26 USPQ2d 1885 (Fed. Cir. 1993) (unpublished decision - cannot be cited as precedent) (The claim related to an athletic shoe with cleats that “break away at a preselected level of force” and thus prevent injury to the wearer. The examiner rejected the claims over prior art teaching athletic shoes with cleats not intended to break off and rationalized that the cleats would break away given a high enough force. The court reversed the rejection stating that when interpreting a claim term which is ambiguous, such as "'a preselected level of force,' we must look to the specification for the meaning ascribed to that term by the inventor.” The specification had defined “preselected level of force” as that level of force at which the breaking away will prevent injury to the wearer during athletic exertion.)

III.    “PLAIN MEANING” REFERS TO THE ORDINARY AND CUSTOMARY MEANING GIVEN TO THE TERM BY THOSE OF ORDINARY SKILL IN THE ART

“[T]he ordinary and customary meaning of a claim term is the meaning that the term would have to a person of ordinary skill in the art in question at the time of the invention, i.e., as of the effective filing date of the patent application.” Phillips v. AWH Corp.,415 F.3d 1303, 1313, 75 USPQ2d 1321, 1326 (Fed. Cir. 2005)(en banc)Sunrace Roots Enter. Co. v. SRAM Corp., 336 F.3d 1298, 1302, 67 USPQ2d 1438, 1441 (Fed. Cir. 2003); Brookhill-Wilk 1, LLC v. Intuitive Surgical, Inc., 334 F.3d 1294, 1298 67 USPQ2d 1132, 1136 (Fed. Cir. 2003) (“In the absence of an express intent to impart a novel meaning to the claim terms, the words are presumed to take on the ordinary and customary meanings attributed to them by those of ordinary skill in the art.”). It is the use of the words in the context of the written description and customarily by those skilled in the relevant art that accurately reflects both the “ordinary” and the “customary” meaning of the terms in the claims. Ferguson Beauregard/Logic Controls v. Mega Systems, 350 F.3d 1327, 1338, 69 USPQ2d 1001, 1009 (Fed. Cir. 2003) (Dictionary definitions were used to determine the ordinary and customary meaning of the words “normal” and “predetermine” to those skilled in the art. In construing claim terms, the general meanings gleaned from reference sources, such as dictionaries, must always be compared against the use of the terms in context, and the intrinsic record must always be consulted to identify which of the different possible dictionary meanings is most consistent with the use of the words by the inventor.);ACTV, Inc. v. The Walt Disney Company, 346 F.3d 1082, 1092, 68 USPQ2d 1516, 1524 (Fed. Cir. 2003) (Since there was no express definition given for the term “URL” in the specification, the term should be given its broadest reasonable interpretation consistent with the intrinsic record and take on the ordinary and customary meaning attributed to it by those of ordinary skill in the art; thus, the term “URL” was held to encompass both relative and absolute URLs.); and E-Pass Technologies, Inc. v. 3Com Corporation, 343 F.3d 1364, 1368, 67 USPQ2d 1947, 1949 (Fed. Cir. 2003) (Where no explicit definition for the term “electronic multi-function card” was given in the specification, this term should be given its ordinary meaning and broadest reasonable interpretation; the term should not be limited to the industry standard definition of credit card where there is no suggestion that this definition applies to the electronic multi-function card as claimed, and should not be limited to preferred embodiments in the specification.).

The ordinary and customary meaning of a term may be evidenced by a variety of sources, including “the words of the claims themselves, the remainder of the specification, the prosecution history, and extrinsic evidence concerning relevant scientific principles, the meaning of technical terms, and the state of the art.”Phillips v. AWH Corp., 415 F.3d at 1314, 75 USPQ2d at 1327. If extrinsic reference sources, such as dictionaries, evidence more than one definition for the term, the intrinsic record must be consulted to identify which of the different possible definitions is most consistent with applicant’s use of the terms. Brookhill-Wilk 1, 334 F.3d at 1300, 67 USPQ2d at 1137; see also Renishaw PLC v. Marposs Societa' per Azioni, 158 F.3d 1243, 1250, 48 USPQ2d 1117, 1122 (Fed. Cir. 1998) (“Where there are several common meanings for a claim term, the patent disclosure serves to point away from the improper meanings and toward the proper meanings.”) and Vitronics Corp. v. Conceptronic Inc., 90 F.3d 1576, 1583, 39 USPQ2d 1573, 1577 (Fed. Cir. 1996) (construing the term “solder reflow temperature” to mean “peak reflow temperature” of solder rather than the “liquidus temperature” of solder in order to remain consistent with the specification.). If more than one extrinsic definition is consistent with the use of the words in the intrinsic record, the claim terms may be construed to encompass all consistent meanings. See e.g., Rexnord Corp. v. Laitram Corp., 274 F.3d 1336, 1342, 60 USPQ2d 1851, 1854 (Fed. Cir. 2001) (explaining the court’s analytical process for determining the meaning of disputed claim terms); Toro Co. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 199 F.3d 1295, 1299, 53 USPQ2d 1065, 1067 (Fed. Cir. 1999) (“[W]ords in patent claims are given their ordinary meaning in the usage of the field of the invention, unless the text of the patent makes clear that a word was used with a special meaning.”). Compare MSM Investments Co. v. Carolwood Corp., 259 F.3d 1335, 1339-40, 59 USPQ2d 1856, 1859-60 (Fed. Cir. 2001) (Claims directed to a method of feeding an animal a beneficial amount of methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) to enhance the animal’s diet were held anticipated by prior oral administration of MSM to human patients to relieve pain. Although the ordinary meaning of “feeding” is limited to provision of food or nourishment, the broad definition of “food” in the written description warranted finding that the claimed method encompasses the use of MSM for both nutritional and pharmacological purposes.); and Rapoport v. Dement, 254 F.3d 1053, 1059-60, 59 USPQ2d 1215, 1219-20 (Fed. Cir. 2001) (Both intrinsic evidence and the plain meaning of the term “method for treatment of sleep apneas” supported construction of the term as being limited to treatment of the underlying sleep apnea disorder itself, and not encompassing treatment of anxiety and other secondary symptoms related to sleep apnea.).

IV.   APPLICANT MAY BE OWN LEXICOGRAPHER

An applicant is entitled to be his or her own lexicographer and may rebut the presumption that claim terms are to be given their ordinary and customary meaning by clearly setting forth a definition of the term that is different from its ordinary and customary meaning(s). See In re Paulsen, 30 F.3d 1475, 1480, 31 USPQ2d 1671, 1674 (Fed. Cir. 1994) (inventor may define specific terms used to describe invention, but must do so “with reasonable clarity, deliberateness, and precision” and, if done, must “‘set out his uncommon definition in some manner within the patent disclosure’ so as to give one of ordinary skill in the art notice of the change” in meaning) (quoting Intellicall, Inc. v. Phonometrics, Inc., 952 F.2d 1384, 1387-88, 21 USPQ2d 1383, 1386 (Fed. Cir. 1992)). Where an explicit definition is provided by the applicant for a term, that definition will control interpretation of the term as it is used in the claim. Toro Co. v. White Consolidated Industries Inc., 199 F.3d 1295, 1301, 53 USPQ2d 1065, 1069 (Fed. Cir. 1999) (meaning of words used in a claim is not construed in a “lexicographic vacuum, but in the context of the specification and drawings”). Any special meaning assigned to a term “must be sufficiently clear in the specification that any departure from common usage would be so understood by a person of experience in the field of the invention.” Multiform Desiccants Inc. v. Medzam Ltd., 133 F.3d 1473, 1477, 45 USPQ2d 1429, 1432 (Fed. Cir. 1998). See also Process Control Corp. v. HydReclaim Corp., 190 F.3d 1350, 1357, 52 USPQ2d 1029, 1033 (Fed. Cir. 1999) and MPEP § 2173.05(a). The specification should also be relied on for more than just explicit lexicography or clear disavowal of claim scope to determine the meaning of a claim term when applicant acts as his or her own lexicographer; the meaning of a particular claim term may be defined by implication, that is, according to the usage of the term in the context in the specification. See Phillips v. AWH Corp., 415 F.3d 1303, 75 USPQ2d 1321 (Fed. Cir. 2005) (en banc); and Vitronics Corp. v. Conceptronic Inc., 90 F.3d 1576, 1583, 39 USPQ2d 1573, 1577 (Fed. Cir. 1996). Compare Merck & Co., Inc., v. Teva Pharms. USA, Inc.,395 F.3d 1364, 1370, 73 USPQ2d 1641, 1646 (Fed. Cir. 2005) (the court held that patentee failed to redefine the ordinary meaning of “about” to mean “exactly” in clear enough terms to justify the counterintuitive definition of “about” stating that “When a patentee acts as his own lexicographer in redefining the meaning of particular claim terms away from their ordinary meaning, he must clearly express that intent in the written description.”).

See also MPEP § 2173.05(a).

2111.02   Effect of Preamble [R-08.2012]

The determination of whether a preamble limits a claim is made on a case-by-case basis in light of the facts in each case; there is no litmus test defining when a preamble limits the scope of a claim. Catalina Mktg. Int’l v. Coolsavings.com, Inc., 289 F.3d 801, 808, 62 USPQ2d 1781, 1785 (Fed. Cir. 2002). See id. at 808-10, 62 USPQ2d at 1784-86 for a discussion of guideposts that have emerged from various decisions exploring the preamble’s effect on claim scope, as well as a hypothetical example illustrating these principles.

“[A] claim preamble has the import that the claim as a whole suggests for it.” Bell Communications Research, Inc. v. Vitalink Communications Corp., 55 F.3d 615, 620, 34 USPQ2d 1816, 1820 (Fed. Cir. 1995). “If the claim preamble, when read in the context of the entire claim, recites limitations of the claim, or, if the claim preamble is ‘necessary to give life, meaning, and vitality’ to the claim, then the claim preamble should be construed as if in the balance of the claim.”Pitney Bowes, Inc. v. Hewlett-Packard Co., 182 F.3d 1298, 1305, 51 USPQ2d 1161, 1165-66 (Fed. Cir. 1999). See also Jansen v. Rexall Sundown, Inc., 342 F.3d 1329, 1333, 68 USPQ2d 1154, 1158 (Fed. Cir. 2003)(In considering the effect of the preamble in a claim directed to a method of treating or preventing pernicious anemia in humans by administering a certain vitamin preparation to “a human in need thereof,” the court held that the claims’ recitation of a patient or a human “in need” gives life and meaning to the preamble’s statement of purpose.). Kropa v. Robie, 187 F.2d 150, 152, 88 USPQ 478, 481 (CCPA 1951) (A preamble reciting “An abrasive article” was deemed essential to point out the invention defined by claims to an article comprising abrasive grains and a hardened binder and the process of making it. The court stated “it is only by that phrase that it can be known that the subject matter defined by the claims is comprised as an abrasive article. Every union of substances capable inter alia of use as abrasive grains and a binder is not an ‘abrasive article.’” Therefore, the preamble served to further define the structure of the article produced.).

I.    PREAMBLE STATEMENTS LIMITING STRUCTURE

Any terminology in the preamble that limits the structure of the claimed invention must be treated as a claim limitation. See, e.g., Corning Glass Works v. Sumitomo Elec. U.S.A., Inc., 868 F.2d 1251, 1257, 9 USPQ2d 1962, 1966 (Fed. Cir. 1989) (The determination of whether preamble recitations are structural limitations can be resolved only on review of the entirety of the application “to gain an understanding of what the inventors actually invented and intended to encompass by the claim.”); Pac-Tec Inc. v. Amerace Corp., 903 F.2d 796, 801, 14 USPQ2d 1871, 1876 (Fed. Cir. 1990) (determining that preamble language that constitutes a structural limitation is actually part of the claimed invention). See also In re Stencel, 828 F.2d 751, 4 USPQ2d 1071 (Fed. Cir. 1987). (The claim at issue was directed to a driver for setting a joint of a threaded collar; however, the body of the claim did not directly include the structure of the collar as part of the claimed article. The examiner did not consider the preamble, which did set forth the structure of the collar, as limiting the claim. The court found that the collar structure could not be ignored. While the claim was not directly limited to the collar, the collar structure recited in the preamble did limit the structure of the driver. “[T]he framework - the teachings of the prior art - against which patentability is measured is not all drivers broadly, but drivers suitable for use in combination with this collar, for the claims are so limited.” Id. at 1073, 828 F.2d at 754.

II.    PREAMBLE STATEMENTS RECITING PURPOSE OR INTENDED USE

The claim preamble must be read in the context of the entire claim. The determination of whether preamble recitations are structural limitations or mere statements of purpose or use “can be resolved only on review of the entirety of the [record] to gain an understanding of what the inventors actually invented and intended to encompass by the claim.” Corning Glass Works, 868 F.2d at 1257, 9 USPQ2d at 1966. If the body of a claim fully and intrinsically sets forth all of the limitations of the claimed invention, and the preamble merely states, for example, the purpose or intended use of the invention, rather than any distinct definition of any of the claimed invention’s limitations, then the preamble is not considered a limitation and is of no significance to claim construction. Pitney Bowes, Inc. v. Hewlett-Packard Co., 182 F.3d 1298, 1305, 51 USPQ2d 1161, 1165 (Fed. Cir. 1999). See also Rowe v. Dror, 112 F.3d 473, 478, 42 USPQ2d 1550, 1553 (Fed. Cir. 1997) (“where a patentee defines a structurally complete invention in the claim body and uses the preamble only to state a purpose or intended use for the invention, the preamble is not a claim limitation”); Kropa v. Robie, 187 F.2d at 152, 88 USPQ2d at 480-81 (preamble is not a limitation where claim is directed to a product and the preamble merely recites a property inherent in an old product defined by the remainder of the claim); STX LLC. v. Brine, 211 F.3d 588, 591, 54 USPQ2d 1347, 1350 (Fed. Cir. 2000) (holding that the preamble phrase “which provides improved playing and handling characteristics” in a claim drawn to a head for a lacrosse stick was not a claim limitation). Compare Jansen v. Rexall Sundown, Inc., 342 F.3d 1329, 1333-34, 68 USPQ2d 1154, 1158 (Fed. Cir. 2003) (In a claim directed to a method of treating or preventing pernicious anemia in humans by administering a certain vitamin preparation to “a human in need thereof,” the court held that the preamble is not merely a statement of effect that may or may not be desired or appreciated, but rather is a statement of the intentional purpose for which the method must be performed. Thus the claim is properly interpreted to mean that the vitamin preparation must be administered to a human with a recognized need to treat or prevent pernicious anemia.); In re Cruciferous Sprout Litig., 301 F.3d 1343, 1346-48, 64 USPQ2d 1202, 1204-05 (Fed. Cir. 2002) (A claim at issue was directed to a method of preparing a food rich in glucosinolates wherein cruciferous sprouts are harvested prior to the 2-leaf stage. The court held that the preamble phrase “rich in glucosinolates” helps define the claimed invention, as evidenced by the specification and prosecution history, and thus is a limitation of the claim (although the claim was anticipated by prior art that produced sprouts inherently “rich in glucosinolates”)).

During examination, statements in the preamble reciting the purpose or intended use of the claimed invention must be evaluated to determine whether the recited purpose or intended use results in a structural difference (or, in the case of process claims, manipulative difference) between the claimed invention and the prior art. If so, the recitation serves to limit the claim. See, e.g., In re Otto, 312 F.2d 937, 938, 136 USPQ 458, 459 (CCPA 1963) (The claims were directed to a core member for hair curlers and a process of making a core member for hair curlers. Court held that the intended use of hair curling was of no significance to the structure and process of making.); In re Sinex, 309 F.2d 488, 492, 135 USPQ 302, 305 (CCPA 1962) (statement of intended use in an apparatus claim did not distinguish over the prior art apparatus). If a prior art structure is capable of performing the intended use as recited in the preamble, then it meets the claim. See, e.g., In re Schreiber, 128 F.3d 1473, 1477, 44 USPQ2d 1429, 1431 (Fed. Cir. 1997) (anticipation rejection affirmed based on Board’s factual finding that the reference dispenser (a spout disclosed as useful for purposes such as dispensing oil from an oil can) would be capable of dispensing popcorn in the manner set forth in appellant’s claim 1 (a dispensing top for dispensing popcorn in a specified manner)) and cases cited therein. See also MPEP § 2112 - MPEP § 2112.02.

However, a “preamble may provide context for claim construction, particularly, where … that preamble’s statement of intended use forms the basis for distinguishing the prior art in the patent’s prosecution history.” Metabolite Labs., Inc. v. Corp. of Am. Holdings, 370 F.3d 1354, 1358-62, 71 USPQ2d 1081, 1084-87 (Fed. Cir. 2004). The patent claim at issue was directed to a two-step method for detecting a deficiency of vitamin B12 or folic acid, involving (i) assaying a body fluid for an “elevated level” of homocysteine, and (ii) “correlating” an “elevated” level with a vitamin deficiency. Id. at 1358-59, 71 USPQ2d at 1084. The court stated that the disputed claim term “correlating” can include comparing with either an unelevated level or elevated level, as opposed to only an elevated level because adding the “correlating” step in the claim during prosecution to overcome prior art tied the preamble directly to the “correlating” step. Id. at 1362, 71 USPQ2d at 1087. The recitation of the intended use of “detecting” a vitamin deficiency in the preamble rendered the claimed invention a method for “detecting,” and, thus, was not limited to detecting “elevated” levels. Id.

See also Catalina Mktg. Int’l, 289 F.3d at 808-09, 62 USPQ2d at 1785 (“[C]lear reliance on the preamble during prosecution to distinguish the claimed invention from the prior art transforms the preamble into a claim limitation because such reliance indicates use of the preamble to define, in part, the claimed invention.…Without such reliance, however, a preamble generally is not limiting when the claim body describes a structurally complete invention such that deletion of the preamble phrase does not affect the structure or steps of the claimed invention.” Consequently, “preamble language merely extolling benefits or features of the claimed invention does not limit the claim scope without clear reliance on those benefits or features as patentably significant.”). In Poly-America LP v. GSE Lining Tech. Inc., 383 F.3d 1303, 1310, 72 USPQ2d 1685, 1689 (Fed. Cir. 2004), the court stated that “a ‘[r]eview of the entirety of the ’047 patent reveals that the preamble language relating to ‘blown-film’ does not state a purpose or an intended use of the invention, but rather discloses a fundamental characteristic of the claimed invention that is properly construed as a limitation of the claim’” Compare Intirtool, Ltd. v. Texar Corp., 369 F.3d 1289, 1294-96, 70 USPQ2d 1780, 1783-84 (Fed. Cir. 2004) (holding that the preamble of a patent claim directed to a “hand-held punch pliers for simultaneously punching and connecting overlapping sheet metal” was not a limitation of the claim because (i) the body of the claim described a “structurally complete invention” without the preamble, and (ii) statements in prosecution history referring to “punching and connecting” function of invention did not constitute “clear reliance” on the preamble needed to make the preamble a limitation).

2111.03   Transitional Phrases [R-08.2012]

The transitional phrases “comprising”, “consisting essentially of” and “consisting of” define the scope of a claim with respect to what unrecited additional components or steps, if any, are excluded from the scope of the claim. The determination of what is or is not excluded by a transitional phrase must be made on a case-by-case basis in light of the facts of each case.

The transitional term “comprising”, which is synonymous with “including,” “containing,” or “characterized by,” is inclusive or open-ended and does not exclude additional, unrecited elements or method steps. See, e.g., Mars Inc. v. H.J. Heinz Co., 377 F.3d 1369, 1376, 71 USPQ2d 1837, 1843 (Fed. Cir. 2004) (“like the term ‘comprising,’ the terms ‘containing’ and ‘mixture’ are open-ended.”). Invitrogen Corp. v. Biocrest Manufacturing, L.P., 327 F.3d 1364, 1368, 66 USPQ2d 1631, 1634 (Fed. Cir. 2003) (“The transition ‘comprising’ in a method claim indicates that the claim is open-ended and allows for additional steps.”); Genentech, Inc. v. Chiron Corp., 112 F.3d 495, 501, 42 USPQ2d 1608, 1613 (Fed. Cir. 1997) (“Comprising” is a term of art used in claim language which means that the named elements are essential, but other elements may be added and still form a construct within the scope of the claim.); Moleculon Research Corp. v. CBS, Inc., 793 F.2d 1261, 229 USPQ 805 (Fed. Cir. 1986); In re Baxter, 656 F.2d 679, 686, 210 USPQ 795, 803 (CCPA 1981); Ex parte Davis, 80 USPQ 448, 450 (Bd. App. 1948) (“comprising” leaves “the claim open for the inclusion of unspecified ingredients even in major amounts”). In Gillette Co. v. Energizer Holdings Inc., 405 F.3d 1367, 1371-73, 74 USPQ2d 1586, 1589-91 (Fed. Cir. 2005), the court held that a claim to “a safety razor blade unit comprising a guard, a cap, and a group of first, second, and third blades” encompasses razors with more than three blades because the transitional phrase “comprising” in the preamble and the phrase “group of” are presumptively open-ended. “The word ‘comprising’ transitioning from the preamble to the body signals that the entire claim is presumptively open-ended.” Id. In contrast, the court noted the phrase “group consisting of” is a closed term, which is often used in claim drafting to signal a “Markush group” that is by its nature closed. Id. The court also emphasized that reference to “first,” “second,” and “third” blades in the claim was not used to show a serial or numerical limitation but instead was used to distinguish or identify the various members of the group. Id.

The transitional phrase “consisting of” excludes any element, step, or ingredient not specified in the claim. In re Gray, 53 F.2d 520, 11 USPQ 255 (CCPA 1931);Ex parte Davis, 80 USPQ 448, 450 (Bd. App. 1948) (“consisting of” defined as “closing the claim to the inclusion of materials other than those recited except for impurities ordinarily associated therewith.”). But see Norian Corp. v. Stryker Corp., 363 F.3d 1321, 1331-32, 70 USPQ2d 1508, 1516 (Fed. Cir. 2004) (holding that a bone repair kit "consisting of" claimed chemicals was infringed by a bone repair kit including a spatula in addition to the claimed chemicals because the presence of the spatula was unrelated to the claimed invention). A claim which depends from a claim which “consists of” the recited elements or steps cannot add an element or step. When the phrase “consists of” appears in a clause of the body of a claim, rather than immediately following the preamble, it limits only the element set forth in that clause; other elements are not excluded from the claim as a whole. Mannesmann Demag Corp. v. Engineered Metal Products Co.,793 F.2d 1279, 230 USPQ 45 (Fed. Cir. 1986). See also In re Crish, 393 F.3d 1253, 73 USPQ2d 1364 (Fed. Cir. 2004) (The claims at issue “related to purified DNA molecules having promoter activity for the human involucrin gene (hINV).” Id., 73 USPQ2d at 1365. In determining the scope of applicant’s claims directed to “a purified oligonucleotide comprising at least a portion of the nucleotide sequence of SEQ ID NO:1 wherein said portion consists of the nucleotide sequence from … to 2473 of SEQ ID NO:1, and wherein said portion of the nucleotide sequence of SEQ ID NO:1 has promoter activity,” the court stated that the use of “consists” in the body of the claims did not limit the open-ended “comprising” language in the claims (emphases added). Id. at 1257, 73 USPQ2d at 1367. The court held that the claimed promoter sequence designated as SEQ ID NO:1 was obtained by sequencing the same prior art plasmid and was therefore anticipated by the prior art plasmid which necessarily possessed the same DNA sequence as the claimed oligonucleotides. Id. at 1256 and 1259, 73 USPQ2d at 1366 and 1369. The court affirmed the Board’s interpretation that the transition phrase “consists” did not limit the claims to only the recited numbered nucleotide sequences of SEQ ID NO:1 and that “the transition language ‘comprising’ allowed the claims to cover the entire involucrin gene plus other portions of the plasmid, as long as the gene contained the specific portions of SEQ ID NO:1 recited by the claim[s].” Id. at 1256, 73 USPQ2d at 1366.

The transitional phrase “consisting essentially of” limits the scope of a claim to the specified materials or steps “and those that do not materially affect the basicand novel characteristic(s)” of the claimed invention. In re Herz, 537 F.2d 549, 551-52, 190 USPQ 461, 463 (CCPA 1976) (emphasis in original) (Prior art hydraulic fluid required a dispersant which appellants argued was excluded from claims limited to a functional fluid “consisting essentially of” certain components. In finding the claims did not exclude the prior art dispersant, the court noted that appellants’ specification indicated the claimed composition can contain any well-known additive such as a dispersant, and there was no evidence that the presence of a dispersant would materially affect the basic and novel characteristic of the claimed invention. The prior art composition had the same basic and novel characteristic (increased oxidation resistance) as well as additional enhanced detergent and dispersant characteristics.). “A ‘consisting essentially of’ claim occupies a middle ground between closed claims that are written in a ‘consisting of’ format and fully open claims that are drafted in a ‘comprising’ format.” PPG Industries v. Guardian Industries, 156 F.3d 1351, 1354, 48 USPQ2d 1351, 1353-54 (Fed. Cir. 1998). See also Atlas Powder v. E.I. duPont de Nemours & Co., 750 F.2d 1569, 224 USPQ 409 (Fed. Cir. 1984); In re Janakirama-Rao, 317 F.2d 951, 137 USPQ 893 (CCPA 1963); Water Technologies Corp. vs. Calco, Ltd., 850 F.2d 660, 7 USPQ2d 1097 (Fed. Cir. 1988). For the purposes of searching for and applying prior art under 35 U.S.C. 102 and 103, absent a clear indication in the specification or claims of what the basic and novel characteristics actually are, “consisting essentially of” will be construed as equivalent to “comprising.” See, e.g., PPG, 156 F.3d at 1355, 48 USPQ2d at 1355 (“PPG could have defined the scope of the phrase ‘consisting essentially of’ for purposes of its patent by making clear in its specification what it regarded as constituting a material change in the basic and novel characteristics of the invention.”). See also AK Steel Corp. v. Sollac, 344 F.3d 1234, 1240-41, 68 USPQ2d 1280, 1283-84 (Fed. Cir. 2003) (Applicant’s statement in the specification that “silicon contents in the coating metal should not exceed about 0.5% by weight” along with a discussion of the deleterious effects of silicon provided basis to conclude that silicon in excess of 0.5% by weight would materially alter the basic and novel properties of the invention. Thus, “consisting essentially of” as recited in the preamble was interpreted to permit no more than 0.5% by weight of silicon in the aluminum coating.); In re Janakirama-Rao, 317 F.2d 951, 954, 137 USPQ 893, 895-96 (CCPA 1963). If an applicant contends that additional steps or materials in the prior art are excluded by the recitation of “consisting essentially of,” applicant has the burden of showing that the introduction of additional steps or components would materially change the characteristics of applicant’s invention. In re De Lajarte, 337 F.2d 870, 143 USPQ 256 (CCPA 1964). See alsoEx parte Hoffman, 12 USPQ2d 1061, 1063-64 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1989) (“Although ‘consisting essentially of’ is typically used and defined in the context of compositions of matter, we find nothing intrinsically wrong with the use of such language as a modifier of method steps. . . [rendering] the claim open only for the inclusion of steps which do not materially affect the basic and novel characteristics of the claimed method. To determine the steps included versus excluded the claim must be read in light of the specification. . . . [I]t is an applicant’s burden to establish that a step practiced in a prior art method is excluded from his claims by ‘consisting essentially of’ language.”).

  OTHER TRANSITIONAL PHRASES

Transitional phrases such as “having” must be interpreted in light of the specification to determine whether open or closed claim language is intended. See, e.g.,Lampi Corp. v. American Power Products Inc., 228 F.3d 1365, 1376, 56 USPQ2d 1445, 1453 (Fed. Cir. 2000) (The term “having” was interpreted as open terminology, allowing the inclusion of other components in addition to those recited); Crystal Semiconductor Corp. v. TriTech Microelectronics Int’l Inc., 246 F.3d 1336, 1348, 57 USPQ2d 1953, 1959 (Fed. Cir. 2001) (term “having” in transitional phrase “does not create a presumption that the body of the claim is open”);Regents of the Univ. of Cal. v. Eli Lilly & Co., 119 F.3d 1559, 1573, 43 USPQ2d 1398, 1410 (Fed. Cir. 1997) (In the context of a cDNA having a sequence coding for human PI, the term “having” still permitted inclusion of other moieties.). The transitional phrase “composed of” has been interpreted in the same manner as either “consisting of” or “consisting essentially of,” depending on the facts of the particular case. See AFG Industries, Inc. v. Cardinal IG Company,239 F.3d 1239, 1245, 57 USPQ2d 1776, 1780-81 (Fed. Cir. 2001) (based on specification and other evidence, “composed of” interpreted in same manner as “consisting essentially of”); In re Bertsch, 132 F.2d 1014, 1019-20, 56 USPQ 379, 384 (CCPA 1942) (“Composed of” interpreted in same manner as “consisting of”; however, court further remarked that “the words ‘composed of’ may under certain circumstances be given, in patent law, a broader meaning than ‘consisting of.’”).

2111.04   “Adapted to,” “Adapted for,” “Wherein,” and “Whereby” Clauses [R-08.2012]

Claim scope is not limited by claim language that suggests or makes optional but does not require steps to be performed, or by claim language that does not limit a claim to a particular structure. However, examples of claim language, although not exhaustive, that may raise a question as to the limiting effect of the language in a claim are:

  • (A) “adapted to” or “adapted for” clauses;
  • (B) “wherein” clauses; and
  • (C) “whereby” clauses.

The determination of whether each of these clauses is a limitation in a claim depends on the specific facts of the case. See, e.g., Griffin v. Bertina, 283 F.3d 1029, 1034, 62 USPQ2d 1431 (Fed. Cir. 2002) (finding that a “wherein” clause limited a process claim where the clause gave “meaning and purpose to the manipulative steps”). In Hoffer v. Microsoft Corp., 405 F.3d 1326, 1329, 74 USPQ2d 1481, 1483 (Fed. Cir. 2005), the court held that when a “‘whereby’ clause states a condition that is material to patentability, it cannot be ignored in order to change the substance of the invention.” Id. However, the court noted (quotingMinton v. Nat’l Ass’n of Securities Dealers, Inc., 336 F.3d 1373, 1381, 67 USPQ2d 1614, 1620 (Fed. Cir. 2003)) that a “‘whereby clause in a method claim is not given weight when it simply expresses the intended result of a process step positively recited.’” Id.

2111.05   Functional and Nonfunctional Descriptive Material [R-08.2012]

USPTO personnel must consider all claim limitations when determining patentability of an invention over the prior art. In re Gulack, 703 F.2d 1381, 1385, 217 USPQ 401, 403-04 (Fed. Cir. 1983). Since a claim must be read as a whole, USPTO personnel may not disregard claim limitations comprised of printed matter. See Id. at 1384, 217 USPQ at 403; see also Diamond v. Diehr, 450 U.S. 175, 191, 209 USPQ 1, 10 (1981). However, USPTO personnel need not give patentable weight to printed matter absent a new and unobvious functional relationship between the printed matter and the substrate. See In re Lowry, 32 F.3d 1579, 1583-84, 32 USPQ2d 1031, 1035 (Fed. Cir. 1994); In re Ngai, 367 F.3d 1336, 70 USPQ2d 1862 (Fed. Cir. 2004). The rationale behind the printed matter cases, in which, for example, written instructions are added to a known product, has been extended to method claims in which an instructional limitation is added to a method known in the art. Similar to the inquiry for products with printed matter thereon, in such method cases the relevant inquiry is whether a new and unobvious functional relationship with the known method exists. See In re Kao, 639 F.3d 1057, 1072-73, 98 USPQ2d 1799, 1811-12 (Fed. Cir. 2011); King Pharmaceuticals Inc. v. Eon Labs Inc., 616 F.3d 1267, 1279, 95 USPQ2d 1833, 1842 (Fed. Cir. 2010).

I.   DETERMINING WHETHER A FUNCTIONAL RELATIONSHIP EXISTS

A.   Evidence For a Functional Relationship

To be given patentable weight, the printed matter and associated product must be in a functional relationship. A functional relationship can be found where the printed matter performs some function with respect to the product to which it is associated. See Lowry, 32 F.3d at 1584, 32 USPQ2d at 1035 (citing Gulack, 703 F.2d at 1386, 217 USPQ at 404). For instance, indicia on a measuring cup perform the function of indicating volume within that measuring cup. See In re Miller,418 F.2d 1392, 1396, 164 USPQ 46, 49 (CCPA 1969). A functional relationship can also be found where the product performs some function with respect to the printed matter to which it is associated. For instance, where a hatband places a string of numbers in a certain physical relationship to each other such that a claimed algorithm is satisfied due to the physical structure of the hatband, the hatband performs a function with respect to the string of numbers. See Gulack,703 F.2d at 1386-87, 217 USPQ at 405.

B.   Evidence Against a Functional Relationship

However, where a product merely serves as a support for printed matter, no functional relationship exists. Such a situation would occur for a hatband with images displayed on the hatband but not arranged in any particular sequence. See Gulack, 703 F.2d at 1386, 217 USPQ at 404. Another example in which a product merely serves as a support would occur for a deck of playing cards having images on each card. See In re Bryan, 2009 U.S. App. LEXIS 6667 (Fed. Cir. 2009) (unpublished). See also Ex parte Gwinn, 112 USPQ 439, 446-47 (Bd. App. 1955), in which the invention was directed to a set of dice by means of which a game may be played. The claims differed from the prior art solely by the printed matter in the dice. The claims were properly rejected on prior art because there was no new feature of physical structure and no new relation of printed matter to physical structure. These situations may arise where the claim as a whole is directed towards conveying a message or meaning to a human reader independent of the supporting product. For example, a claimed measuring tape having electrical wiring information thereon, or a generically claimed substrate having a picture of a golf ball thereupon, would lack a functional relationship as the claims as a whole are directed towards conveying wiring information (unrelated to the measuring tape) or an aesthetically pleasing image (unrelated to the substrate) to the reader. Additionally, where the printed matter and product do not depend upon each other, no functional relationship exists. For example, in a kit containing a set of chemicals and a printed set of instructions for using the chemicals, the instructions are not related to that particular set of chemicals. In re Ngai, 367 F.3d at 1339, 70 USPQ2d at 1864.

II.   FUNCTIONAL RELATIONSHIP MUST BE NEW AND UNOBVIOUS

Once a functional relationship between the product and associated printed matter is found, the investigation shifts to the determination of whether the relationship is new and unobvious. For example, a claim to a color-coded indicia on a container in which the color indicates the expiration date of the container may give rise to a functional relationship. The claim may, however, be anticipated by prior art that reads on the claimed invention, or by a combination of prior art that teaches the claimed invention.

III.   MACHINE-READABLE MEDIA

When determining the scope of a claim directed to a computer-readable medium containing certain programming, the examiner should first look to the relationship between the programming and the intended computer system. Where the programming performs some function with respect to the computer with which it is associated, a functional relationship will be found. For instance, a claim to computer-readable medium programmed with attribute data objects that perform the function of facilitating retrieval, addition, and removal of information in the intended computer system, establishes a functional relationship such that the claimed attribute data objects are given patentable weight. See Lowry, 32 F.3d at 1583-84, 32 USPQ2d at 1035.

However, where the claim as a whole is directed conveying a message or meaning to a human reader independent of the intended computer system, and/or the computer-readable medium merely serves as a support for information or data, no functional relationship exists. For example, a claim to a memory stick containing tables of batting averages, or tracks of recorded music, utilizes the intended computer system merely as a support for the information. Such claims are directed toward conveying meaning to the human reader rather than towards establishing a functional relationship between recorded data and the computer.

2112    Requirements of Rejection Based on Inherency; Burden of Proof [R-08.2012]

[Editor Note: This MPEP section is applicable to applications subject to the first inventor to file (FITF) provisions of the AIA except that the relevant date is the "effective filing date" of the claimed invention instead of the "time of the invention," which is only applicable to applications subject to pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102. See35 U.S.C. 100 (note) and MPEP § 2150 et seq.]

The express, implicit, and inherent disclosures of a prior art reference may be relied upon in the rejection of claims under 35 U.S.C. 102 or 103. “The inherent teaching of a prior art reference, a question of fact, arises both in the context of anticipation and obviousness.” In re Napier, 55 F.3d 610, 613, 34 USPQ2d 1782, 1784 (Fed. Cir. 1995) (affirmed a 35 U.S.C. 103 rejection based in part on inherent disclosure in one of the references). See also In re Grasselli, 713 F.2d 731, 739, 218 USPQ 769, 775 (Fed. Cir. 1983).

I.   SOMETHING WHICH IS OLD DOES NOT BECOME PATENTABLE UPON THE DISCOVERY OF A NEW PROPERTY

“[T]he discovery of a previously unappreciated property of a prior art composition, or of a scientific explanation for the prior art’s functioning, does not render the old composition patentably new to the discoverer.” Atlas Powder Co. v. Ireco Inc., 190 F.3d 1342, 1347, 51 USPQ2d 1943, 1947 (Fed. Cir. 1999). Thus the claiming of a new use, new function or unknown property which is inherently present in the prior art does not necessarily make the claim patentable. In re Best,562 F.2d 1252, 1254, 195 USPQ 430, 433 (CCPA 1977). In In re Crish, 393 F.3d 1253, 1258, 73 USPQ2d 1364, 1368 (Fed. Cir. 2004), the court held that the claimed promoter sequence obtained by sequencing a prior art plasmid that was not previously sequenced was anticipated by the prior art plasmid which necessarily possessed the same DNA sequence as the claimed oligonucleotidesThe court stated that “just as the discovery of properties of a known material does not make it novel, the identification and characterization of a prior art material also does not make it novel.” Id. See also MPEP § 2112.01 with regard to inherency and product-by-process claims and MPEP § 2141.02 with regard to inherency and rejections under 35 U.S.C. 103.

II.   INHERENT FEATURE NEED NOT BE RECOGNIZED AT THE TIME OF THE INVENTION

There is no requirement that a person of ordinary skill in the art would have recognized the inherent disclosure at the time of invention, but only that the subject matter is in fact inherent in the prior art reference. Schering Corp. v. Geneva Pharm. Inc., 339 F.3d 1373, 1377, 67 USPQ2d 1664, 1668 (Fed. Cir. 2003) (rejecting the contention that inherent anticipation requires recognition by a person of ordinary skill in the art before the critical date and allowing expert testimony with respect to post-critical date clinical trials to show inherency); see also Toro Co. v. Deere & Co., 355 F.3d 1313, 1320, 69 USPQ2d 1584, 1590 (Fed. Cir. 2004) (“[T]he fact that a characteristic is a necessary feature or result of a prior-art embodiment (that is itself sufficiently described and enabled) is enough for inherent anticipation, even if that fact was unknown at the time of the prior invention.”); Abbott Labs v. Geneva Pharms., Inc., 182 F.3d 1315, 1319, 51 USPQ2d 1307, 1310 (Fed.Cir.1999) (“If a product that is offered for sale inherently possesses each of the limitations of the claims, then the invention is on sale, whether or not the parties to the transaction recognize that the product possesses the claimed characteristics.”); Atlas Powder Co. v. Ireco, Inc., 190 F.3d 1342, 1348-49, 51 USPQ2d 1943, 1947 (Fed. Cir. 1999) (“Because ‘sufficient aeration’ was inherent in the prior art, it is irrelevant that the prior art did not recognize the key aspect of [the] invention.... An inherent structure, composition, or function is not necessarily known.”); SmithKline Beecham Corp. v. Apotex Corp., 403 F.3d 1331, 1343-44, 74 USPQ2d 1398, 1406-07 (Fed. Cir. 2005) (holding that a prior art patent to an anhydrous form of a compound “inherently” anticipated the claimed hemihydrate form of the compound because practicing the process in the prior art to manufacture the anhydrous compound “inherently results in at least trace amounts of” the claimed hemihydrate even if the prior art did not discuss or recognize the hemihydrate).

III.   A REJECTION UNDER 35 U.S.C. 102/103 CAN BE MADE WHEN THE PRIOR ART PRODUCT SEEMS TO BE IDENTICAL EXCEPT THAT THE PRIOR ART IS SILENT AS TO AN INHERENT CHARACTERISTIC

Where applicant claims a composition in terms of a function, property or characteristic and the composition of the prior art is the same as that of the claim but the function is not explicitly disclosed by the reference, the examiner may make a rejection under both 35 U.S.C. 102 and 103, expressed as a 102/103 rejection. “There is nothing inconsistent in concurrent rejections for obviousness under 35 U.S.C. 103 and for anticipation under 35 U.S.C. 102.” In re Best, 562 F.2d 1252, 1255 n.4, 195 USPQ 430, 433 n.4 (CCPA 1977). This same rationale should also apply to product, apparatus, and process claims claimed in terms of function, property or characteristic. Therefore, a 35 U.S.C. 102/103 rejection is appropriate for these types of claims as well as for composition claims.

IV.   EXAMINER MUST PROVIDE RATIONALE OR EVIDENCE TENDING TO SHOW INHERENCY

The fact that a certain result or characteristic may occur or be present in the prior art is not sufficient to establish the inherency of that result or characteristic. In re Rijckaert, 9 F.3d 1531, 1534, 28 USPQ2d 1955, 1957 (Fed. Cir. 1993) (reversed rejection because inherency was based on what would result due to optimization of conditions, not what was necessarily present in the prior art); In re Oelrich, 666 F.2d 578, 581-82, 212 USPQ 323, 326 (CCPA 1981). “To establish inherency, the extrinsic evidence ‘must make clear that the missing descriptive matter is necessarily present in the thing described in the reference, and that it would be so recognized by persons of ordinary skill. Inherency, however, may not be established by probabilities or possibilities. The mere fact that a certain thing may result from a given set of circumstances is not sufficient.’ ” In re Robertson, 169 F.3d 743, 745, 49 USPQ2d 1949, 1950-51 (Fed. Cir. 1999) (citations omitted) (The claims were drawn to a disposable diaper having three fastening elements. The reference disclosed two fastening elements that could perform the same function as the three fastening elements in the claims. The court construed the claims to require three separate elements and held that the reference did not disclose a separate third fastening element, either expressly or inherently.). Also, “[a]n invitation to investigate is not an inherent disclosure” where a prior art reference “discloses no more than a broad genus of potential applications of its discoveries.” Metabolite Labs., Inc. v. Lab. Corp. of Am. Holdings, 370 F.3d 1354, 1367, 71 USPQ2d 1081, 1091 (Fed. Cir. 2004) (explaining that “[a] prior art reference that discloses a genus still does not inherently disclose all species within that broad category” but must be examined to see if a disclosure of the claimed species has been made or whether the prior art reference merely invites further experimentation to find the species.

“In relying upon the theory of inherency, the examiner must provide a basis in fact and/or technical reasoning to reasonably support the determination that the allegedly inherent characteristic necessarily flows from the teachings of the applied prior art.” Ex parte Levy, 17 USPQ2d 1461, 1464 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1990) (emphasis in original) (Applicant’s invention was directed to a biaxially oriented, flexible dilation catheter balloon (a tube which expands upon inflation) used, for example, in clearing the blood vessels of heart patients). The examiner applied a U.S. patent to Schjeldahl which disclosed injection molding a tubular preform and then injecting air into the preform to expand it against a mold (blow molding). The reference did not directly state that the end product balloon wasbiaxially oriented. It did disclose that the balloon was “formed from a thin flexible inelastic, high tensile strength, biaxially oriented synthetic plastic material.” Id. at 1462 (emphasis in original). The examiner argued that Schjeldahl’s balloon was inherently biaxially oriented. The Board reversed on the basis that the examiner did not provide objective evidence or cogent technical reasoning to support the conclusion of inherency.).

In In re Schreiber, 128 F.3d 1473, 44 USPQ2d 1429 (Fed. Cir. 1997), the court affirmed a finding that a prior patent to a conical spout used primarily to dispense oil from an oil can inherently performed the functions recited in applicant’s claim to a conical container top for dispensing popped popcorn. The examiner had asserted inherency based on the structural similarity between the patented spout and applicant’s disclosed top, i.e., both structures had the same general shape. The court stated:

[N]othing in Schreiber’s [applicant’s] claim suggests that Schreiber’s container is of a ‘different shape’ than Harz’s [patent]. In fact, [ ] an embodiment according to Harz (Fig. 5) and the embodiment depicted in Fig. 1 of Schreiber’s application have the same general shape. For that reason, the examiner was justified in concluding that the opening of a conically shaped top as disclosed by Harz is inherently of a size sufficient to ‘allow [ ] several kernels of popped popcorn to pass through at the same time’ and that the taper of Harz’s conically shaped top is inherently of such a shape ‘as to by itself jam up the popped popcorn before the end of the cone and permit the dispensing of only a few kernels at a shake of a package when the top is mounted to the container.’ The examiner therefore correctly found that Harz established a prima facie case of anticipation.

In re Schreiber, 128 F.3d at 1478, 44 USPQ2d at 1432.

V.   ONCE A REFERENCE TEACHING PRODUCT APPEARING TO BE SUBSTANTIALLY IDENTICAL IS MADE THE BASIS OF A REJECTION, AND THE EXAMINER PRESENTS EVIDENCE OR REASONING TENDING TO SHOW INHERENCY, THE BURDEN SHIFTS TO THE APPLICANT TO SHOW AN UNOBVIOUS DIFFERENCE

“[T]he PTO can require an applicant to prove that the prior art products do not necessarily or inherently possess the characteristics of his [or her] claimed product. Whether the rejection is based on ‘inherency’ under 35 U.S.C. 102, on ‘prima facie obviousness’ under 35 U.S.C. 103, jointly or alternatively, the burden of proof is the same...[footnote omitted].” The burden of proof is similar to that required with respect to product-by-process claims. In re Fitzgerald, 619 F.2d 67, 70, 205 USPQ 594, 596 (CCPA 1980) (quoting In re Best, 562 F.2d 1252, 1255, 195 USPQ 430, 433-34 (CCPA 1977)).

In In re Fitzgerald, the claims were directed to a self-locking screw-threaded fastener comprising a metallic threaded fastener having patches of crystallizable thermoplastic bonded thereto. The claim further specified that the thermoplastic had a reduced degree of crystallization shrinkage. The specification disclosed that the locking fastener was made by heating the metal fastener to melt a thermoplastic blank which is pressed against the metal. After the thermoplastic adheres to the metal fastener, the end product is cooled by quenching in water. The examiner made a rejection based on a U.S. patent to Barnes. Barnes taught a self-locking fastener in which the patch of thermoplastic was made by depositing thermoplastic powder on a metallic fastener which was then heated. The end product was cooled in ambient air, by cooling air or by contacting the fastener with a water trough. The court first noted that the two fasteners were identical or only slightly different from each other. “Both fasteners possess the same utility, employ the same crystallizable polymer (nylon 11), and have an adherent plastic patch formed by melting and then cooling the polymer.” Id. at 596 n.1, 619 F.2d at 70 n.l. The court then noted that the Board had found that Barnes’ cooling rate could reasonably be expected to result in a polymer possessing the claimed crystallization shrinkage rate. Applicants had not rebutted this finding with evidence that the shrinkage rate was indeed different. They had only argued that the crystallization shrinkage rate was dependent on the cool down rate and that the cool down rate of Barnes was much slower than theirs. Because a difference in the cool down rate does not necessarily result in a difference in shrinkage, objective evidence was required to rebut the 35 U.S.C. 102/103 prima facie case.

In In re Schreiber, 128 F.3d 1473, 1478, 44 USPQ2d 1429, 1432 (Fed.Cir.1997), the court held that applicant’s declaration failed to overcome a prima facie case of anticipation because the declaration did not specify the dimensions of either the dispensing top that was tested or the popcorn that was used. Applicant’s declaration merely asserted that a conical dispensing top built according to a figure in the prior art patent was too small to jam and dispense popcorn and thus could not inherently perform the functions recited in applicant’s claims. The court pointed out the disclosure of the prior art patent was not limited to use as an oil can dispenser, but rather was broader than the precise configuration shown in the patent’s figure. The court also noted that the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences found as a factual matter that a scaled-up version of the top disclosed in the patent would be capable of performing the functions recited in applicant’s claim.

See MPEP § 2113 for more information on the analogous burden of proof applied to product-by-process claims.

2112.01   Composition, Product, and  Apparatus Claims [R-08.2012]

I.   PRODUCT AND APPARATUS CLAIMS — WHEN THE STRUCTURE RECITED IN THE REFERENCE IS SUBSTANTIALLY IDENTICAL TO THAT OF THE CLAIMS, CLAIMED PROPERTIES OR FUNCTIONS ARE PRESUMED TO BE INHERENT

Where the claimed and prior art products are identical or substantially identical in structure or composition, or are produced by identical or substantially identical processes, a prima facie case of either anticipation or obviousness has been established. In re Best, 562 F.2d 1252, 1255, 195 USPQ 430, 433 (CCPA 1977). “When the PTO shows a sound basis for believing that the products of the applicant and the prior art are the same, the applicant has the burden of showing that they are not.” In re Spada, 911 F.2d 705, 709, 15 USPQ2d 1655, 1658 (Fed. Cir. 1990). Therefore, the prima facie case can be rebutted by evidence showing that the prior art products do not necessarily possess the characteristics of the claimed product. In re Best, 562 F.2d at 1255, 195 USPQ at 433. See alsoTitanium Metals Corp. v. Banner, 778 F.2d 775, 227 USPQ 773 (Fed. Cir. 1985) (Claims were directed to a titanium alloy containing 0.2-0.4% Mo and 0.6-0.9% Ni having corrosion resistance. A Russian article disclosed a titanium alloy containing 0.25% Mo and 0.75% Ni but was silent as to corrosion resistance. The Federal Circuit held that the claim was anticipated because the percentages of Mo and Ni were squarely within the claimed ranges. The court went on to say that it was immaterial what properties the alloys had or who discovered the properties because the composition is the same and thus must necessarily exhibit the properties.).

See also In re Ludtke, 441 F.2d 660, 169 USPQ 563 (CCPA 1971) (Claim 1 was directed to a parachute canopy having concentric circumferential panels radially separated from each other by radially extending tie lines. The panels were separated “such that the critical velocity of each successively larger panel will be less than the critical velocity of the previous panel, whereby said parachute will sequentially open and thus gradually decelerate.” The court found that the claim was anticipated by Menget. Menget taught a parachute having three circumferential panels separated by tie lines. The court upheld the rejection finding that applicant had failed to show that Menget did not possess the functional characteristics of the claims.); Northam Warren Corp. v. D. F. Newfield Co., 7 F. Supp.773, 22 USPQ 313 (E.D.N.Y. 1934) (A patent to a pencil for cleaning fingernails was held invalid because a pencil of the same structure for writing was found in the prior art.).

II.   COMPOSITION CLAIMS — IF THE COMPOSITION IS PHYSICALLY THE SAME, IT MUST HAVE THE SAME PROPERTIES

“Products of identical chemical composition can not have mutually exclusive properties.” A chemical composition and its properties are inseparable. Therefore, if the prior art teaches the identical chemical structure, the properties applicant discloses and/or claims are necessarily present. In re Spada, 911 F.2d 705, 709, 15 USPQ2d 1655, 1658 (Fed. Cir. 1990) (Applicant argued that the claimed composition was a pressure sensitive adhesive containing a tacky polymer while the product of the reference was hard and abrasion resistant. “The Board correctly found that the virtual identity of monomers and procedures sufficed to support aprima facie case of unpatentability of Spada’s polymer latexes for lack of novelty.”).

III.   PRODUCT CLAIMS – NONFUNCTIONAL PRINTED MATTER DOES NOT DISTINGUISH CLAIMED PRODUCT FROM OTHERWISE IDENTICAL PRIOR ART PRODUCT

Where the only difference between a prior art product and a claimed product is printed matter that is not functionally related to the product, the content of the printed matter will not distinguish the claimed product from the prior art. In re Ngai, 367 F.3d 1336, 1339, 70 USPQ2d 1862, 1864 (Fed. Cir. 2004) (Claim at issue was a kit requiring instructions and a buffer agent. The Federal Circuit held that the claim was anticipated by a prior art reference that taught a kit that included instructions and a buffer agent, even though the content of the instructions differed.). See also In re Gulack, 703 F.2d 1381, 1385-86, 217 USPQ 401, 404 (Fed. Cir. 1983) ( "Where the printed matter is not functionally related to the substrate, the printed matter will not distinguish the invention from the prior art in terms of patentability….[T]he critical question is whether there exists any new and unobvious functional relationship between the printed matter and the substrate." ).

2112.02   Process Claims [R-08.2012]

  PROCESS CLAIMS — PRIOR ART DEVICE ANTICIPATES A CLAIMED PROCESS IF THE DEVICE CARRIES OUT THE PROCESS DURING NORMAL OPERATION

Under the principles of inherency, if a prior art device, in its normal and usual operation, would necessarily perform the method claimed, then the method claimed will be considered to be anticipated by the prior art device. When the prior art device is the same as a device described in the specification for carrying out the claimed method, it can be assumed the device will inherently perform the claimed process. In re King, 801 F.2d 1324, 231 USPQ 136 (Fed. Cir. 1986) (The claims were directed to a method of enhancing color effects produced by ambient light through a process of absorption and reflection of the light off a coated substrate. A prior art reference to Donley disclosed a glass substrate coated with silver and metal oxide 200-800 angstroms thick. While Donley disclosed using the coated substrate to produce architectural colors, the absorption and reflection mechanisms of the claimed process were not disclosed. However, King’s specification disclosed using a coated substrate of Donley’s structure for use in his process. The Federal Circuit upheld the Board’s finding that "Donley inherently performs the function disclosed in the method claims on appeal when that device is used in ‘normal and usual operation’ " and found that a prima faciecase of anticipation was made out. Id. at 138, 801 F.2d at 1326. It was up to applicant to prove that Donley's structure would not perform the claimed method when placed in ambient light.). See also In re Best, 562 F.2d 1252, 1255, 195 USPQ 430, 433 (CCPA 1977) (Applicant claimed a process for preparing a hydrolytically-stable zeolitic aluminosilicate which included a step of “cooling the steam zeolite ... at a rate sufficiently rapid that the cooled zeolite exhibits a X-ray diffraction pattern ....” All the process limitations were expressly disclosed by a U.S. patent to Hansford except the cooling step. The court stated that any sample of Hansford’s zeolite would necessarily be cooled to facilitate subsequent handling. Therefore, a prima facie case under 35 U.S.C. 102/103 was made. Applicant had failed to introduce any evidence comparing X-ray diffraction patterns showing a difference in cooling rate between the claimed process and that of Hansford or any data showing that the process of Hansford would result in a product with a different X-ray diffraction. Either type of evidence would have rebutted the prima facie case under 35 U.S.C. 102. A further analysis would be necessary to determine if the process was unobvious under 35 U.S.C. 103.); Ex parte Novitski, 26 USPQ2d 1389 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1993) (The Board rejected a claim directed to a method for protecting a plant from plant pathogenic nematodes by inoculating the plant with a nematode inhibiting strain of P. cepacia. A U.S. patent to Dart disclosed inoculation using P. cepacia type Wisconsin 526 bacteria for protecting the plant from fungal disease. Dart was silent as to nematode inhibition but the Board concluded that nematode inhibition was an inherent property of the bacteria. The Board noted that applicant had stated in the specification that Wisconsin 526 possesses an 18% nematode inhibition rating.).

  PROCESS OF USE CLAIMS — NEW AND UNOBVIOUS USES OF OLD STRUCTURES AND COMPOSITIONS MAY BE PATENTABLE

The discovery of a new use for an old structure based on unknown properties of the structure might be patentable to the discoverer as a process of using. In re Hack, 245 F.2d 246, 248, 114 USPQ 161, 163 (CCPA 1957). However, when the claim recites using an old composition or structure and the “use” is directed to a result or property of that composition or structure, then the claim is anticipated. In re May, 574 F.2d 1082, 1090, 197 USPQ 601, 607 (CCPA 1978) (Claims 1 and 6, directed to a method of effecting nonaddictive analgesia (pain reduction) in animals, were found to be anticipated by the applied prior art which disclosed the same compounds for effecting analgesia but which was silent as to addiction. The court upheld the rejection and stated that the applicants had merely found a new property of the compound and such a discovery did not constitute a new use. The court went on to reverse the rejection of claims 2-5 and 7-10 which recited a process of using a new compound. The court relied on evidence showing that the nonaddictive property of the new compound was unexpected.). See also In re Tomlinson, 363 F.2d 928, 150 USPQ 623 (CCPA 1966) (The claim was directed to a process of inhibiting light degradation of polypropylene by mixing it with one of a genus of compounds, including nickel dithiocarbamate. A reference taught mixing polypropylene with nickel dithiocarbamate to lower heat degradation. The court held that the claims read on the obvious process of mixing polypropylene with the nickel dithiocarbamate and that the preamble of the claim was merely directed to the result of mixing the two materials. “While the references do not show a specific recognition of that result, its discovery by appellants is tantamount only to finding a property in the old composition.” 363 F.2d at 934, 150 USPQ at 628 (emphasis in original).).

2113    Product-by-Process Claims [R-08.2012]

  PRODUCT-BY-PROCESS CLAIMS ARE NOT LIMITED TO THE MANIPULATIONS OF THE RECITED STEPS, ONLY THE STRUCTURE IMPLIED BY THE STEPS

“[E]ven though product-by-process claims are limited by and defined by the process, determination of patentability is based on the product itself. The patentability of a product does not depend on its method of production. If the product in the product-by-process claim is the same as or obvious from a product of the prior art, the claim is unpatentable even though the prior product was made by a different process.” In re Thorpe, 777 F.2d 695, 698, 227 USPQ 964, 966 (Fed. Cir. 1985) (citations omitted) (Claim was directed to a novolac color developer. The process of making the developer was allowed. The difference between the inventive process and the prior art was the addition of metal oxide and carboxylic acid as separate ingredients instead of adding the more expensive pre-reacted metal carboxylate. The product-by-process claim was rejected because the end product, in both the prior art and the allowed process, ends up containing metal carboxylate. The fact that the metal carboxylate is not directly added, but is instead produced in-situ does not change the end product.). Furthermore, "[b]ecause validity is determined based on the requirements of patentability, a patent is invalid if a product made by the process recited in a product-by-process claim is anticipated by or obvious from prior art products, even if those prior art products are made by different processes." Amgen Inc. v. F. Hoffman-La Roche Ltd., 580 F.3d 1340, 1370 n 14, 92 USPQ2d 1289, 1312, n 14 (Fed. Cir. 2009). However, in the context of an infringement analysis, a product-by-process claim is only infringed by a product made by the process recited in the claim. Id. at 1370 ( "a product in the prior art made by a different process can anticipate a product-by-process claim, but an accused product made by a different process cannot infringe a product-by-process claim." ).

The structure implied by the process steps should be considered when assessing the patentability of product-by-process claims over the prior art, especially where the product can only be defined by the process steps by which the product is made, or where the manufacturing process steps would be expected to impart distinctive structural characteristics to the final product. See, e.g., In re Garnero, 412 F.2d 276, 279, 162 USPQ 221, 223 (CCPA 1979) (holding “interbonded by interfusion” to limit structure of the claimed composite and noting that terms such as “welded,” “intermixed,” “ground in place,” “press fitted,” and “etched” are capable of construction as structural limitations.)

  ONCE A PRODUCT APPEARING TO BE SUBSTANTIALLY IDENTICAL IS FOUND AND A 35 U.S.C. 102/103 REJECTION MADE, THE BURDEN SHIFTS TO THE APPLICANT TO SHOW AN UNOBVIOUS DIFFERENCE

“The Patent Office bears a lesser burden of proof in making out a case of prima facie obviousness for product-by-process claims because of their peculiar nature” than when a product is claimed in the conventional fashion. In re Fessmann, 489 F.2d 742, 744, 180 USPQ 324, 326 (CCPA 1974). Once the examiner provides a rationale tending to show that the claimed product appears to be the same or similar to that of the prior art, although produced by a different process, the burden shifts to applicant to come forward with evidence establishing an unobvious difference between the claimed product and the prior art product. In re Marosi, 710 F.2d 798, 802, 218 USPQ 289, 292 (Fed. Cir. 1983) (The claims were directed to a zeolite manufactured by mixing together various inorganic materials in solution and heating the resultant gel to form a crystalline metal silicate essentially free of alkali metal. The prior art described a process of making a zeolite which, after ion exchange to remove alkali metal, appeared to be “essentially free of alkali metal.” The court upheld the rejection because the applicant had not come forward with any evidence that the prior art was not “essentially free of alkali metal” and therefore a different and unobvious product.).

Ex parte Gray, 10 USPQ2d 1922 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1989) (The prior art disclosed human nerve growth factor (b-NGF) isolated from human placental tissue. The claim was directed to b-NGF produced through genetic engineering techniques. The factor produced seemed to be substantially the same whether isolated from tissue or produced through genetic engineering. While the applicant questioned the purity of the prior art factor, no concrete evidence of an unobvious difference was presented. The Board stated that the dispositive issue is whether the claimed factor exhibits any unexpected properties compared with the factor disclosed by the prior art. The Board further stated that the applicant should have made some comparison between the two factors to establish unexpected properties since the materials appeared to be identical or only slightly different.).

  THE USE OF 35 U.S.C. 102/103 REJECTIONS FOR PRODUCT-BY-PROCESS CLAIMS HAS BEEN APPROVED BY THE COURTS

“[T]he lack of physical description in a product-by-process claim makes determination of the patentability of the claim more difficult, since in spite of the fact that the claim may recite only process limitations, it is the patentability of the product claimed and not of the recited process steps which must be established. We are therefore of the opinion that when the prior art discloses a product which reasonably appears to be either identical with or only slightly different than a product claimed in a product-by-process claim, a rejection based alternatively on either section 102 or section 103 of the statute is eminently fair and acceptable. As a practical matter, the Patent Office is not equipped to manufacture products by the myriad of processes put before it and then obtain prior art products and make physical comparisons therewith.” In re Brown, 459 F.2d 531, 535, 173 USPQ 685, 688 (CCPA 1972). Office personnel should note that reliance on the alternative grounds of 35 U.S.C. 102 or 35 U.S.C. 103 does not eliminate the need to explain both the anticipation and obviousness aspects of the rejections.

2114    Apparatus and Article Claims — Functional Language [R-08.2012]

For a discussion of case law which provides guidance in interpreting the functional portion of means-plus-function limitations see MPEP § 2181 - § 2186.

I.   APPARATUS CLAIMS MUST BE STRUCTURALLY DISTINGUISHABLE FROM THE PRIOR ART

While features of an apparatus may be recited either structurally or functionally, claims directed to an apparatus must be distinguished from the prior art in terms of structure rather than function. In re Schreiber, 128 F.3d 1473, 1477-78, 44 USPQ2d 1429, 1431-32 (Fed. Cir. 1997) (The absence of a disclosure in a prior art reference relating to function did not defeat the Board’s finding of anticipation of claimed apparatus because the limitations at issue were found to be inherent in the prior art reference); see also In re Swinehart, 439 F.2d 210, 212-13, 169 USPQ 226, 228-29 (CCPA 1971);In re Danly, 263 F.2d 844, 847, 120 USPQ 528, 531 (CCPA 1959). “[A]pparatus claims cover what a device is, not what a device does.” Hewlett-Packard Cov. Bausch & Lomb Inc., 909 F.2d 1464, 1469, 15 USPQ2d 1525, 1528 (Fed. Cir. 1990) (emphasis in original).

II.   MANNER OF OPERATING THE DEVICE DOES NOT DIFFERENTIATE APPARATUS CLAIM FROM THE PRIOR ART

A claim containing a “recitation with respect to the manner in which a claimed apparatus is intended to be employed does not differentiate the claimed apparatus from a prior art apparatus” if the prior art apparatus teaches all the structural limitations of the claim. Ex parte Masham, 2 USPQ2d 1647 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1987) (The preamble of claim 1 recited that the apparatus was “for mixing flowing developer material” and the body of the claim recited “means for mixing ..., said mixing means being stationary and completely submerged in the developer material”. The claim was rejected over a reference which taught all the structural limitations of the claim for the intended use of mixing flowing developer. However, the mixer was only partially submerged in the developer material. The Board held that the amount of submersion is immaterial to the structure of the mixer and thus the claim was properly rejected.).

III.   A PRIOR ART DEVICE CAN PERFORM ALL THE FUNCTIONS OF THE APPARATUS CLAIM AND STILL NOT ANTICIPATE THE CLAIM

Even if the prior art device performs all the functions recited in the claim, the prior art cannot anticipate the claim if there is any structural difference. It should be noted, however, that means-plus-function limitations are met by structures which are equivalent to the corresponding structures recited in the specification. In re Ruskin, 347 F.2d 843, 146 USPQ 211 (CCPA 1965) as implicitly modified by In re Donaldson, 16 F.3d 1189, 29 USPQ2d 1845 (Fed. Cir. 1994). See also In re Robertson, 169 F.3d 743, 745, 49 USPQ2d 1949, 1951 (Fed. Cir. 1999) (The claims were drawn to a disposable diaper having three fastening elements. The reference disclosed two fastening elements that could perform the same function as the three fastening elements in the claims. The court construed the claims to require three separate elements and held that the reference did not disclose a separate third fastening element, either expressly or inherently.).

IV.   DETERMINING WHETHER A COMPUTER-IMPLEMENTED FUNCTIONAL CLAIM LIMITATION IS PATENTABLE OVER THE PRIOR ART UNDER 35 U.S.C. 102 AND 103

Functional claim language that is not limited to a specific structure covers all devices that are capable of performing the recited function. Therefore, if the prior art discloses a device that can inherently perform the claimed function, a rejection under 35 U.S.C. 102 or 35 U.S.C. 103 may be appropriate. In re Schreiber, 128 F.3d 1473, 1478, 44 USPQ2d 1429, 1432 (Fed. Cir. 1997); In re Best, 562 F.2d 1252, 1254, 195 USPQ 430, 433 (CCPA 1977); In re Ludtke, 441 F.2d 660, 663-64, 169 USPQ 563, 566-67 (CCPA 1971); In re Swinehart, 439 F.2d 210, 212-13, 169 USPQ 226, 228-29 (CCPA 1971) (“[I]t is elementary that the mere recitation of a newly discovered function or property, inherently possessed by things in the prior art, does not cause a claim drawn to those things to distinguish over the prior art”). See MPEP § 2112 for more information.

Computer-implemented functional claim limitations may also be broad because the term “computer” is commonly understood by one of ordinary skill in the art to describe a variety of devices with varying degrees of complexity and capabilities. In re Paulsen, 30 F.3d 1475, 1479-80, 31 USPQ2d 1671, 1674 (Fed. Cir. 1994). Therefore, a claim containing the term “computer” should not be construed as limited to a computer having a specific set of characteristics and capabilities, unless the term is modified by other claim terms or clearly defined in the specification to be different from its common meaning. Id. In In re Paulsen,the claims, directed to a portable computer, were rejected as anticipated under 35 U.S.C. 102 by a reference that disclosed a calculator, because the term “computer” was given the broadest reasonable interpretation consistent with the specification to include a calculator, and a calculator was considered to be a particular type of computer by those of ordinary skill in the art. Id.

When determining whether a computer-implemented functional claim would have been obvious, examiners should note that broadly claiming an automated means to replace a manual function to accomplish the same result does not distinguish over the prior art. See Leapfrog Enters., Inc. v. Fisher-Price, Inc., 485 F.3d 1157, 1161, 82 USPQ2d 1687, 1691 (Fed. Cir. 2007) (“Accommodating a prior art mechanical device that accomplishes [a desired] goal to modern electronics would have been reasonably obvious to one of ordinary skill in designing children’s learning devices. Applying modern electronics to older mechanical devices has been commonplace in recent years.”); In re Venner, 262 F.2d 91, 95, 120 USPQ 193, 194 (CCPA 1958); see also MPEP § 2144.04. Furthermore, implementing a known function on a computer has been deemed obvious to one of ordinary skill in the art if the automation of the known function on a general purpose computer is nothing more than the predictable use of prior art elements according to their established functions. KSR Int’l Co. v. Teleflex Inc., 550 U.S. 398, 417, 82 USPQ2d 1385, 1396 (2007); see also MPEP § 2143, Exemplary Rationales D and F. Likewise, it has been found to be obvious to adapt an existing process to incorporate Internet and Web browser technologies for communicating and displaying information because these technologies had become commonplace for those functions. Muniauction, Inc. v. Thomson Corp., 532 F.3d 1318, 1326-27, 87 USPQ2d 1350, 1357 (Fed. Cir. 2008).

For more information on the obviousness determination, see MPEP § 2141.

2115    Material or Article Worked Upon by Apparatus [R-08.2012]

  MATERIAL OR ARTICLE WORKED UPON DOES NOT LIMIT APPARATUS CLAIMS

“Expressions relating the apparatus to contents thereof during an intended operation are of no significance in determining patentability of the apparatus claim.”Ex parte Thibault, 164 USPQ 666, 667 (Bd. App. 1969). Furthermore, “[i]nclusion of material or article worked upon by a structure being claimed does not impart patentability to the claims.” In re Young, 75 F.2d 996, 25 USPQ 69 (CCPA 1935) (as restated in In re Otto, 312 F.2d 937, 136 USPQ 458, 459 (CCPA 1963)).

In In re Young, a claim to a machine for making concrete beams included a limitation to the concrete reinforced members made by the machine as well as the structural elements of the machine itself. The court held that the inclusion of the article formed within the body of the claim did not, without more, make the claim patentable.

In In re Casey, 370 F.2d 576, 152 USPQ 235 (CCPA 1967), an apparatus claim recited “[a] taping machine comprising a supporting structure, a brush attached to said supporting structure, said brush being formed with projecting bristles which terminate in free ends to collectively define a surface to which adhesive tape will detachably adhere, and means for providing relative motion between said brush and said supporting structure while said adhesive tape is adhered to said surface.” An obviousness rejection was made over a reference to Kienzle which taught a machine for perforating sheets. The court upheld the rejection stating that “the references in claim 1 to adhesive tape handling do not expressly or impliedly require any particular structure in addition to that of Kienzle.” The perforating device had the structure of the taping device as claimed, the difference was in the use of the device, and “the manner or method in which such machine is to be utilized is not germane to the issue of patentability of the machine itself.”

Note that this line of cases is limited to claims directed to machinery which works upon an article or material in its intended use. It does not apply to product claims or kit claims (i.e., claims directed to a plurality of articles grouped together as a kit).

2116    Material Manipulated in Process [R-08.2012]

The materials on which a process is carried out must be accorded weight in determining the patentability of a process. Ex parte Leonard, 187 USPQ 122 (Bd. App. 1974).

2116.01   Novel, Unobvious Starting Material or End Product [R-08.2012]

All the limitations of a claim must be considered when weighing the differences between the claimed invention and the prior art in determining the obviousness of a process or method claim. See MPEP § 2143.03.

In re Ochiai, 71 F.3d 1565, 37 USPQ2d 1127 (Fed. Cir. 1995) and In re Brouwer, 77 F.3d 422, 37 USPQ2d 1663 (Fed. Cir. 1996) addressed the issue of whether an otherwise conventional process could be patented if it were limited to making or using a nonobvious product. In both cases, the Federal Circuit held that the use of per se rules is improper in applying the test for obviousness under 35 U.S.C. 103. Rather, 35 U.S.C. 103 requires a highly fact-dependent analysis involving taking the claimed subject matter as a whole and comparing it to the prior art. “A process yielding a novel and nonobvious product may nonetheless be obvious; conversely, a process yielding a well-known product may yet be nonobvious.” TorPharm, Inc. v. Ranbaxy Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 336 F.3d 1322, 1327, 67 USPQ2d 1511, 1514 (Fed. Cir. 2003).

Interpreting the claimed invention as a whole requires consideration of all claim limitations. Thus, proper claim construction requires treating language in a process claim which recites the making or using of a nonobvious product as a material limitation. The decision in Ochiai specifically dispelled any distinction between processes of making a product and methods of using a product with regard to the effect of any product limitations in either type of claim.

As noted in Brouwer, 77 F.3d at 425, 37 USPQ2d at 1666, the inquiry as to whether a claimed invention would have been obvious is “highly fact-specific by design”. Accordingly, obviousness must be assessed on a case-by-case basis. The following decisions are illustrative of the lack of per se rules in applying the test for obviousness under 35 U.S.C. 103 and of the fact-intensive comparison of claimed processes with the prior art: In re Durden, 763 F.2d 1406, 226 USPQ 359 (Fed. Cir. 1985) (The examiner rejected a claim directed to a process in which patentable starting materials were reacted to form patentable end products. The prior art showed the same chemical reaction mechanism applied to other chemicals. The court held that the process claim was obvious over the prior art.);In re Albertson, 332 F.2d 379, 141 USPQ 730 (CCPA 1964) (Process of chemically reducing one novel, nonobvious material to obtain another novel, nonobvious material was claimed. The process was held obvious because the reduction reaction was old.); In re Kanter, 399 F.2d 249, 158 USPQ 331 (CCPA 1968) (Process of siliconizing a patentable base material to obtain a patentable product was claimed. Rejection based on prior art teaching the siliconizing process as applied to a different base material was upheld.); Cf. In re Pleuddemann, 910 F.2d 823, 15 USPQ2d 1738 (Fed. Cir. 1990) (Methods of bonding polymer and filler using a novel silane coupling agent held patentable even though methods of bonding using other silane coupling agents were well known because the process could not be conducted without the new agent); In re Kuehl, 475 F.2d 658, 177 USPQ 250 (CCPA 1973) (Process of cracking hydrocarbons using novel zeolite catalyst found to be patentable even though catalytic cracking process was old. “The test under 103 is whether in view of the prior art the invention as a whole would have been obvious at the time it was made, and the prior art here does not include the zeolite, ZK-22. The obviousness of the process of cracking hydrocarbons with ZK-22 as a catalyst must be determined without reference to knowledge of ZK-22 and its properties.” 475 F.2d at 664-665, 177 USPQ at 255.); and In re Mancy, 499 F.2d 1289, 182 USPQ 303 (CCPA 1974) (Claim to a process for the production of a known antibiotic by cultivating a novel, unobvious microorganism was found to be patentable.).

2117-2120    [Reserved]

 

2121    Prior Art; General Level of Operability Required to Make a Prima Facie Case [R-08.2012]

I.    PRIOR ART IS PRESUMED TO BE OPERABLE/ENABLING

When the reference relied on expressly anticipates or makes obvious all of the elements of the claimed invention, the reference is presumed to be operable. Once such a reference is found, the burden is on applicant to provide facts rebutting the presumption of operability. In re Sasse, 629 F.2d 675, 207 USPQ 107 (CCPA 1980). See also MPEP § 716.07.

II.    WHAT CONSTITUTES AN “ENABLING DISCLOSURE” DOES NOT DEPEND ON THE TYPE OF PRIOR ART THE DISCLOSURE IS CONTAINED IN

The level of disclosure required within a reference to make it an “enabling disclosure” is the same no matter what type of prior art is at issue. It does not matter whether the prior art reference is a U.S. patent, foreign patent, a printed publication or other. There is no basis in the statute (35 U.S.C. 102 or 103) for discriminating either in favor of or against prior art references on the basis of nationality. In re Moreton, 288 F.2d 708, 129 USPQ 227 (CCPA 1961).

III.   EFFICACY IS NOT A REQUIREMENT FOR PRIOR ART ENABLEMENT

A prior art reference provides an enabling disclosure and thus anticipates a claimed invention if the reference describes the claimed invention in sufficient detail to enable a person of ordinary skill in the art to carry out the claimed invention; "proof of efficacy is not required for a prior art reference to be enabling for purposes of anticipation." Impax Labs. Inc. v. Aventis Pharm . Inc., 468 F.3d 1366, 1383, 81 USPQ2d 1001, 1013 (Fed. Cir. 2006). See also MPEP § 2122.

2121.01   Use of Prior Art in Rejections Where Operability is in Question [R-08.2012]

“In determining that quantum of prior art disclosure which is necessary to declare an applicant’s invention ‘not novel’ or ‘anticipated’ within section 102, the stated test is whether a reference contains an ‘enabling disclosure’... .” In re Hoeksema, 399 F.2d 269, 158 USPQ 596 (CCPA 1968). The disclosure in an assertedly anticipating reference must provide an enabling disclosure of the desired subject matter; mere naming or description of the subject matter is insufficient, if it cannot be produced without undue experimentation. Elan Pharm., Inc. v. Mayo Found. For Med. Educ. & Research, 346 F.3d 1051, 1054, 68 USPQ2d 1373, 1376 (Fed. Cir. 2003) (At issue was whether a prior art reference enabled one of ordinary skill in the art to produce Elan’s claimed transgenic mouse without undue experimentation. Without a disclosure enabling one skilled in the art to produce a transgenic mouse without undue experimentation, the reference would not be applicable as prior art.). A reference contains an “enabling disclosure” if the public was in possession of the claimed invention before the date of invention. “Such possession is effected if one of ordinary skill in the art could have combined the publication’s description of the invention with his [or her] own knowledge to make the claimed invention.” In re Donohue, 766 F.2d 531, 226 USPQ 619 (Fed. Cir. 1985).

I.   35 U.S.C. 102 REJECTIONS AND ADDITION OF EVIDENCE SHOWING REFERENCE IS OPERABLE

It is possible to make a 35 U.S.C. 102 rejection even if the reference does not itself teach one of ordinary skill how to practice the invention, i.e., how to make or use the article disclosed. If the reference teaches every claimed element of the article, secondary evidence, such as other patents or publications, can be cited to show public possession of the method of making and/or using. In re Donohue, 766 F.2d at 533, 226 USPQ at 621. See MPEP § 2131.01 for more information on 35 U.S.C. 102 rejections using secondary references to show that the primary reference contains an “enabling disclosure.”

II.   35 U.S.C. 103 REJECTIONS AND USE OF INOPERATIVE PRIOR ART

“Even if a reference discloses an inoperative device, it is prior art for all that it teaches.” Beckman Instruments v. LKB Produkter AB, 892 F.2d 1547, 1551, 13 USPQ2d 1301, 1304 (Fed. Cir. 1989). Therefore, “a non-enabling reference may qualify as prior art for the purpose of determining obviousness under 35 U.S.C. 103.” Symbol Techs. Inc. v. Opticon Inc., 935 F.2d 1569, 1578, 19 USPQ2d 1241, 1247 (Fed. Cir. 1991).

2121.02   Compounds and Compositions — What Constitutes Enabling Prior Art [R-08.2012]

[Editor Note: This MPEP section is applicable to applications subject to the first inventor to file (FITF) provisions of the AIA except that the relevant date is the "effective filing date" of the claimed invention instead of the "time of the invention" or "date of invention," which are only applicable to applications subject to pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102. See 35 U.S.C. 100 (note) and MPEP § 2150 et seq.]

I.    ONE OF ORDINARY SKILL IN THE ART MUST BE ABLE TO MAKE OR SYNTHESIZE

Where a process for making the compound is not developed until after the date of invention, the mere naming of a compound in a reference, without more, cannot constitute a description of the compound. In re Hoeksema, 399 F.2d 269, 158 USPQ 596 (CCPA 1968). Note, however, that a reference is presumed operable until applicant provides facts rebutting the presumption of operability. In re Sasse, 629 F.2d 675, 207 USPQ 107 (CCPA 1980). Therefore, applicant must provide evidence showing that a process for making was not known at the time of the invention. See the following subsection for the evidentiary standard to be applied.

II.    A REFERENCE DOES NOT CONTAIN AN “ENABLING DISCLOSURE” IF ATTEMPTS AT MAKING THE COMPOUND OR COMPOSITION WERE UNSUCCESSFUL BEFORE THE DATE OF INVENTION

When a prior art reference merely discloses the structure of the claimed compound, evidence showing that attempts to prepare that compound were unsuccessful before the date of invention will be adequate to show inoperability. In re Wiggins, 488 F.2d 538, 179 USPQ 421 (CCPA 1971). However, the fact that an author of a publication did not attempt to make the compound disclosed, without more, will not overcome a rejection based on that publication. In re Donohue, 766 F.2d 531, 226 USPQ 619 (Fed. Cir. 1985) (In this case, the examiner had made a rejection under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(b) over a publication, which disclosed the claimed compound, in combination with two patents teaching a general process of making the particular class of compounds. The applicant submitted an affidavit stating that the authors of the publication had not actually synthesized the compound. The court held that the fact that the publication’s author did not synthesize the disclosed compound was immaterial to the question of reference operability. The patents were evidence that synthesis methods were well known. The court distinguished Wiggins, in which a very similar rejection was reversed. In Wiggins, attempts to make the compounds using the prior art methods were all unsuccessful.). Compare In re Hoeksema, 399 F.2d 269, 158 USPQ 596 (CCPA 1968) (A claim to a compound was rejected over a patent to De Boer which disclosed compounds similar in structure to those claimed (obvious homologs) and a process of making these compounds. Applicant responded with an affidavit by an expert named Wiley which stated that there was no indication in the De Boer patent that the process disclosed in De Boercould be used to produce the claimed compound and that he did not believe that the process disclosed in De Boer could be adapted to the production of the claimed compound. The court held that the facts stated in this affidavit were legally sufficient to overcome the rejection and that applicant need not show that all known processes are incapable of producing the claimed compound for this showing would be practically impossible.).

2121.03   Plant Genetics — What Constitutes Enabling Prior Art [R-08.2012]

  THOSE OF ORDINARY SKILL MUST BE ABLE TO GROW AND CULTIVATE THE PLANT

When the claims are drawn to plants, the reference, combined with knowledge in the prior art, must enable one of ordinary skill in the art to reproduce the plant.In re LeGrice, 301 F.2d 929, 133 USPQ 365 (CCPA 1962) (National Rose Society Annual of England and various other catalogues showed color pictures of the claimed roses and disclosed that applicant had raised the roses. The publications were published more than 1 year before applicant's filing date. The court held that the publications did not place the rose in the public domain. Information on the grafting process required to reproduce the rose was not included in the publications and such information was necessary for those of ordinary skill in the art (plant breeders) to reproduce the rose.). Compare Ex parte Thomson, 24 USPQ2d 1618 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1992) (Seeds were commercially available more than 1 year prior to applicant’s filing date. One of ordinary skill in the art could grow the claimed cotton cultivar from the commercially available seeds. Thus, the publications describing the cotton cultivar had “enabled disclosures.” The Board distinguished In re LeGrice by finding that the catalogue picture of the rose of In re LeGrice was the only evidence in that case. There was no evidence of commercial availability in enabling form since the asexually reproduced rose could not be reproduced from seed. Therefore, the public would not have possession of the rose by its picture alone, but the public would have possession of the cotton cultivar based on the publications and the availability of the seeds.). In In re Elsner, 381 F.3d 1125, 1126, 72 USPQ2d 1038, 1040 (Fed. Cir. 2004), prior to the critical date of a plant patent application, the plant had been sold in Germany and a foreign Plant Breeder’s Rights (PBR) application for the same plant had been published in the Community Plant Variety Office Official Gazette. The court held that when (i) a publication identifies claimed the plant, (ii) a foreign sale occurs that puts one of ordinary skill in the art in possession of the plant itself, and (iii) such possession permits asexual reproduction of the plant without undue experimentation to one of ordinary skill in the art, then that combination of facts and events directly conveys the essential knowledge of the invention and constitutes a pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(b) statutory bar.Id. at 1129, 72 USPQ2d at 1041. Although the court agreed with the Board that foreign sales may enable an otherwise non-enabling printed publication, the case was remanded for additional fact-finding in order to determine if the foreign sales of the plant were known to be accessible to the skilled artisan and if the skilled artisan could have reproduced the plant asexually after obtaining it without undue experimentation. Id. at 1131, 72 USPQ2d at 1043.

2121.04   Apparatus and Articles — What Constitutes Enabling Prior Art [R-08.2012]

  PICTURES MAY CONSTITUTE AN “ENABLING DISCLOSURE”

Pictures and drawings may be sufficiently enabling to put the public in the possession of the article pictured. Therefore, such an enabling picture may be used to reject claims to the article. However, the picture must show all the claimed structural features and how they are put together. Jockmus v. Leviton, 28 F.2d 812 (2d Cir. 1928). See also MPEP § 2125 for a discussion of drawings as prior art.

2122    Discussion of Utility in the Prior Art [R-08.2012]

  UTILITY NEED NOT BE DISCLOSED IN REFERENCE

In order to constitute anticipatory prior art, a reference must identically disclose the claimed compound, but no utility need be disclosed by the reference. In reSchoenwald, 964 F.2d 1122, 1124, 22 USPQ2d 1671, 1673 (Fed. Cir. 1992) (The application claimed compounds used in ophthalmic compositions to treat dry eye syndrome. The examiner found a printed publication which disclosed the claimed compound but did not disclose a use for the compound. The court found that the claim was anticipated since the compound and a process of making it was taught by the reference. The court explained that “no utility need be disclosed for a reference to be anticipatory of a claim to an old compound.” It is enough that the claimed compound is taught by the reference.). See also Impax Labs. Inc. v. Aventis Pharm. Inc., 468 F.3d 1366, 1383, 8 USPQ2d 1001, 1013 (Fed. Cir. 2006) (“[P]roof of efficacy is not required for a prior art reference to be enabling for purposes of anticipation.”).

2123    Rejection Over Prior Art’s Broad Disclosure Instead of Preferred Embodiments [R-08.2012]

I.   PATENTS ARE RELEVANT AS PRIOR ART FOR ALL THEY CONTAIN

“The use of patents as references is not limited to what the patentees describe as their own inventions or to the problems with which they are concerned. They are part of the literature of the art, relevant for all they contain.” In re Heck, 699 F.2d 1331, 1332-33, 216 USPQ 1038, 1039 (Fed. Cir. 1983) (quoting In re Lemelson, 397 F.2d 1006, 1009, 158 USPQ 275, 277 (CCPA 1968)).

A reference may be relied upon for all that it would have reasonably suggested to one having ordinary skill the art, including nonpreferred embodiments. Merck & Co. v. Biocraft Laboratories, 874 F.2d 804, 10 USPQ2d 1843 (Fed. Cir.), cert. denied, 493 U.S. 975 (1989). See also Upsher-Smith Labs. v. Pamlab, LLC, 412 F.3d 1319, 1323, 75 USPQ2d 1213, 1215 (Fed. Cir. 2005) (reference disclosing optional inclusion of a particular component teaches compositions that both do and do not contain that component); Celeritas Technologies Ltd. v. Rockwell International Corp., 150 F.3d 1354, 1361, 47 USPQ2d 1516, 1522-23 (Fed. Cir. 1998) (The court held that the prior art anticipated the claims even though it taught away from the claimed invention. “The fact that a modem with a single carrier data signal is shown to be less than optimal does not vitiate the fact that it is disclosed.”).

See also MPEP § 2131.05 and § 2145, subsection X.D., which discuss prior art that teaches away from the claimed invention in the context of anticipation and obviousness, respectively.

II.   NONPREFERRED AND ALTERNATIVE EMBODIMENTS CONSTITUTE PRIOR ART

Disclosed examples and preferred embodiments do not constitute a teaching away from a broader disclosure or nonpreferred embodiments. In re Susi, 440 F.2d 442, 169 USPQ 423 (CCPA 1971). “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) (The invention was directed to an epoxy impregnated fiber-reinforced printed circuit material. The applied prior art reference taught a printed circuit material similar to that of the claims but impregnated with polyester-imide resin instead of epoxy. The reference, however, disclosed that epoxy was known for this use, but that epoxy impregnated circuit boards have “relatively acceptable dimensional stability” and “some degree of flexibility,” but are inferior to circuit boards impregnated with polyester-imide resins. The court upheld the rejection concluding that applicant’s argument that the reference teaches away from using epoxy was insufficient to overcome the rejection since “Gurley asserted no discovery beyond what was known in the art.” Id. at 554, 31 USPQ2d at 1132.). Furthermore, “[t]he 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).

2124    Exception to the Rule That the Critical Reference Date Must Precede the Filing Date [R-11.2013]

  IN SOME CIRCUMSTANCES A FACTUAL REFERENCE NEED NOT ANTEDATE THE FILING DATE

In certain circumstances, references cited to show a universal fact need not be available as prior art before applicant’s filing date. In re Wilson, 311 F.2d 266, 135 USPQ 442 (CCPA 1962). Such facts include the characteristics and properties of a material or a scientific truism. Some specific examples in which later publications showing factual evidence can be cited include situations where the facts shown in the reference are evidence “that, as of an application’s filing date, undue experimentation would have been required, In re Corneil, 347 F.2d 563, 568, 145 USPQ 702, 705 (CCPA 1965), or that a parameter absent from the claims was or was not critical, In re Rainer, 305 F.2d 505, 507 n.3, 134 USPQ 343, 345 n.3 (CCPA 1962), or that a statement in the specification was inaccurate,In re Marzocchi, 439 F.2d 220, 223 n.4, 169 USPQ 367, 370 n.4 (CCPA 1971), or that the invention was inoperative or lacked utility, In re Langer, 503 F.2d 1380, 1391, 183 USPQ 288, 297 (CCPA 1974), or that a claim was indefinite, In re Glass, 492 F.2d 1228,1232 n.6, 181 USPQ 31, 34 n.6 (CCPA 1974), or that characteristics of prior art products were known, In re Wilson, 311 F.2d 266, 135 USPQ 442 (CCPA 1962).” In re Koller, 613 F.2d 819, 823 n.5, 204 USPQ 702, 706 n.5 (CCPA 1980) (quoting In re Hogan, 559 F.2d 595, 605 n.17, 194 USPQ 527, 537 n.17 (CCPA 1977) (emphasis in original)). However, it is impermissible to use a later factual reference to determine whether the application is enabled or described as required under 35 U.S.C. 112(a) or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 112, first paragraph. In re Koller, 613 F.2d 819, 823 n. 5, 204 USPQ 702, 706 n.5 (CCPA 1980). 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).

2124.01   Tax Strategies Deemed Within the Prior Art [R-08.2012]

[Editor Note: This MPEP section is applicable to applications subject to the first inventor to file (FITF) provisions of the AIA except that the relevant date is the "effective filing date" of the claimed invention instead of the "time of the invention," which is only applicable to applications subject to pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102. See35 U.S.C. 100 (note) and MPEP § 2150 et seq.]

I.   OVERVIEW

The Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (AIA), Public Law 112-29, sec. 14, 125 Stat. 284 (September 16, 2011) provides that for purposes of evaluating an invention for novelty and nonobviousness under 35 U.S.C. 102 and 35 U.S.C. 103, any strategy for reducing, avoiding, or deferring tax liability (hereinafter "tax strategy"), whether known or unknown at the time of the invention or application for patent, shall be deemed insufficient to differentiate a claimed invention from the prior art. As a result, applicants will no longer be able to rely on the novelty or non-obviousness of a tax strategy embodied in their claims to distinguish them from the prior art. Any tax strategy will be considered indistinguishable from all other publicly available information that is relevant to a patent’s claim of originality. This provision aims to keep the ability to interpret the tax law and to implement such interpretation in the public domain, available to all taxpayers and their advisors.

The term "tax liability" is defined for purposes of this provision as referring to any liability for a tax under any Federal, State, or local law, or the law of any foreign jurisdiction, including any statute, rule, regulation, or ordinance that levies, imposes, or assesses such tax liability.

There are two exclusions to this provision. The first is that the provision does not apply to that part of an invention that is a method, apparatus, technology, computer program product, or system, that is used solely for preparing a tax or information return or other tax filing, including one that records, transmits, transfers, or organizes data related to such filing.

The second is that the provision does not apply to that part of an invention that is a method, apparatus, technology, computer program product, or system, that is used solely for financial management, to the extent that it is severable from any tax strategy or does not limit the use of any tax strategy by any taxpayer or tax advisor.

This provision took effect on September 16, 2011, and applies to any patent application that is pending on, or filed on or after, September 16, 2011, and to any patent issued on or after September 16, 2011. Accordingly, this provision will apply in a reexamination or other post-grant proceeding only to patents issued on or after September 16, 2011.

II.   EXAMINATION GUIDANCE FOR CLAIMS RELATING TO TAX STRATEGIES

The following procedure should be followed when examining claims relating to tax strategies.

  • 1. Construe the claim in accordance with MPEP § 2111 et seq.
  • 2. Analyze the claim for compliance with 35 U.S.C. 101 and 112 in accordance with current guidance, which is unaffected by this provision.
  • 3. Identify any limitations relating to a tax strategy, as defined above (note the listed exclusions).
    • a. Inventions that fall within the scope of AIA section 14 include those tax strategies especially suitable for use with tax-favored structures that must meet certain requirements, such as employee benefit plans, tax-exempt organizations, or other entities that must be structured or operated in a particular manner to obtain certain tax consequences.
    • b. Thus, AIA section 14 applies if the effect of an invention is to aid in satisfying the qualification requirements for a desired tax-favored entity status, to take advantage of the specific tax benefits offered in a tax-favored structure, or to allow for tax reduction, avoidance, or deferral not otherwise automatically available in such entity or structure.
  • 4. Evaluate the claim in view of the prior art under 35 U.S.C. 102 and 103, treating any limitations relating to a tax strategy as being within the prior art, and not as a patentable difference between the claim and the prior art. This approach is analogous to the treatment of printed matter limitations in a claim as discussed at MPEP § 2112.01, subsection III.

    Form paragraph 7.06 may be used to indicate claim limitation(s) interpreted as a tax strategy. See MPEP § 706.02(m) .

 

III.   EXAMPLES DIRECTED TO COMPUTER-IMPLEMENTED METHODS

A computer-implemented method that is deemed novel and non-obvious would not be affected by this provision even if used for a tax purpose. For example, a novel and non-obvious computer-implemented method for manipulating data would not be affected by this provision even if the method organized data for a future tax filing. However, a prior art computer-implemented method would not become non-obvious by implementing a novel and non-obvious tax strategy. That is, the presence of limitations relating to the tax strategy would not cause a claim that is otherwise within the prior art to become novel or non-obvious over the prior art.

Thus, for purposes of applying art to a software-related invention under 35 U.S.C. 102 and 35 U.S.C. 103, claim limitations that are directed solely to enabling individuals to file their income tax returns or assisting them with managing their finances should be given patentable weight, except that claim limitations directed to a tax strategy should not be given patentable weight.

2125    Drawings as Prior Art [R-08.2012]

  DRAWINGS CAN BE USED AS PRIOR ART

Drawings and pictures can anticipate claims if they clearly show the structure which is claimed. In re Mraz, 455 F.2d 1069, 173 USPQ 25 (CCPA 1972). However, the picture must show all the claimed structural features and how they are put together. Jockmus v. Leviton, 28 F.2d 812 (2d Cir. 1928). The origin of the drawing is immaterial. For instance, drawings in a design patent can anticipate or make obvious the claimed invention as can drawings in utility patents. When the reference is a utility patent, it does not matter that the feature shown is unintended or unexplained in the specification. The drawings must be evaluated for what they reasonably disclose and suggest to one of ordinary skill in the art. In re Aslanian, 590 F.2d 911, 200 USPQ 500 (CCPA 1979). SeeMPEP § 2121.04 for more information on prior art drawings as “enabled disclosures.”

  PROPORTIONS OF FEATURES IN A DRAWING ARE NOT EVIDENCE OF ACTUAL PROPORTIONS WHEN DRAWINGS ARE NOT TO SCALE

When the reference does not disclose that the drawings are to scale and is silent as to dimensions, arguments based on measurement of the drawing features are of little value. See Hockerson-Halberstadt, Inc. v. Avia Group Int’l, 222 F.3d 951, 956, 55 USPQ2d 1487, 1491 (Fed. Cir. 2000) (The disclosure gave no indication that the drawings were drawn to scale. “[I]t is well established that patent drawings do not define the precise proportions of the elements and may not be relied on to show particular sizes if the specification is completely silent on the issue.”). However, the description of the article pictured can be relied on, in combination with the drawings, for what they would reasonably teach one of ordinary skill in the art. In re Wright, 569 F.2d 1124, 193 USPQ 332 (CCPA 1977) (“We disagree with the Solicitor’s conclusion, reached by a comparison of the relative dimensions of appellant’s and Bauer’s drawing figures, that Bauer ‘clearly points to the use of a chime length of roughly 1/2 to 1 inch for a whiskey barrel.’ This ignores the fact that Bauer does not disclose that his drawings are to scale. ... However, we agree with the Solicitor that Bauer’s teaching that whiskey losses are influenced by the distance the liquor needs to ‘traverse the pores of the wood’ (albeit in reference to the thickness of the barrelhead)” would have suggested the desirability of an increased chime length to one of ordinary skill in the art bent on further reducing whiskey losses.” 569 F.2d at 1127, 193 USPQ at 335-36.)

2126    Availability of a Document as a “Patent” for Purposes of Rejection Under 35 U.S.C. 102(a) or Pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(a), (b), and (d) [R-11.2013]

I.   THE NAME “PATENT” ALONE DOES NOT MAKE A DOCUMENT AVAILABLE AS A PRIOR ART PATENT UNDER 35 U.S.C. 102(a) or Pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(a) OR (b)

What a foreign country designates to be a patent may not be a patent for purposes of rejection under 35 U.S.C. 102(a) or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(a) and (b); it is the substance of the rights conferred and the way information within the “patent” is controlled that is determinative. In re Ekenstam, 256 F.2d 321, 118 USPQ 349 (CCPA 1958). See the next subsection for further explanation with respect to when a document can be applied in a rejection as a “patent.” See MPEP § 2135.01 for a further discussion of the use of “patents” in pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(d) rejections.

II.   A SECRET PATENT IS NOT AVAILABLE AS A REFERENCE UNDER 35 U.S.C. 102(a) or Pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(a) or (b) UNTIL IT IS AVAILABLE TO THE PUBLIC BUT IT MAY BE AVAILABLE UNDER Pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(d) AS OF GRANT DATE

Secret patents are defined as patents which are insufficiently accessible to the public to constitute “printed publications.” Decisions on the issue of what is sufficiently accessible to be a “printed publication” are located in MPEP § 2128 - MPEP § 2128.01.

Even if a patent grants an exclusionary right (is enforceable), it is not available as prior art under 35 U.S.C. 102(a) or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(a) or (b) if it is secret or private. In re Carlson, 983 F.2d 1032, 1037, 25 USPQ2d 1207, 1211 (Fed. Cir. 1992). The document must be at least minimally available to the public to constitute prior art. The patent is sufficiently available to the public for the purposes of 35 U.S.C. 102(a) or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(a) or (b) if it is laid open for public inspection or disseminated in printed form. See, e.g., In re Carlson, 983 F.2d at 1037, 25 USPQ2d at 1211 (“We recognize that Geschmacksmuster on display for public view in remote cities in a far-away land may create a burden of discovery for one without the time, desire, or resources to journey there in person or by agent to observe that which was registered under German law. Such a burden, however, is by law imposed upon the hypothetical person of ordinary skill in the art who is charged with knowledge of all contents of the relevant prior art.”). The date that the patent is made available to the public is the date it is available as a 35 U.S.C. 102(a) or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(a) or (b) reference. In re Ekenstam, 256 F.2d 321, 118 USPQ 349 (CCPA 1958). But a period of secrecy after granting the patent has been held to have no effect in connection with pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(d). These patents are usable in rejections under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(d) as of the date patent rights are granted. In re Kathawala, 9 F.3d 942, 946, 28 USPQ2d 1789, 1788-89 (Fed. Cir. 1993). SeeMPEP § 2135 - MPEP § 2135.01 for more information on pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(d).

2126.01   Date of Availability of a Patent as a Reference [R-11.2013]

  DATE FOREIGN PATENT IS EFFECTIVE AS A REFERENCE IS USUALLY THE DATE PATENT RIGHTS ARE FORMALLY AWARDED TO ITS APPLICANT

The date the patent is available as a reference is generally the date that the patent becomes enforceable. This date is the date the sovereign formally bestows patents rights to the applicant. In re Monks, 588 F.2d 308, 200 USPQ 129 (CCPA 1978). There is an exception to this rule when the patent is secret as of the date the rights are awarded. In re Ekenstam, 256 F.2d 321, 118 USPQ 349 (CCPA 1958).

Note that MPEP § 901.05 summarizes in tabular form dates of patenting for many foreign patents. For a list of cases that discuss the date of patenting countries for purposes of pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102 in particular, see Chisum, Patents § 3.06[4] n.2.

2126.02   Scope of Reference’s Disclosure Which Can Be Used to Reject Claims When the Reference Is a “Patent” but Not a “Publication” [R-11.2013]

  OFTEN UNCLAIMED DETAILS FOUND IN THE PATENT SPECIFICATION CAN BE RELIED ON EVEN IF PATENT IS SECRET

When the patented document is used as a patent and not as a publication, the examiner is not restricted to the information conveyed by the patent claims but may use any information provided in the specification which relates to the subject matter of the patented claims when making a rejection under 35 U.S.C. 102(a)or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(a), (b) or (d)Ex parte Ovist, 152 USPQ 709, 710 (Bd. App. 1963) (The claim of an Italian patent was generic and thus embraced the species disclosed in the examples, the Board added that the entire specification was germane to the claimed invention and upheld the examiner’s pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(b) rejection.); In re Kathawala, 9 F.3d 942, 28 USPQ2d 1785 (Fed. Cir. 1993) (The claims at issue where rejected under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(d)by applicant’s own parent applications in Greece and Spain. The applicant argued that the “invention ... patented in Spain was not the same ‘invention’ claimed in the U.S. application because the Spanish patent claimed processes for making [compounds for inhibition of cholesterol biosynthesis] and claims 1 and 2 were directed to the compounds themselves.” Id. at 944, 28 USPQ2d at 1786. The Federal Circuit held that “when an applicant files a foreign application fully disclosing his invention and having the potential to claim his invention in a number of ways, the reference in section 102(d) to ‘invention ... patented’ necessarily includes all disclosed aspects of the invention.” Id. at 945-46, 28 USPQ2d at 1789.).

Note that In re Fuge, 272 F.2d 954, 957, 124 USPQ 105, 107 (CCPA 1959), does not conflict with the above decisions. This decision simply states “that, at the least, the scope of the patent embraces everything included in the [claim].” (emphasis added).

The courts have interpreted the phrase “invention ... patented” in pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(a), (b), and (d) the same way and have cited decisions without regard to which of these subsections of pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102 was at issue in the particular case at hand. Therefore, it does not seem to matter to which subsection ofpre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102 the cases are directed; the court decisions are interchangeable as to this issue.

2127    Domestic and Foreign Patent Applications as Prior Art [R-11.2013]

I.   ABANDONED APPLICATIONS, INCLUDING PROVISIONAL APPLICATIONS

  Abandoned Applications Disclosed to the Public Can Be Used as Prior Art

“An abandoned patent application may become evidence of prior art only when it has been appropriately disclosed, as, for example, when the abandoned patent [application] is reference[d] in the disclosure of another patent, in a publication, or by voluntary disclosure under [former Defensive Publication rule] 37 CFR 1.139 [Reserved].” Lee Pharmaceutical v. Kreps, 577 F.2d 610, 613, 198 USPQ 601, 605 (9th Cir. 1978). An abandoned patent application becomes available as prior art only as of the date the public gains access to it. See 37 CFR 1.14(a)(1)(ii) and (iv). However, the subject matter of an abandoned application, including both provisional and nonprovisional applications, referred to in a prior art U.S. patent or U.S. patent application publication may be relied on in a 35 U.S.C. 102(a)(2) or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e) rejection based on that patent or patent application publication if the disclosure of the abandoned application is actually included or incorporated by reference in the patent. Compare In re Lund, 376 F.2d 982, 991, 153 USPQ 625, 633 (CCPA 1967) (The court reversed a rejection over a patent which was a continuation-in-part of an abandoned application. Applicant’s filing date preceded the issue date of the patent reference. The abandoned application contained subject matter which was essential to the rejection but which was not carried over into the continuation-in-part. The court held that the subject matter of the abandoned application was not available to the public as of either the parent’s or the child’s filing dates and thus could not be relied on in the pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e) rejection.). See also MPEP § 901.02. See MPEP § 2136.02 and MPEP § 2136.03 for the 35 U.S.C. 102(e) date of a U.S. patent claiming priority under 35 U.S.C. 119 or 35 U.S.C. 120. See MPEP § 2154 for prior art under 35 U.S.C. 102(a)(2).

II.   APPLICATIONS WHICH HAVE ISSUED AS PATENTS

A.   A 35 U.S.C. 102(a)(2) or Pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e) Rejection Cannot Rely on Matter Which Was Canceled from the Application and Thus Did Not Get Published in the Issued Patent

Canceled matter in the application file of a U.S. patent cannot be relied upon in a rejection under 35 U.S.C. 102(a)(2) or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e)Ex Parte Stalego, 154 USPQ 52, 53 (Bd. App. 1966). The canceled matter only becomes available as prior art as of the date the application issues into a patent since this is the date the application file history becomes available to the public. In re Lund, 376 F.2d 982, 153 USPQ 625 (CCPA 1967). However, as discussed below, such matter may be available as prior art under 35 U.S.C. 102(a)(2) or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(b). For more information on available prior art for use in pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e) rejections see MPEP § 2136.02. For more information on available prior art for use in 35 U.S.C. 102(a)(2) rejections see MPEP § 2154 et seq.

B.   A 35 U.S.C. 102(a)(1) or Pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(b) Rejection Over a Published Application May Rely on Information that Was Canceled Prior to Publication

Figures that had been canceled from a Canadian patent application before issuance of the patent were available as prior art under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(b) as of the date the application became publicly accessible. The patent at issue and its underlying application were available for public inspection at the Canadian Patent Office more than one year before the effective filing date of the patents in suit. Bruckelmyer v. Ground Heaters, Inc., 445 F.3d 1374, 78 USPQ2d 1684 (Fed. Cir. 2006).

III.   FOREIGN APPLICATIONS OPEN FOR PUBLIC INSPECTION (LAID OPEN APPLICATIONS)

  Laid Open Applications May Constitute “Published” Documents

When the specification is not issued in printed form but is announced in an official journal and anyone can inspect or obtain copies, it is sufficiently accessible to the public to constitute a “publication” within the meaning of 35 U.S.C. 102(a)(1) or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(a) and (b). See In re Wyer, 655 F.2d 221, 210 USPQ 790 (CCPA 1981).

Older cases have held that laid open patent applications are not “published” and cannot constitute prior art. Ex parte Haller, 103 USPQ 332 (Bd. App. 1953). However, whether or not a document is “published” for the purposes of 35 U.S.C. 102 and 35 U.S.C. 103 depends on how accessible the document is to the public. As technology has made reproduction of documents easier, the accessibility of the laid open applications has increased. Items provided in easily reproducible form have thus become “printed publications” as the phrase is used in 35 U.S.C. 102In re Wyer, 655 F.2d 221, 226, 210 USPQ 790, 794 (CCPA 1981) (Laid open Australian patent application held to be a “printed publication” even though only the abstract was published because it was laid open for public inspection, microfilmed, “diazo copies” were distributed to five suboffices having suitable reproduction equipment and the diazo copies were available for sale.). The contents of a foreign patent application should not be relied upon as prior art until the date of publication (i.e., the insertion into the laid open application) can be confirmed by an examiner’s review of a copy of the document. See MPEP § 901.05.

IV.   PENDING U.S. APPLICATIONS

As specified in 37 CFR 1.14(a), all pending U.S. applications are preserved in confidence except for published applications (see also 35 U.S.C. 122(b)), reissue applications, and applications in which a request to open the complete application to inspection by the public has been granted by the Office (37 CFR 1.11(b)). However, if an application that has not been published has an assignee or inventor in common with the application being examined, a rejection will be proper in some circumstances. For instance, when the claims between the two applications are not independent or distinct, a provisional double patenting rejection is made. See MPEP § 804. If the copending applications differ by at least one inventor and at least one of the applications would have been obvious in view of the other, a provisional rejection over 35 U.S.C. 102(a)(2) or 35 U.S.C. 102(e) or 35 U.S.C. 103 is made when appropriate. See MPEP § 706.02(f)(2)§ 706.02(k)§ 706.02(l)(1)§ 706.02(l)(3) and § 2154.

See MPEP § 706.02(a)§ 804 § 2136 et seq. and § 2154 for information pertaining to rejections relying on U.S. application publications.

2128    “Printed Publications” as Prior Art [R-11.2013]

I.   A REFERENCE IS A “PRINTED PUBLICATION” IF IT IS ACCESSIBLE TO THE PUBLIC

A reference is proven to be a “printed publication” “upon a satisfactory showing that such document has been disseminated or otherwise made available to the extent that persons interested and ordinarily skilled in the subject matter or art, exercising reasonable diligence, can locate it.” In re Wyer, 655 F.2d 221, 210 USPQ 790 (CCPA 1981) (quoting I.C.E. Corp. v. Armco Steel Corp., 250 F. Supp. 738, 743, 148 USPQ 537, 540 (SDNY 1966)) (“We agree that ‘printed publication’ should be approached as a unitary concept. The traditional dichotomy between ‘printed’ and ‘publication’ is no longer valid. Given the state of technology in document duplication, data storage, and data retrieval systems, the ‘probability of dissemination’ of an item very often has little to do with whether or not it is ‘printed’ in the sense of that word when it was introduced into the patent statutes in 1836. In any event, interpretation of the words ‘printed’ and ‘publication’ to mean ‘probability of dissemination’ and ‘public accessibility’ respectively, now seems to render their use in the phrase ‘printed publication’ somewhat redundant.”) In re Wyer, 655 F.2d at 226, 210 USPQ at 794.

See also Carella v. Starlight Archery, 804 F.2d 135, 231 USPQ 644 (Fed. Cir. 1986) (Starlight Archery argued that Carella’s patent claims to an archery sight were anticipated under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(a) by an advertisement in a Wisconsin Bow Hunter Association (WBHA) magazine and a WBHA mailer prepared prior to Carella’s filing date. However, there was no evidence as to when the mailer was received by any of the addressees. Plus, the magazine had not been mailed until 10 days after Carella’s filing date. The court held that since there was no proof that either the advertisement or mailer was accessible to any member of the public before the filing date there could be no rejection under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(a).).

II.   ELECTRONIC PUBLICATIONS AS PRIOR ART

A.   Status as a "Printed Publication"

An electronic publication, including an on-line database or Internet publication, is considered to be a “printed publication” within the meaning of 35 U.S.C. 102(a)(1) and pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(a) and (b) provided the publication was accessible to persons concerned with the art to which the document relates. See In re Wyer, 655 F.2d 221, 227, 210 USPQ 790, 795 (CCPA 1981) (“Accordingly, whether information is printed, handwritten, or on microfilm or a magnetic disc or tape, etc., the one who wishes to characterize the information, in whatever form it may be, as a ‘printed publication’ ... should produce sufficient proof of its dissemination or that it has otherwise been available and accessible to persons concerned with the art to which the document relates and thus most likely to avail themselves of its contents.’” (citations omitted).). See also Amazon.com v. Barnesandnoble.com, 73 F. Supp. 2d 1228, 53 USPQ2d 1115, 1119 (W.D. Wash. 1999) (Pages from a website were relied on by defendants as an anticipatory reference (to no avail), however status of the reference as prior art was not challenged.); In re Epstein, 32 F.3d 1559, 31 USPQ2d 1817 (Fed. Cir. 1994) (Database printouts of abstracts which were not themselves prior art publications were properly relied as providing evidence that the software products referenced therein were “first installed” or “released” more than one year prior to applicant’s filing date.).

The Office policy requiring recordation of the field of search and search results (see MPEP § 719.05) weighs in favor of finding that Internet and on-line database references cited by the examiner are “accessible to persons concerned with the art to which the document relates and thus most likely to avail themselves of its contents.” Wyer, 655 F.2d at 221, 210 USPQ at 790. Office copies of an electronic document must be retained if the same document may not be available for retrieval in the future. This is especially important for sources such as the Internet and online databases.

B.   Date of Availability

Prior art disclosures on the Internet or on an on-line database are considered to be publicly available as of the date the item was publicly posted. Absent evidence of the date that the disclosure was publicly posted, if the publication itself does not include a publication date (or retrieval date), it cannot be relied upon as prior art under 35 U.S.C. 102(a)(1) and pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(a) or (b). However, it may be relied upon to provide evidence regarding the state of the art. Examiners may ask the Scientific and Technical Information Center to find the earliest date of publication or posting. See MPEP § 901.06(a), subsection IV.G.

C.   Extent of Teachings Relied Upon

An electronic publication, like any publication, may be relied upon for all that it would have reasonably suggested to one having ordinary skill in the art. SeeMPEP § 2121.01 and § 2123. Note, however, that if an electronic document which is the abstract of a patent or printed publication is relied upon in a rejection under 35 U.S.C. 102 or 35 U.S.C. 103, only the text of the abstract (and not the underlying document) may be relied upon to support the rejection. In situations where the electronic version and the published paper version of the same or a corresponding patent or printed publication differ appreciably, each may need to be cited and relied upon as independent references based on what they disclose.

D.   Internet Usage Policy

See MPEP § 904.02(c) for the portions of the Internet Usage Policy pertaining to Internet searching and documenting search strategies. See MPEP § 707.05 for the proper citation of electronic documents.

III.   EXAMINER NEED NOT PROVE ANYONE ACTUALLY LOOKED AT THE DOCUMENT

One need not prove someone actually looked at a publication when that publication is accessible to the public through a library or patent office. See In re Wyer,655 F.2d 221, 210 USPQ 790 (CCPA 1981); In re Hall, 781 F.2d 897, 228 USPQ 453 (Fed. Cir. 1986).

2128.01   Level of Public Accessibility Required [R-11.2013]

I.   A THESIS PLACED IN A UNIVERSITY LIBRARY MAY BE PRIOR ART IF SUFFICIENTLY ACCESSIBLE TO THE PUBLIC

A doctoral thesis indexed and shelved in a library is sufficiently accessible to the public to constitute prior art as a “printed publication.” In re Hall, 781 F.2d 897, 228 USPQ 453 (Fed. Cir. 1986). Even if access to the library is restricted, a reference will constitute a “printed publication” as long as a presumption is raised that the portion of the public concerned with the art would know of the invention. In re Bayer, 568 F.2d 1357, 196 USPQ 670 (CCPA 1978).

In In re Hall, general library cataloging and shelving practices showed that a doctoral thesis deposited in university library would have been indexed, cataloged and shelved and thus available to the public before the critical date. Compare In re Cronyn, 890 F.2d 1158, 13 USPQ2d 1070 (Fed. Cir. 1989) wherein doctoral theses were shelved and indexed by index cards filed alphabetically by student name and kept in a shoe box in the chemistry library. The index cards only listed the student name and title of the thesis. In Cronyn, the court held that the students’ theses were not accessible to the public. The court reasoned that the theses had not been either cataloged or indexed in a meaningful way since thesis could only be found if the researcher’s name was known, but the name bears no relationship to the subject of the thesis. Notably, a dissenting judge, in Cronyn, indicated that since the theses were shelved in the library, it was enough to make them sufficiently accessible to the public. The nature of the index was not determinative. The disesenting judge relied on prior Board decisions (Gulliksen v. Halberg, 75 USPQ 252, 257 (Bd. App. 1937) and Ex parte Hershberger, 96 USPQ 54, 56 (Bd. App. 1952)), which held that shelving a single copy in a public library makes the work a “printed publication.” While these Board decisions have not been expressly overruled, they have been criticized in other decisions. See In re Tenney, 254 F.2d 619, 117 USPQ 348 (CCPA 1958) (concurring opinion by J.Rich) (A document, of which there is but one copy, whether it be handwritten, typewritten or on microfilm, may be technically accessible to anyone who can find it. Such a document is not “printed” in the sense that a printing press has been used to reproduce the document. If only technical accessibility were required “logic would require the inclusion within the term [printed] of all unprinted public documents for they are all ‘accessible.’ While some tribunals have gone quite far in that direction, as in the ‘college thesis cases’ I feel they have done so unjustifiably and on the wrong theory. Knowledge is not in the possession of the public where there has been no dissemination, as distinguished from technical accessibility...” The real significance of the word “printed” is grounded in the “probability of wide circulation.”). See also Deep Welding, Inc. v. Sciaky Bros., 417 F.2d 1227, 163 USPQ 144 (7th Cir. 1969) (calling the holding of Ex parte Hershberger “extreme”). Compare In re Bayer, 568 F.2d 1357, 196 USPQ 670 (CCPA 1978) (A reference will constitute a “printed publication” as long as a presumption is raised that the portion of the public concerned with the art would know of the invention even if accessibility is restricted to only this part of the public. But accessibility to applicant’s thesis was restricted to only three members of a graduate committee. There can be no presumption that those concerned with the art would have known of the invention in this case.).

II.   ORALLY PRESENTED PAPER CAN CONSTITUTE A “PRINTED PUBLICATION” IF WRITTEN COPIES ARE AVAILABLE WITHOUT RESTRICTION

A paper which is orally presented in a forum open to all interested persons constitutes a “printed publication” if written copies are disseminated without restriction. Massachusetts Institute of Technology v. AB Fortia, 774 F.2d 1104, 1109, 227 USPQ 428, 432 (Fed. Cir. 1985) (Paper orally presented to between 50 and 500 persons at a scientific meeting open to all persons interested in the subject matter, with written copies distributed without restriction to all who requested, is a printed publication. Six persons requested and obtained copies.). An oral presentation at a scientific meeting or a demonstration at a trade show may be prior art under 35 U.S.C. 102(a)(1)’s provision: “otherwise available to the public.” See MPEP § 2152.02(e).

III.   INTERNAL DOCUMENTS INTENDED TO BE CONFIDENTIAL ARE NOT “PRINTED PUBLICATIONS”

Documents and items only distributed internally within an organization which are intended to remain confidential are not “printed publications” no matter how many copies are distributed. There must be an existing policy of confidentiality or agreement to remain confidential within the organization. Mere intent to remain confidential is insufficient. In re George, 2 USPQ2d 1880 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1987) (Research reports disseminated in-house to only those persons who understood the policy of confidentiality regarding such reports are not printed publications even though the policy was not specifically stated in writing.); Garret Corp. v. United States, 422 F.2d 874, 878, 164 USPQ 521, 524 (Ct. Cl.1970) (“While distribution to government agencies and personnel alone may not constitute publication ... distribution to commercial companies without restriction on use clearly does.”); Northern Telecom Inc. v. Datapoint Corp., 908 F.2d 931, 15 USPQ2d 1321 (Fed. Cir. 1990) (Four reports on the AESOP-B military computer system which were not under security classification were distributed to about fifty organizations involved in the AESOP-B project. One document contained the legend “Reproduction or further dissemination is not authorized.” The other documents were of the class that would contain this legend. The documents were housed in Mitre Corporation’s library. Access to this library was restricted to those involved in the AESOP-B project. The court held that public access was insufficient to make the documents “printed publications.”).

IV.   PUBLICLY DISPLAYED DOCUMENTS CAN CONSTITUTE A “PRINTED PUBLICATION” EVEN IF THE DURATION OF DISPLAY IS FOR ONLY A FEW DAYS AND THE DOCUMENTS ARE NOT DISSEMINATED BY COPIES OR INDEXED IN A LIBRARY OR DATABASE

A publicly displayed document where persons of ordinary skill in the art could see it and are not precluded from copying it can constitute a “printed publication,” even if it is not disseminated by the distribution of reproductions or copies and/or indexed in a library or database. As stated in In re Klopfenstein, 380 F.3d 1345, 1348, 72 USPQ2d 1117, 1119 (Fed. Cir. 2004), “the key inquiry is whether or not a reference has been made ‘publicly accessible.’” Prior to the critical date, a fourteen-slide presentation disclosing the invention was printed and pasted onto poster boards. The printed slide presentation was displayed with no confidentiality restrictions for approximately three cumulative days at two different industry events. Id. at 1347, 72 USPQ2d at 1118. The court noted that “an entirely oral presentation that includes neither slides nor copies of the presentation is a ‘printed publication’ for the purposes of [pre-AIA] 35 U.S.C. § 102(b). However, an oral presentation at a scientific meeting or a demonstration at a trade show may be prior art under 35 U.S.C. 102(a)(1)’s provision: “otherwise available to the public.” See MPEP § 2152.02(e). Furthermore, a presentation that includes a transient display of slides is likewise not necessarily a ‘printed publication.’” Id. at 1349 n.4, 72 USPQ2d at 1122 n.4. In resolving whether or not a temporarily displayed reference that was neither distributed nor indexed was nonetheless made sufficiently publicly accessible to count as a “printed publication” under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(b), the court considered the following factors: “the length of time the display was exhibited, the expertise of the target audience, the existence (or lack thereof) of reasonable expectations that the material displayed would not be copied, and the simplicity or ease with which the material displayed could have been copied.” Id. at 1350, 72 USPQ2d at 1120. Upon reviewing the above factors, the court concluded that the display “was sufficiently publicly accessible to count as a ‘printed publication.’” Id. at 1352, 72 USPQ2d at 1121.

2128.02   Date Publication Is Available as a Reference [R-08.2012]

  DATE OF ACCESSIBILITY CAN BE SHOWN THROUGH EVIDENCE OF ROUTINE BUSINESS PRACTICES

Evidence showing routine business practices can be used to establish the date on which a publication became accessible to the public. Specific evidence showing when the specific document actually became available is not always necessary. Constant v. Advanced Micro-Devices, Inc., 848 F.2d 1560, 7 USPQ2d 1057 (Fed. Cir.), cert. denied, 988 U.S. 892 (1988) (Court held that evidence submitted by Intel regarding undated specification sheets showing how the company usually treated such specification sheets was enough to show that the sheets were accessible by the public before the critical date.); In re Hall, 781 F.2d 897, 228 USPQ 453 (Fed. Cir. 1986) (Librarian’s affidavit establishing normal time frame and practice for indexing, cataloging and shelving doctoral theses established that the thesis in question would have been accessible by the public before the critical date.).

  A JOURNAL ARTICLE OR OTHER PUBLICATION BECOMES AVAILABLE AS PRIOR ART ON DATE OF IT IS RECEIVED BY A MEMBER OF THE PUBLIC

A publication disseminated by mail is not prior art until it is received by at least one member of the public. Thus, a magazine or technical journal is effective as of the date when first person receives it, not the date it was mailed or sent to the publisher. In re Schlittler, 234 F.2d 882, 110 USPQ 304 (CCPA 1956).

2129    Admissions as Prior Art [R-08.2012]

I.   ADMISSIONS BY APPLICANT CONSTITUTE PRIOR ART

A statement by an applicant in the specification or made during prosecution identifying the work of another as “prior art” is an admission which can be relied upon for both anticipation and obviousness determinations, regardless of whether the admitted prior art would otherwise qualify as prior art under the statutory categories of 35 U.S.C. 102Riverwood Int’l Corp. v. R.A. Jones & Co., 324 F.3d 1346, 1354, 66 USPQ2d 1331, 1337 (Fed. Cir. 2003); Constant v. Advanced Micro-Devices Inc., 848 F.2d 1560, 1570, 7 USPQ2d 1057, 1063 (Fed. Cir. 1988). However, even if labeled as “prior art,” the work of the same inventive entitymay not be considered prior art against the claims unless it falls under one of the statutory categories. Id.; see also Reading & Bates Construction Co. v. Baker Energy Resources Corp., 748 F.2d 645, 650, 223 USPQ 1168, 1172 (Fed. Cir. 1984) (“[W]here the inventor continues to improve upon his own work product, his foundational work product should not, without a statutory basis, be treated as prior art solely because he admits knowledge of his own work. It is common sense that an inventor, regardless of an admission, has knowledge of his own work.”).

Consequently, the examiner must determine whether the subject matter identified as “prior art” is applicant’s own work, or the work of another. In the absence of another credible explanation, examiners should treat such subject matter as the work of another.

II.   DISCUSSION OF PRIOR ART IN SPECIFICATION

Where the specification identifies work done by another as “prior art,” the subject matter so identified is treated as admitted prior art. In re Nomiya, 509 F.2d 566, 571, 184 USPQ 607, 611 (CCPA 1975) (holding applicant’s labeling of two figures in the application drawings as “prior art” to be an admission that what was pictured was prior art relative to applicant’s improvement).

III.   JEPSON CLAIMS

Drafting a claim in Jepson format (i.e., the format described in 37 CFR 1.75(e); see MPEP § 608.01(m)) is taken as an implied admission that the subject mater of the preamble is the prior art work of another. In re Fout, 675 F.2d 297, 301, 213 USPQ 532, 534 (CCPA 1982) (holding preamble of Jepson-type claim to be admitted prior art where applicant’s specification credited another as the inventor of the subject matter of the preamble). However, this implication may be overcome where applicant gives another credible reason for drafting the claim in Jepson format. In re Ehrreich, 590 F.2d 902, 909-910, 200 USPQ 504, 510 (CCPA 1979) (holding preamble not to be admitted prior art where applicant explained that the Jepson format was used to avoid a double patenting rejection in a co-pending application and the examiner cited no art showing the subject matter of the preamble). Moreover, where the preamble of a Jepson claim describes applicant’s own work, such may not be used against the claims. Reading & Bates Construction Co. v. Baker Energy Resources Corp., 748 F.2d 645, 650, 223 USPQ 1168, 1172 (Fed. Cir. 1984); Ehrreich, 590 F.2d at 909-910, 200 USPQ at 510.

IV.   INFORMATION DISCLOSURE STATEMENT (IDS)

Mere listing of a reference in an information disclosure statement is not taken as an admission that the reference is prior art against the claims. Riverwood Int’l Corp. v. R.A. Jones & Co., 324 F.3d 1346, 1354-55, 66 USPQ2d 1331, 1337-38 (Fed Cir. 2003) (listing of applicant’s own prior patent in an IDS does not make it available as prior art absent a statutory basis); see also 37 CFR 1.97(h) (“The filing of an information disclosure statement shall not be construed to be an admission that the information cited in the statement is, or is considered to be, material to patentability as defined in § 1.56(b).”).

2130    [Reserved]

 

2131    Anticipation — Application of 35 U.S.C. 102 [R-11.2013]

A claimed invention may be rejected under 35 U.S.C. 102 when the invention is anticipated (or is “not novel”) over a disclosure that is available as prior art. To anticipate a claim, the disclosure must teach every element of the claim.

“A claim is anticipated only if each and every element as set forth in the claim is found, either expressly or inherently described, in a single prior art reference.”Verdegaal Bros. v. Union Oil Co. of California, 814 F.2d 628, 631, 2 USPQ2d 1051, 1053 (Fed. Cir. 1987). “When a claim covers several structures or compositions, either generically or as alternatives, the claim is deemed anticipated if any of the structures or compositions within the scope of the claim is known in the prior art.” Brown v. 3M, 265 F.3d 1349, 1351, 60 USPQ2d 1375, 1376 (Fed. Cir. 2001) (claim to a system for setting a computer clock to an offset time to address the Year 2000 (Y2K) problem, applicable to records with year date data in “at least one of two-digit, three-digit, or four-digit” representations, was held anticipated by a system that offsets year dates in only two-digit formats). See also MPEP § 2131.02. “The identical invention must be shown in as complete detail as is contained in the ... claim.” Richardson v. Suzuki Motor Co., 868 F.2d 1226, 1236, 9 USPQ2d 1913, 1920 (Fed. Cir. 1989). The elements must be arranged as required by the claim, but this is not an ipsissimis verbis test, i.e., identity of terminology is not required. In re Bond, 910 F.2d 831, 15 USPQ2d 1566 (Fed. Cir. 1990). Note that, in some circumstances, it is permissible to use multiple references in a 35 U.S.C. 102 rejection. See MPEP § 2131.01.

2131.01   Multiple Reference 35 U.S.C. 102 Rejections [R-11.2013]

Normally, only one reference should be used in making a rejection under 35 U.S.C. 102. However, a 35 U.S.C. 102 rejection over multiple references has been held to be proper when the extra references are cited to:

  • (A) Prove the primary reference contains an “enabled disclosure;”
  • (B) Explain the meaning of a term used in the primary reference; or
  • (C) Show that a characteristic not disclosed in the reference is inherent.

See subsections I-III below for more explanation of each circumstance.

I.   TO PROVE REFERENCE CONTAINS AN “ENABLED DISCLOSURE”

  Extra References and Extrinsic Evidence Can Be Used To Show the Primary Reference Contains an “Enabled Disclosure”

When the claimed composition or machine is disclosed identically by the reference, an additional reference may be relied on to show that the primary reference has an “enabled disclosure.” In re Samour, 571 F.2d 559, 197 USPQ 1 (CCPA 1978) and In re Donohue, 766 F.2d 531, 226 USPQ 619 (Fed. Cir. 1985) (Compound claims were rejected under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(b) over a publication in view of two patents. The publication disclosed the claimed compound structure while the patents taught methods of making compounds of that general class. The applicant argued that there was no motivation to combine the references because no utility was previously known for the compound and that the 35 U.S.C. 102 rejection over multiple references was improper. The court held that the publication taught all the elements of the claim and thus motivation to combine was not required. The patents were only submitted as evidence of what was in the public's possession before applicant’s invention.).

II.   TO EXPLAIN THE MEANING OF A TERM USED IN THE PRIMARY REFERENCE

  Extra References or Other Evidence Can Be Used to Show Meaning of a Term Used in the Primary Reference

Extrinsic evidence may be used to explain but not expand the meaning of terms and phrases used in the reference relied upon as anticipatory of the claimed subject matter. In re Baxter Travenol Labs., 952 F.2d 388, 21 USPQ2d 1281 (Fed. Cir. 1991) (Baxter Travenol Labs. invention was directed to a blood bag system incorporating a bag containing DEHP, an additive to the plastic which improved the bag’s red blood cell storage capability. The examiner rejected the claims over a technical progress report by Becker which taught the same blood bag system but did not expressly disclose the presence of DEHP. The report, however, did disclose using commercial blood bags. It also disclosed the blood bag system as “very similar to [Baxter] Travenol’s commercial two bag blood container.” Extrinsic evidence (depositions, declarations and Baxter Travenol’s own admissions) showed that commercial blood bags, at the time Becker’s report was written, contained DEHP. Therefore, one of ordinary skill in the art would have known that “commercial blood bags” meant bags containing DEHP. The claims were thus held to be anticipated.).

III.   TO SHOW THAT A CHARACTERISTIC NOT DISCLOSED IN THE REFERENCE IS INHERENT

  Extra Reference or Evidence Can Be Used To Show an Inherent Characteristic of the Thing Taught by the Primary Reference

“To serve as an anticipation when the reference is silent about the asserted inherent characteristic, such gap in the reference may be filled with recourse to extrinsic evidence. Such evidence must make clear that the missing descriptive matter is necessarily present in the thing described in the reference, and that it would be so recognized by persons of ordinary skill.” Continental Can Co. USA v. Monsanto Co., 948 F.2d 1264, 1268, 20 USPQ2d 1746, 1749-50 (Fed. Cir. 1991) (The court went on to explain that “this modest flexibility in the rule that ‘anticipation’ requires that every element of the claims appear in a single reference accommodates situations in which the common knowledge of technologists is not recorded in the reference; that is, where technological facts are known to those in the field of the invention, albeit not known to judges.” 948 F.2d at 1268, 20 USPQ at 1749-50.). Note that as long as there is evidence of record establishing inherency, failure of those skilled in the art to contemporaneously recognize an inherent property, function or ingredient of a prior art reference does not preclude a finding of anticipation. Atlas Powder Co. v. IRECO, Inc., 190 F.3d 1342, 1349, 51 USPQ2d 1943, 1948 (Fed. Cir. 1999) (Two prior art references disclosed blasting compositions containing water-in-oil emulsions with identical ingredients to those claimed, in overlapping ranges with the claimed composition. The only element of the claims arguably not present in the prior art compositions was “sufficient aeration . . . entrapped to enhance sensitivity to a substantial degree.” The Federal Circuit found that the emulsions described in both references would inevitably and inherently have “sufficient aeration” to sensitize the compound in the claimed ranges based on the evidence of record (including test data and expert testimony). This finding of inherency was not defeated by the fact that one of the references taught away from air entrapment or purposeful aeration.). See also In re King, 801 F.2d 1324, 1327, 231 USPQ 136, 139 (Fed. Cir. 1986); Titanium Metals Corp. v. Banner, 778 F.2d 775, 782, 227 USPQ 773, 778 (Fed. Cir. 1985). See MPEP § 2112 - § 2112.02 for case law on inherency. Also note that the critical date of extrinsic evidence showing a universal fact need not antedate the filing date. See MPEP § 2124.

2131.02   Genus-Species Situations [R-11.2013]

I.   A SPECIES WILL ANTICIPATE A CLAIM TO A GENUS

“A generic claim cannot be allowed to an applicant if the prior art discloses a species falling within the claimed genus.” The species in that case will anticipate the genus. In re Slayter, 276 F.2d 408, 411, 125 USPQ 345, 347 (CCPA 1960); In re Gosteli, 872 F.2d 1008, 10 USPQ2d 1614 (Fed. Cir. 1989) (Gosteli claimed a genus of 21 specific chemical species of bicyclic thia-aza compounds in Markush claims. The prior art reference applied against the claims disclosed two of the chemical species. The parties agreed that the prior art species would anticipate the claims unless applicant was entitled to his foreign priority date.).

II.   A REFERENCE THAT CLEARLY NAMES THE CLAIMED SPECIES ANTICIPATES THE CLAIM NO MATTER HOW MANY OTHER SPECIES ARE NAMED

A genus does not always anticipate a claim to a species within the genus. However, when the species is clearly named, the species claim is anticipated no matter how many other species are additionally named. See Ex parte A, 17 USPQ2d 1716 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1990) (The claimed compound was named in a reference which also disclosed 45 other compounds. The Board held that the comprehensiveness of the listing did not negate the fact that the compound claimed was specifically taught. The Board compared the facts to the situation in which the compound was found in the Merck Index, saying that “the tenth edition of the Merck Index lists ten thousand compounds. In our view, each and every one of those compounds is ‘described’ as that term is used in [pre-AIA] 35 U.S.C. 102(a), in that publication.”). Id. at 1718. See also In re Sivaramakrishnan, 673 F.2d 1383, 213 USPQ 441 (CCPA 1982) (The claims were directed to polycarbonate containing cadmium laurate as an additive. The court upheld the Board’s finding that a reference specifically naming cadmium laurate as an additive amongst a list of many suitable salts in polycarbonate resin anticipated the claims. The applicant had argued that cadmium laurate was only disclosed as representative of the salts and was expected to have the same properties as the other salts listed while, as shown in the application, cadmium laurate had unexpected properties. The court held that it did not matter that the salt was not disclosed as being preferred, the reference still anticipated the claims and because the claim was anticipated, the unexpected properties were immaterial.).

III.   A GENERIC DISCLOSURE WILL ANTICIPATE A CLAIMED SPECIES COVERED BY THAT DISCLOSURE WHEN THE SPECIES CAN BE “AT ONCE ENVISAGED” FROM THE DISCLOSURE

“[W]hether a generic disclosure necessarily anticipates everything within the genus … depends on the factual aspects of the specific disclosure and the particular products at issue.” Sanofi-Synthelabo v. Apotex, Inc., 550 F.3d 1075, 1083, 89 USPQ2d 1370, 1375 (Fed. Cir. 2008). See also Osram Sylvania Inc. v. American Induction Tech., 701 F.3d 698, 706, 105 USPQ2d 1368, 1374 (Fed. Cir. 2012) (“how one of ordinary skill in the art would understand the relative size of a genus or species in a particular technology is of critical importance”).

For example, when a claimed compound is not specifically named in a reference, but instead it is necessary to select portions of teachings within the reference and combine them, e.g., select various substituents from a list of alternatives given for placement at specific sites on a generic chemical formula to arrive at a specific composition, anticipation can only be found if the classes of substituents are sufficiently limited or well delineated. Ex parte A, 17 USPQ2d 1716 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1990). If one of ordinary skill in the art is able to “at once envisage” the specific compound within the generic chemical formula, the compound is anticipated. One of ordinary skill in the art must be able to draw the structural formula or write the name of each of the compounds included in the generic formula before any of the compounds can be “at once envisaged.” One may look to the preferred embodiments to determine which compounds can be anticipated. In re Petering, 301 F.2d 676, 133 USPQ 275 (CCPA 1962).

In In re Petering, the prior art disclosed a generic chemical formula “wherein X, Y, Z, P, and R'- represent either hydrogen or alkyl radicals, R a side chain containing an OH group.” The court held that this formula, without more, could not anticipate a claim to 7-methyl-9-[d, l'-ribityl]-isoalloxazine because the generic formula encompassed a vast number and perhaps even an infinite number of compounds. However, the reference also disclosed preferred substituents for X, Y, Z, P, R, and R' as follows: where X, P, and R' are hydrogen, where Y and Z may be hydrogen or methyl, and where R is one of eight specific isoalloxazines. The court determined that this more limited generic class consisted of about 20 compounds. The limited number of compounds covered by the preferred formula in combination with the fact that the number of substituents was low at each site, the ring positions were limited, and there was a large unchanging structural nucleus, resulted in a finding that the reference sufficiently described “each of the various permutations here involved as fully as if he had drawn each structural formula or had written each name.” The claimed compound was 1 of these 20 compounds. Therefore, the reference “described” the claimed compound and the reference anticipated the claims.

In In re Schauman, 572 F.2d 312, 197 USPQ 5 (CCPA 1978), claims to a specific compound were anticipated because the prior art taught a generic formula embracing a limited number of compounds closely related to each other in structure and the properties possessed by the compound class of the prior art was that disclosed for the claimed compound. The broad generic formula seemed to describe an infinite number of compounds but claim 1 was limited to a structure with only one variable substituent R. This substituent was limited to low alkyl radicals. One of ordinary skill in the art would at once envisage the subject matter within claim 1 of the reference.).

Compare In re Meyer, 599 F.2d 1026, 202 USPQ 175 (CCPA 1979) (A reference disclosing “alkaline chlorine or bromine solution” embraces a large number of species and cannot be said to anticipate claims to “alkali metal hypochlorite.”); Akzo N.V. v. International Trade Comm’n, 808 F.2d 1471, 1 USPQ2d 1241 (Fed. Cir. 1986) (Claims to a process for making aramid fibers using a 98% solution of sulfuric acid were not anticipated by a reference which disclosed using sulfuric acid solution but which did not disclose using a 98% concentrated sulfuric acid solution.). See MPEP § 2144.08 for a discussion of obviousness in genus-species situations.

2131.03   Anticipation of Ranges [R-11.2013]

I.   A SPECIFIC EXAMPLE IN THE PRIOR ART WHICH IS WITHIN A CLAIMED RANGE ANTICIPATES THE RANGE

“[W]hen, as by a recitation of ranges or otherwise, a claim covers several compositions, the claim is ‘anticipated’ if one of them is in the prior art.” Titanium Metals Corp. v. Banner, 778 F.2d 775, 227 USPQ 773 (Fed. Cir. 1985) (citing In re Petering, 301 F.2d 676, 682, 133 USPQ 275, 280 (CCPA 1962)) (emphasis in original) (Claims to titanium (Ti) alloy with 0.6-0.9% nickel (Ni) and 0.2-0.4% molybdenum (Mo) were held anticipated by a graph in a Russian article on Ti-Mo-Ni alloys because the graph contained an actual data point corresponding to a Ti alloy containing 0.25% Mo and 0.75% Ni and this composition was within the claimed range of compositions.).

II.   PRIOR ART WHICH TEACHES A RANGE OVERLAPPING OR TOUCHING THE CLAIMED RANGE ANTICIPATES IF THE PRIOR ART RANGE DISCLOSES THE CLAIMED RANGE WITH “SUFFICIENT SPECIFICITY”

When the prior art discloses a range which touches or overlaps the claimed range, but no specific examples falling within the claimed range are disclosed, a case by case determination must be made as to anticipation. In order to anticipate the claims, the claimed subject matter must be disclosed in the reference with “sufficient specificity to constitute an anticipation under the statute.” What constitutes a “sufficient specificity” is fact dependent. If the claims are directed to a narrow range, and the reference teaches a broader range, other facts of the case, must be considered when determining whether the narrow range is disclosed with “sufficient specificity” to constitute an anticipation of the claims. Compare ClearValue Inc. v. Pearl River Polymers Inc., 668 F.3d 1340, 101 USPQ2d 1773 (Fed. Cir. 2012) with Atofina v. Great Lakes Chem. Corp, 441 F.3d 991, 999, 78 USPQ2d 1417, 1423 (Fed. Cir. 2006).

In ClearValue, the claim at issue was directed to a process of clarifying water with alkalinity below 50 ppm, whereas the prior art taught that the same process works for systems with alkalinity of 150 ppm or less. In holding the claim anticipated, the court observed that “there is no allegation of criticality or any evidence demonstrating any difference across the range.” Id. at 1345, 101 USPQ2d at 1777. In Atofina, the court held that a reference temperature range of 100-500 degrees C did not describe the claimed range of 330-450 degrees C with sufficient specificity to be anticipatory, even though there was a slight overlap between the reference’s preferred range (150-350 degrees C) and the claimed range. “[T]he disclosure of a range is no more a disclosure of the end points of the range than it is each of the intermediate points.” Id. at 1000, 78 USPQ2d at 1424. Patentee described claimed temperature range as “critical” to enable the process to operate effectively, and showed that one of ordinary skill would have expected the synthesis process to operate differently outside the claimed range.

If the prior art disclosure does not disclose a claimed range with “sufficient specificity” to anticipate a claimed invention, any evidence of unexpected results within the narrow range may render the claims unobvious. See MPEP § 716.02 et seq. The question of “sufficient specificity” is similar to that of “clearly envisaging” a species from a generic teaching. See MPEP § 2131.02.

35 U.S.C. 102/103 combination rejection is permitted if it is unclear if the reference teaches the range with “sufficient specificity.” The examiner must, in this case, provide reasons for anticipation as well as a reasoned statement regarding obviousness. Ex parte Lee, 31 USPQ2d 1105 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1993) (expanded Board). For a discussion of the obviousness of ranges see MPEP § 2144.05.

III.   PRIOR ART WHICH TEACHES A VALUE OR RANGE THAT IS VERY CLOSE TO, BUT DOES NOT OVERLAP OR TOUCH, THE CLAIMED RANGE DOES NOT ANTICIPATE THE CLAIMED RANGE

“[A]nticipation under § 102 can be found only when the reference discloses exactly what is claimed and that where there are differences between the reference disclosure and the claim, the rejection must be based on § 103 which takes differences into account.” Titanium Metals Corp. v. Banner, 778 F.2d 775, 227 USPQ 773 (Fed. Cir. 1985) (Claims to titanium (Ti) alloy with 0.8% nickel (Ni) and 0.3% molybdenum (Mo) were not anticipated by, although they were held obvious over, a graph in a Russian article on Ti-Mo-Ni alloys in which the graph contained an actual data point corresponding to a Ti alloy containing 0.25% Mo and 0.75% Ni.).

2131.04   Secondary Considerations [R-08.2012]

Evidence of secondary considerations, such as unexpected results or commercial success, is irrelevant to 35 U.S.C. 102 rejections and thus cannot overcome a rejection so based. In re Wiggins, 488 F.2d 538, 543, 179 USPQ 421, 425 (CCPA 1973).

2131.05   Nonanalogous or Disparaging Prior Art [R-08.2012]

“Arguments that the alleged anticipatory prior art is ‘nonanalogous art’ or ‘teaches away from the invention’ or is not recognized as solving the problem solved by the claimed invention, [are] not ‘germane’ to a rejection under section 102.” Twin Disc, Inc. v. United States, 231 USPQ 417, 424 (Cl. Ct. 1986) (quoting In re Self, 671 F.2d 1344, 213 USPQ 1, 7 (CCPA 1982)). See also State Contracting & Eng’ g Corp. v. Condotte America, Inc., 346 F.3d 1057, 1068, 68 USPQ2d 1481, 1488 (Fed. Cir. 2003) (The question of whether a reference is analogous art is not relevant to whether that reference anticipates. A reference may be directed to an entirely different problem than the one addressed by the inventor, or may be from an entirely different field of endeavor than that of the claimed invention, yet the reference is still anticipatory if it explicitly or inherently discloses every limitation recited in the claims.).

A reference is no less anticipatory if, after disclosing the invention, the reference then disparages it. The question whether a reference “teaches away” from the invention is inapplicable to an anticipation analysis. Celeritas Technologies Ltd. v. Rockwell International Corp., 150 F.3d 1354, 1361, 47 USPQ2d 1516, 1522-23 (Fed. Cir. 1998) (The prior art was held to anticipate the claims even though it taught away from the claimed invention. “The fact that a modem with a single carrier data signal is shown to be less than optimal does not vitiate the fact that it is disclosed.”). See Upsher-Smith Labs. v. Pamlab, LLC, 412 F.3d 1319, 1323, 75 USPQ2d 1213, 1215 (Fed. Cir. 2005)(claimed composition that expressly excluded an ingredient held anticipated by reference composition that optionally included that same ingredient); see also Atlas Powder Co. v. IRECO, Inc., 190 F.3d 1342, 1349, 51 USPQ2d 1943, 1948 (Fed. Cir. 1999) (Claimed composition was anticipated by prior art reference that inherently met claim limitation of “sufficient aeration” even though reference taught away from air entrapment or purposeful aeration.).

2132    Pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(a) [R-11.2013]

[Editor Note: This MPEP section is not applicable to applications subject to examination under the first inventor to file (FITF) provisions of the AIA as set forth in35 U.S.C. 100 (note). See MPEP § 2159 et seq. to determine whether an application is subject to examination under the FITF provisions, and MPEP § 2150 et seq. for examination of applications subject to those provisions. See MPEP § 2152 et seq. for a detailed discussion of AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(a) and (b).]

Pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102   Conditions for patentability; novelty and loss of right to patent.

A person shall be entitled to a patent unless -

  • (a) the invention was known or used by others in this country, or patented or described in a printed publication in this or a foreign country, before the invention thereof by the applicant for a patent.

*****

I.   “KNOWN OR USED”

A.   “Known or Used” Means Publicly Known or Used

“The statutory language ‘known or used by others in this country’ [pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(a)], means knowledge or use which is accessible to the public.” Carellav. Starlight Archery, 804 F.2d 135, 231 USPQ 644 (Fed. Cir. 1986). The knowledge or use is accessible to the public if there has been no deliberate attempt to keep it secret. W. L. Gore & Assocv. Garlock, Inc., 721 F.2d 1540, 220 USPQ 303 (Fed. Cir. 1983).

See MPEP § 2128 - § 2128.02 for case law concerning public accessibility of publications.

B.   Another’s Sale of a Product Made by a Secret Process Can Be a Pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(a) Public Use if the Process Can Be Determined by Examining the Product

“The nonsecret use of a claimed process in the usual course of producing articles for commercial purposes is a public use.” But a secret use of the process coupled with the sale of the product does not result in a public use of the process unless the public could learn the claimed process by examining the product. Therefore, secret use of a process by another, even if the product is commercially sold, cannot result in a rejection under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(a) if an examination of the product would not reveal the process. Id.

II.   “IN THIS COUNTRY”

  Only Knowledge or Use in the U.S. Can Be Used in a Pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(a) Rejection

The knowledge or use relied on in a pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(a) rejection must be knowledge or use “in this country.” Prior knowledge or use which is not present in the United States, even if widespread in a foreign country, cannot be the basis of a rejection under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(a)In re Ekenstam, 256 F.2d 321, 118 USPQ 349 (CCPA 1958). Note that the changes made to pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 104 by NAFTA (Public Law 103-182) and Uruguay Round Agreements Act (Public Law 103-465) do not modify the meaning of “in this country” as used in pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(a) and thus “in this country” still means in the United States for purposes of pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(a) rejections.

III.   “BY OTHERS”

  “Others” Means Any Combination of Authors or Inventors Different Than the Inventive Entity

The term “others” in pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(a) refers to any entity which is different from the inventive entity. The entity need only differ by one person to be “by others.” This holds true for all types of references eligible as prior art under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(a) including publications as well as public knowledge and use. Any other interpretation of pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(a) “would negate the one year [grace] period afforded under § 102(b).” In re Katz, 687 F.2d 450, 215 USPQ 14 (CCPA 1982).

IV.   “PATENTED IN THIS OR A FOREIGN COUNTRY”

See MPEP § 2126 for information on the use of secret patents as prior art.

2132.01   Publications as Pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(a) Prior Art [R-11.2013]

[Editor Note: This MPEP section is not applicable to applications subject to examination under the first inventor to file (FITF) provisions of the AIA as set forth in35 U.S.C. 100 (note). See MPEP § 2159 et seq. to determine whether an application is subject to examination under the FITF provisions, and MPEP § 2150 et seq. for examination of applications subject to those provisions. See MPEP § 2152 et seq. for a detailed discussion of AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(a) and (b).]

I.   Pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(a) PRIMA FACIE CASE IS ESTABLISHED IF REFERENCE PUBLICATION IS “BY OTHERS”

prima facie case is made out under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(a) if, within 1 year of the filing date, the invention, or an obvious variant thereof, is described in a “printed publication” whose authorship differs in any way from the inventive entity unless it is stated within the publication itself that the publication is describing the applicant’s work. In re Katz, 687 F.2d 450, 215 USPQ 14 (CCPA 1982). See MPEP § 2128 for case law on what constitutes a “printed publication.” Note that when the reference is a U.S. patent published within the year prior to the application filing date, a pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e) rejection should be made. SeeMPEP § 2136 § 2136.05 for case law dealing with pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e).

II.   APPLICANT CAN REBUT PRIMA FACIE CASE BY SHOWING REFERENCE’S DISCLOSURE WAS DERIVED FROM APPLICANT’S OWN WORK

Applicant’s disclosure of his or her own work within the year before the application filing date cannot be used against him or her under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(a).In re Katz, 687 F.2d 450, 215 USPQ 14 (CCPA 1982) (discussed below). Therefore, where the applicant is one of the co-authors of a publication cited against his or her application, the publication may be removed as a reference by the filing of affidavits made out by the other authors establishing that the relevant portions of the publication originated with, or were obtained from, applicant. Such affidavits are called disclaiming affidavits. Ex parte Hirschler, 110 USPQ 384 (Bd. App. 1952). The rejection can also be overcome by submission of a specific declaration by the applicant establishing that the article is describing applicant’s own work. In re Katz, 687 F.2d 450, 215 USPQ 14 (CCPA 1982). However, if there is evidence that the co-author has refused to disclaim inventorship and believes himself or herself to be an inventor, applicant’s affidavit will not be enough to establish that applicant is the sole inventor and the rejection will stand. Ex parte Kroger, 219 USPQ 370 (Bd. Pat. App. & Int. 1982) (discussed below). It is also possible to overcome the rejection by adding the coauthors as inventors to the application if the requirements of 35 U.S.C. 116, third paragraph are met. In re Searles, 422 F.2d 431, 164 USPQ 623 (CCPA 1970).

In In re Katz, 687 F.2d 450, 215 USPQ 14 (CCPA 1982), Katz stated in a declaration that the coauthors of the publication, Chiorazzi and Eshhar, “were students working under the direction and supervision of the inventor, Dr. David H. Katz.” The court held that this declaration, in combination with the fact that the publication was a research paper, was enough to establish Katz as the sole inventor and that the work described in the publication was his own. In research papers, students involved only with assay and testing are normally listed as coauthors but are not considered co-inventors.

In Ex parte Kroger, 219 USPQ 370 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1982), Kroger, Knaster and others were listed as authors on an article on photovoltaic power generation. The article was used to reject the claims of an application listing Kroger and Rod as inventors. Kroger and Rod submitted affidavits declaring themselves to be the inventors. The affidavits also stated that Knaster merely carried out assignments and worked under the supervision and direction of Kroger. The Board stated that if this were the only evidence in the case, it would be established, under In re Katz, that Kroger and Rod were the only inventors. However, in this case, there was evidence that Knaster had refused to sign an affidavit disclaiming inventorship and Knaster had introduced evidence into the case in the form of a letter to the PTO in which he alleged that he was a co-inventor. The Board held that the evidence had not been fully developed enough to overcome the rejection. Note that the rejection had been made under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(f) but the Board treated the issue the same as if it had arisen underpre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(a). See also case law dealing with overcoming pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e) rejections as presented in MPEP § 2136.05. Many of the issues are the same.

III.   A 37 CFR 1.131 AFFIDAVIT CAN BE USED TO OVERCOME A Pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(a) REJECTION

When the reference is not a statutory bar under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(b), (c), or (d), applicant can overcome the rejection by swearing back of the reference through the submission of an affidavit under 37 CFR 1.131In re Foster, 343 F.2d 980, 145 USPQ 166 (CCPA 1965). If the reference is disclosing applicant’s own work as derived from him or her, applicant may submit either a 37 CFR 1.131 affidavit to antedate the reference or a 37 CFR 1.132 affidavit to show derivation of the reference subject matter from applicant and invention by applicant. In re Facius, 408 F.2d 1396, 161 USPQ 294 (CCPA 1969). See MPEP § 715 for more information on when an affidavit under 37 CFR 1.131 can be used to overcome a reference and what evidence is required.

2133    Pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(b) [R-11.2013]

[Editor Note: This MPEP section is not applicable to applications subject to examination under the first inventor to file (FITF) provisions of the AIA as set forth in35 U.S.C. 100 (note). See MPEP § 2159 et seq. to determine whether an application is subject to examination under the FITF provisions, and MPEP § 2150 et seq. for examination of applications subject to those provisions. See MPEP § 2152 et seq. for a detailed discussion of AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(a) and (b).]

Pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102   Conditions for patentability; novelty and loss of right to patent.

A person shall be entitled to a patent unless -

*****

  • (b) the invention was patented or described in a printed publication in this or a foreign country or in public use or on sale in this country, more than one year prior to the date of application for patent in the United States.

*****

I.   THE 1-YEAR GRACE PERIOD IS EXTENDED TO THE NEXT WORKING DAY IF IT WOULD OTHERWISE END ON A HOLIDAY OR WEEKEND

Publications, patents, public uses and sales must occur “more than one year prior to the date of application for patent in the United States” in order to bar a patent under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(b). However, applicant’s own activity will not bar a patent if the 1-year grace period expires on a Saturday, Sunday, or Federal holiday and the application’s U.S. filing date is the next succeeding business day. Ex parte Olah, 131 USPQ 41 (Bd. App. 1960). Despite changes to 37 CFR 1.6(a)(2) and 37 CFR 1.10 which require the PTO to accord a filing date to an application as of the date of deposit as “Express Mail” with the U.S. Postal Service in accordance with 37 CFR 1.10 (e.g., a Saturday filing date), the rule changes do not affect applicant's concurrent right to defer the filing of an application until the next business day when the last day for “taking any action” falls on a Saturday, Sunday, or a Federal holiday (e.g., the last day of the 1-year grace period falls on a Saturday).

II.   THE 1-YEAR TIME BAR IS MEASURED FROM THE U.S. FILING DATE

If one discloses his or her own work more than 1 year before the filing of the patent application, that person is barred from obtaining a patent. In re Katz, 687 F.2d 450, 454, 215 USPQ 14, 17 (CCPA 1982). The 1-year time bar is measured from the U.S. filing date. Thus, applicant will be barred from obtaining a patent if the public came into possession of the invention on a date before the 1-year grace period ending with the U.S. filing date. It does not matter how the public came into possession of the invention. Public possession could occur by a public use, public sale, a publication, a patent or any combination of these. In addition, the prior art need not be identical to the claimed invention but will bar patentability if it is an obvious variant thereof. In re Foster, 343 F.2d 980, 145 USPQ 166 (CCPA 1966). See MPEP § 706.02 regarding the effective U.S. filing date of an application.

2133.01   Rejections of Continuation-In-Part (CIP) Applications [R-11.2013]

[Editor Note: This MPEP section is not applicable to applications subject to examination under the first inventor to file (FITF) provisions of the AIA as set forth in35 U.S.C. 100 (note). See MPEP § 2159 et seq. to determine whether an application is subject to examination under the FITF provisions, and MPEP § 2150 et seq. for examination of applications subject to those provisions. See MPEP § 2152 et seq. for a detailed discussion of AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(a) and (b).]

When applicant files a continuation-in-part whose claims are not supported by the parent application, the effective filing date is the filing date of the child CIP. Any prior art disclosing the invention or an obvious variant thereof having a critical reference date more than 1 year prior to the filing date of the child will bar the issuance of a patent under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(b)Paperless Accounting v. Bay Area Rapid Transit System, 804 F.2d 659, 665, 231 USPQ 649, 653 (Fed. Cir. 1986).

2133.02   Rejections Based on Publications and Patents [R-11.2013]

[Editor Note: This MPEP section is not applicable to applications subject to examination under the first inventor to file (FITF) provisions of the AIA as set forth in35 U.S.C. 100 (note). See MPEP § 2159 et seq. to determine whether an application is subject to examination under the FITF provisions, and MPEP § 2150 et seq. for examination of applications subject to those provisions. See MPEP § 2152 et seq. for a detailed discussion of AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(a) and (b).]

I.   APPLICANT’S OWN WORK WHICH WAS AVAILABLE TO THE PUBLIC BEFORE THE GRACE PERIOD MAY BE USED IN A Pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(b) REJECTION

“Any invention described in a printed publication more than one year prior to the date of a patent application is prior art under Section 102(b), even if the printed publication was authored by the patent applicant.” De Graffenried v. United States, 16 USPQ2d 1321, 1330 n.7 (Cl. Ct. 1990). “Once an inventor has decided to lift the veil of secrecy from his [or her] work, he [or she] must choose between the protection of a federal patent, or the dedication of his [or her] idea to the public at large.” Bonito Boats, Inc. v. Thunder Craft Boats, Inc., 489 U.S. 141, 148, 9 USPQ2d 1847, 1851 (1989).

II.   A Pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(b) REJECTION CREATES A STATUTORY BAR TO PATENTABILITY OF THE REJECTED CLAIMS

A rejection under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(b) cannot be overcome by affidavits and declarations under 37 CFR 1.131 (Rule 131 Declarations), foreign priority dates, or evidence that applicant himself invented the subject matter. Outside the 1-year grace period, applicant is barred from obtaining a patent containing any anticipated or obvious claims. In re Foster, 343 F.2d 980, 984, 145 USPQ 166, 170 (CCPA 1965).

2133.03   Rejections Based on “Public Use” or “On Sale” [R-11.2013]

[Editor Note: This MPEP section has limited applicability to applications subject to examination under the first inventor to file (FITF) provisions of the AIA as set forth in 35 U.S.C. 100 (note). See MPEP § 2159 et seq. to determine whether an application is subject to examination under the FITF provisions, and MPEP § 2150 et seq. for examination of applications subject to those provisions. See MPEP § 2152.02(c) through (e) for a detailed discussion of the public use and on sale provisions of AIA 35 U.S.C. 102.]

Pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(b) “contains several distinct bars to patentability, each of which relates to activity or disclosure more than one year prior to the date of the application. Two of these - the ‘public use’ and the ‘on sale’ objections - are sometimes considered together although it is quite clear that either may apply when the other does not.” Dart Indus. v. E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co., 489 F.2d 1359, 1365, 179 USPQ 392, 396 (7th Cir. 1973). There may be a public use of an invention absent any sales activity. Likewise, there may be a nonpublic, e.g., “secret,” sale or offer to sell an invention which nevertheless constitutes a statutory bar. Hobbs v. United States, 451 F.2d 849, 859-60, 171 USPQ 713, 720 (5th Cir. 1971).

In similar fashion, not all “public use” and “on sale” activities will necessarily occasion the identical result. Although both activities affect how an inventor may use an invention prior to the filing of a patent application, “non-commercial” pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(b) activity may not be viewed the same as similar “commercial” activity. See MPEP § 2133.03(a) and § 2133.03(e)(1). Likewise, “public use” activity by an applicant may not be considered in the same light as similar “public use” activity by one other than  an applicant. See MPEP § 2133.03(a) and § 2133.03(e)(7). Additionally, the concept of “experimental use” may have different significance in “commercial” and “non-commercial” environments. See MPEP § 2133.03(c) and § 2133.03(e) - § 2133.03(e)(6).

It should be noted that pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(b) may create a bar to patentability either alone, if the device in public use or placed on sale anticipates a later claimed invention, or in conjunction with 35 U.S.C. 103, if the claimed invention would have been obvious from the device in conjunction with the prior art.LaBounty Mfg. v. United States Int’l Trade Comm’n, 958 F.2d 1066, 1071, 22 USPQ2d 1025, 1028 (Fed. Cir. 1992).

I.    POLICY CONSIDERATIONS

  • (A) “One policy underlying the [on-sale] bar is to obtain widespread disclosure of new inventions to the public via patents as soon as possible.” RCA Corpv. Data Gen. Corp., 887 F.2d 1056, 1062, 12 USPQ2d 1449, 1454 (Fed. Cir. 1989).
  • (B) Another policy underlying the public use and on-sale bars is to prevent the inventor from commercially exploiting the exclusivity of his [or her] invention substantially beyond the statutorily authorized period. RCA Corp. v. Data Gen. Corp., 887 F.2d 1056, 1062, 12 USPQ2d 1449, 1454 (Fed. Cir. 1989). SeeMPEP § 2133.03(e)(1).
  • (C) Another underlying policy for the public use and on-sale bars is to discourage “the removal of inventions from the public domain which the public justifiably comes to believe are freely available.” Manville Sales Corp. v. Paramount Sys., Inc., 917 F.2d 544, 549, 16 USPQ2d 1587, 1591 (Fed. Cir. 1990).

2133.03(a)   “Public Use” [R-11.2013]

[Editor Note: This MPEP section is not applicable to applications subject to examination under the first inventor to file (FITF) provisions of the AIA as set forth in35 U.S.C. 100 (note) . See MPEP § 2159 et seq. to determine whether an application is subject to examination under the FITF provisions, and MPEP § 2150 et seq. for examination of applications subject to those provisions. See MPEP § 2152.02(c) through (e) for a detailed discussion of the public use and on sale provisions of AIA 35 U.S.C. 102.]

I.   TEST FOR “PUBLIC USE

The public use bar under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(b) arises where the invention is in public use before the critical date and is ready for patenting. Invitrogen Corp. v. Biocrest Manufacturing L.P., 424 F.3d 1374, 76 USPQ2d 1741 (Fed. Cir. 2005). As explained by the court,

The proper test for the public use prong of the pre-AIA § 102(b) statutory bar is whether the purported use: (1) was accessible to the public; or (2) was commercially exploited. Commercial exploitation is a clear indication of public use, but it likely requires more than, for example, a secret offer for sale. Thus, the test for the public use prong includes the consideration of evidence relevant to experimentation, as well as, inter alia , the nature of the activity that occurred in public; public access to the use; confidentiality obligations imposed on members of the public who observed the use; and commercial exploitation…. That evidence is relevant to discern whether the use was a public use that could raise a bar to patentability, but it is distinct from evidence relevant to the ready for patenting component of Pfaff ’s two-part test, another necessary requirement of a public use bar

Id. at 1380, 76 USPQ2d at 1744 (citations omitted). See MPEP § 2133.03(c) for a discussion of the “ready for patenting” prong of the public use and on sale statutory bars.

“[T]o constitute the public use of an invention it is not necessary that more than one of the patent articles should be publicly used. The use of a great number may tend to strengthen the proof, but one well defined case of such use is just as effectual to annul the patent as many.” Likewise, it is not necessary that more than one person use the invention. Egbert v. Lippmann, 104 U.S. 333, 336 (1881).

II.   PUBLIC KNOWLEDGE IS NOT NECESSARILY PUBLIC USE UNDER Pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(b)

Mere knowledge of the invention by the public does not warrant rejection under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(b)Pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(b) bars public use or sale, not public knowledge. TP Labs., Inc. v. Professional Positioners, Inc., 724 F.2d 965, 970, 220 USPQ 577, 581 (Fed. Cir. 1984).

Note, however, that public knowledge may provide grounds for rejection under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(a). See MPEP § 2132.

A.   Commercial Versus Noncommercial Use and the Impact of Secrecy

There are limited circumstances in which a secret or confidential use of an invention may give rise to the public use bar. “[S]ecrecy of use alone is not sufficient to show that existing knowledge has not been withdrawn from public use; commercial exploitation is also forbidden.” Invitrogen, 424 F.3d at 1382, 76 USPQ2d at 1745-46 (The fact that patentee secretly used the claimed invention internally before the critical date to develop future products that were never sold was by itself insufficient to create a public use bar to patentability.).

1.   “Public Use” and “Non-secret Use” Are Not Necessarily Synonymous

“Public” is not necessarily synonymous with “non- secret.” The fact “that non-secret uses of the device were made [by the inventor or someone connected with the inventor] prior to the critical date is not itself dispositive of the issue of whether activity barring a patent under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(b) occurred. The fact that the device was not hidden from view may make the use not secret, but nonsecret use is not ipso facto ‘public use’ activity. Nor, it must be added, is all secret use ipso facto not ‘public use’ within the meaning of the statute,” if the inventor is making commercial use of the invention under circumstances which preserve its secrecy. TP Labs., Inc. v. Professional Positioners, Inc., 724 F.2d 965, 972, 220 USPQ 577, 583 (Fed. Cir. 1983) (citations omitted).

2.   Even If the Invention Is Hidden, Inventor Who Puts Machine or Article Embodying the Invention in Public View Is Barred from Obtaining a Patent as the Invention Is in Public Use

When the inventor or someone connected to the inventor puts the invention on display or sells it, there is a “public use” within the meaning of pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(b) even though by its very nature an invention is completely hidden from view as part of a larger machine or article, if the invention is otherwise used in its natural and intended way and the larger machine or article is accessible to the public. In re Blaisdell, 242 F.2d 779, 783, 113 USPQ 289, 292 (CCPA 1957); Hallv. Macneale, 107 U.S. 90, 96-97 (1882); Ex parte Kuklo, 25 USPQ2d 1387, 1390 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1992) (Display of equipment including the structural features of the claimed invention to visitors of laboratory is public use even though public did not see inner workings of device. The person to whom the invention is publicly disclosed need not understand the significance and technical complexities of the invention.).

3.   There Is No Public Use If Inventor Restricted Use to Locations Where There Was a Reasonable Expectation of Privacy and the Use Was for His or Her Own Enjoyment

An inventor’s private use of the invention, for his or her own enjoyment is not a public use. Moleculon Research Corp. v. CBS, Inc., 793 F.2d 1261, 1265, 229 USPQ 805, 809 (Fed. Cir. 1986) (Inventor showed inventive puzzle to close friends while in his dorm room and later the president of the company at which he was working saw the puzzle on the inventor’s desk and they discussed it. Court held that the inventor retained control and thus these actions did not result in a “public use.”).

4.   The Presence or Absence of a Confidentiality Agreement is Not Dispositive of the Public Use Issue

“The presence or absence of a confidentiality agreement is not dispositive of the public use issue, but ‘is one factor to be considered in assessing all the evidence.’” Bernhardt, L.L.C. v. Collezione Europa USA, Inc., 386 F.3d 1371, 1380-81, 72 USPQ2d, 1901, 1909 (Fed. Cir. 2004) (quoting Moleculon Research Corp. v. CBS Inc., 793 F.2d 1261, 1266, 229 USPQ 805, 808 (Fed. Cir. 1986)). The court stressed that it is necessary to analyze the evidence of public use in the context of policies that underlie the public use and on sale bar that include “‘discouraging removal of inventions from the public domain that the public justifiably believes are freely available, prohibiting an extension of the period for exploiting an invention, and favoring prompt and widespread disclosure of inventions.’” Bernhardt, 386 F.3d at 1381, 72 USPQ2d at 1909. See also Invitrogen, 424 F.3d at 1379, 76 USPQ2d at 1744; MPEP § 2133.03, subsection I. Evidence that the court emphasized included the “‘nature of the activity that occurred in public; the public access to and knowledge of the public use; [and] whether there were any confidentiality obligations imposed on persons who observed the use.’” Bernhardt, 386 F.3d at 1381, 72 USPQ2d at 1909. For example, the court in Bernhardt noted that an exhibition display at issue in the case “was not open to the public, that the identification of attendees was checked against a list of authorized names by building security and later at a reception desk near the showroom, that attendees were escorted through the showroom, and that the attendees were not permitted to make written notes or take photographs inside the showroom.” Id. The court remanded the issue of whether the exhibition display was a public use for further proceedings since the district court “focused on the absence of any confidentiality agreements and did not discuss or analyze how the totality of the circumstances surrounding” the exhibition “comports with the policies underlying the public use bar.” Id.

B.   Use by Third Parties Deriving the Invention from Applicant

1.   An Invention Is in Public Use If the Inventor Allows Another To Use the Invention Without Restriction or Obligation of Secrecy

“Public use” of a claimed invention under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(b) occurs when the inventor allows another person to use the invention without limitation, restriction or obligation of secrecy to the inventor.” In re Smith, 714 F.2d 1127, 1134, 218 USPQ 976, 983 (Fed. Cir. 1983). The presence or absence of a confidentiality agreement is not itself determinative of the public use issue, but is one factor to be considered along with the time, place, and circumstances of the use which show the amount of control the inventor retained over the invention. Moleculon Research Corp. v. CBS, Inc., 793 F.2d 1261, 1265, 229 USPQ 805, 809 (Fed. Cir. 1986). See Ex parte C, 27 USPQ2d 1492, 1499 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1992) (Inventor sold inventive soybean seeds to growers who contracted and were paid to plant the seeds to increase stock for later sale. The commercial nature of the use of the seed coupled with the “on-sale” aspects of the contract and apparent lack of confidentiality requirements rose to the level of a “public use” bar.); Egbert v. Lippmann, 104 U.S. 333, 336 (1881) (Public use found where inventor allowed another to use inventive corset insert, though hidden from view during use, because he did not impose an obligation of secrecy or restrictions on its use.).

C.   Use by Independent Third Parties

1.   Use by an Independent Third Party Is Public Use If It Sufficiently “Informs” the Public of the Invention or a Competitor Could Reasonably Ascertain the Invention

Any “nonsecret” use of an invention by someone unconnected to the inventor, such as someone who has independently made the invention, in the ordinary course of a business for trade or profit may be a “public use,” Bird Provision Co. v. Owens Country Sausage, Inc., 568 F.2d 369, 374-76, 197 USPQ 134, 138-40 (5th Cir. 1978). Additionally, even a “secret” use by another inventor of a machine or process to make a product is “public” if the details of the machine or process are ascertainable by inspection or analysis of the product that is sold or publicly displayed. Gillman v. Stern, 114 F.2d 28, 46 USPQ 430 (2d Cir. 1940); Dunlop Holdings, Ltd. v. Ram Golf Corp., 524 F.2d 33, 36-7, 188 USPQ 481, 483-484 (7th Cir. 1975). If the details of an inventive process are not ascertainable from the product sold or displayed and the third party has kept the invention as a trade secret then that use is not a public use and will not bar a patent issuing to someone unconnected to the user. W.L. Gore & Assocs. v. Garlock, Inc., 721 F.2d 1540, 1550, 220 USPQ 303, 310 (Fed. Cir. 1983). However, a device qualifies as prior art if it places the claimed features in the public's possession before the critical date even if other unclaimed aspects of the device were not publicly available. Lockwood v. American Airlines, Inc., 41 USPQ2d 1961, 1964-65 (Fed. Cir. 1997) (Computer reservation system was prior art even though “essential algorithms of the SABRE software were proprietary and confidential and...those aspects of the system that were readily apparent to the public would not have been sufficient to enable one skilled in the art to duplicate the [unclaimed aspects of the] system.”). The extent that the public becomes “informed” of an invention involved in public use activity by one other than an applicant depends upon the factual circumstances surrounding the activity and how these comport with the policies underlying the on sale and public use bars. Manville Sales Corp. v. Paramount Sys., Inc., 917 F.2d 544, 549, 16 USPQ2d 1587, 1591 (Fed. Cir. 1990) (quoting King Instrument Corp. v. Otari Corp., 767 F.2d 833, 860, 226 USPQ 402, 406 (Fed. Cir. 1985)). By way of example, in an allegedly “secret” use by a third party other than an applicant, if a large number of employees of such a party, who are not under a promise of secrecy, are permitted unimpeded access to an invention, with affirmative steps by the party to educate other employees as to the nature of the invention, the public is “informed.” Chemithon Corp. v. Proctor & Gamble Co., 287 F. Supp. 291, 308, 159 USPQ 139, 154 (D.Md. 1968), aff’d., 427 F.2d 893, 165 USPQ 678 (4th Cir. 1970).

Even if public use activity by one other than an applicant is not sufficiently “informing,” there may be adequate grounds upon which to base a rejection underpre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(f) and pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(g). See Dunlop Holdings Ltd. v. Ram Golf Corp., 524 F.2d 33, 188 USPQ 481 (7th Cir. 1975). See MPEP § 2137 and § 2138.

2133.03(b)   “On Sale” [R-11.2013]

[Editor Note: This MPEP section is not applicable to applications subject to examination under the first inventor to file (FITF) provisions of the AIA as set forth in35 U.S.C. 100 (note) . See MPEP § 2159 et seq. to determine whether an application is subject to examination under the FITF provisions, and MPEP § 2150 et seq. for examination of applications subject to those provisions. See MPEP § 2152.02(c) through (e) for a detailed discussion of the public use and on sale provisions of AIA 35 U.S.C. 102.]

An impermissible sale has occurred if there was a definite sale, or offer to sell, more than 1 year before the effective filing date of the U.S. application and the subject matter of the sale, or offer to sell, fully anticipated the claimed invention or would have rendered the claimed invention obvious by its addition to the prior art. Ferag AG v. Quipp, Inc., 45 F.3d 1562, 1565, 33 USPQ2d 1512, 1514 (Fed. Cir. 1995). The on-sale bar of pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(b) is triggered if the invention is both (1) the subject of a commercial offer for sale not primarily for experimental purposes and (2) ready for patenting. Pfaff v. Wells Elecs., Inc.,525 U.S. 55, 67, 48 USPQ2d 1641, 1646-47 (1998). Traditional contract law principles are applied when determining whether a commercial offer for sale has occurred. See Linear Tech. Corp. v. Micrel, Inc., 275 F.3d 1040, 1048, 61 USPQ2d 1225, 1229 (Fed. Cir. 2001), petition for cert. filed, 71 USLW 3093 (Jul. 03, 2002) (No. 02-39); Group One, Ltd. v. Hallmark Cards, Inc., 254 F.3d 1041,1047, 59 USPQ2d 1121, 1126 (Fed. Cir. 2001) (“As a general proposition, we will look to the Uniform Commercial Code (‘UCC’) to define whether … a communication or series of communications rises to the level of a commercial offer for sale.”).

I.   THE MEANING OF “SALE”

A sale is a contract between parties wherein the seller agrees “to give and to pass rights of property” in return for the buyer’s payment or promise “to pay the seller for the things bought or sold.” In re Caveney, 761 F.2d 671, 676, 226 USPQ 1, 4 (Fed. Cir. 1985). A contract for the sale of goods requires a concrete offer and acceptance of that offer. See, e.g., Linear Tech., 275 F.3d at 1052-54, 61 USPQ2d at 1233-34 (Court held there was no sale within the meaning of pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(b) where prospective purchaser submitted an order for goods at issue, but received an order acknowledgement reading “will advise-not booked.” Prospective purchaser would understand that order was not accepted.).

A.   Conditional Sale May Bar a Patent

An invention may be deemed to be “on sale” even though the sale was conditional. The fact that the sale is conditioned on buyer satisfaction does not, without more, prove that the sale was for an experimental purpose. Strong v. General Elec. Co., 434 F.2d 1042, 1046, 168 USPQ 8, 12 (5th Cir. 1970).

B.   Nonprofit Sale May Bar a Patent

A “sale” need not be for profit to bar a patent. If the sale was for the commercial exploitation of the invention, it is “on sale” within the meaning of pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(b)In re Dybel, 524 F.2d 1393, 1401, 187 USPQ 593, 599 (CCPA 1975) (“Although selling the devices for a profit would have demonstrated the purpose of commercial exploitation, the fact that appellant realized no profit from the sales does not demonstrate the contrary.”).

C.   A Single Sale or Offer To Sell May Bar a Patent

Even a single sale or offer to sell the invention may bar patentability under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(b)Consolidated Fruit-Jar Co. v. Wright, 94 U.S. 92, 94 (1876); Atlantic Thermoplastics Co. v. Faytex Corp., 970 F.2d 834, 836-37, 23 USPQ2d 1481, 1483 (Fed. Cir. 1992).

D.   A Sale of Rights Is Not a Sale of the Invention and Will Not in Itself Bar a Patent

“[A]n assignment or sale of the rights in the invention and potential patent rights is not a sale of ‘the invention’ within the meaning of [pre-AIA] section 102(b).”Moleculon Research Corp. v. CBS, Inc., 793 F.2d 1261, 1267, 229 USPQ 805, 809 (Fed. Cir. 1986); see also Elan Corp., PLC v. Andrx Pharms. Inc., 366 F.3d 1336, 1341, 70 USPQ2d 1722, 1728 (Fed. Cir. 2004); In re Kollar, 286 F.3d 1326, 1330 n.3, 1330-1331, 62 USPQ2d 1425, 1428 n.3, 1428-1429 (Fed. Cir. 2002) (distinguishing licenses which trigger the on-sale bar (e.g., a standard computer software license wherein the product is just as immediately transferred to the licensee as if it were sold), from licenses that merely grant rights to an invention which do not per se trigger the on-sale bar (e.g., exclusive rights to market the invention or potential patent rights)); Group One, Ltd. v. Hallmark Cards, Inc., 254 F.3d 1041, 1049 n. 2, 59 USPQ2d 1121, 1129 n. 2 (Fed. Cir. 2001).

E.   Buyer Must Be Uncontrolled by the Seller or Offerer

A sale or offer for sale must take place between separate entities. In re Caveney, 761 F.2d 671, 676, 226 USPQ 1, 4 (Fed. Cir. 1985). “Where the parties to the alleged sale are related, whether there is a statutory bar depends on whether the seller so controls the purchaser that the invention remains out of the public’s hands. Ferag AG v. Quipp, Inc., 45 F.3d 1562, 1566, 33 USPQ2d 1512, 1515 (Fed. Cir. 1995) (Where the seller is a parent company of the buyer company, but the President of the buyer company had “essentially unfettered” management authority over the operations of the buyer company, the sale was a statutory bar.).

II.   OFFERS FOR SALE

“Only an offer which rises to the level of a commercial offer for sale, one which the other party could make into a binding contract by simple acceptance (assuming consideration), constitutes an offer for sale under §102(b).” Group One, Ltd. v. Hallmark Cards, Inc., 254 F.3d 1041,1048, 59 USPQ2d 1121, 1126 (Fed. Cir. 2001).

A.   Rejected or Unreceived Offer for Sale Is Enough To Bar a Patent

Since the statute creates a bar when an invention is placed “on sale,” a mere offer to sell is sufficient commercial activity to bar a patent. In re Theis, 610 F.2d 786, 791, 204 USPQ 188, 192 (CCPA 1979). Even a rejected offer may create an on sale bar. UMC Elecs. v. United States, 816 F.2d 647, 653, 2 USPQ2d 1465, 1469 (Fed. Cir. 1987). In fact, the offer need not even be actually received by a prospective purchaser. Wende v. Horine, 225 F. 501 (7th Cir. 1915).

B.   Delivery of the Offered Item Is Not Required

“It is not necessary that a sale be consummated for the bar to operate.” Buildex v. Kason Indus., Inc., 849 F.2d 1461, 1463-64, 7 USPQ2d 1325, 1327-28 (Fed. Cir. 1988) (citations omitted). See also Weatherchem Corp. v. J.L. Clark Inc., 163 F.3d 1326, 1333, 49 USPQ2d 1001, 1006-07 (Fed. Cir. 1998) (A signed purchase agreement prior to the critical date constituted a commercial offer; it was immaterial that there was no delivery of later patented caps and no exchange of money until after critical date.).

C.   Seller Need Not Have the Goods “On Hand” When the Offer for Sale Is Made

Goods need not be “on hand” and transferred at the time of the sale or offer. The date of the offer for sale is the effective date of the “on sale” activity. J. A. La Porte, Inc. v. Norfolk Dredging Co., 787 F.2d 1577, 1582, 229 USPQ 435, 438 (Fed. Cir. 1986). However, the invention must be complete and “ready for patenting” (see MPEP § 2133.03(c)) before the critical date. Pfaff v. Wells Elecs., Inc., 525 U.S. 55, 67, 48 USPQ2d 1641, 1647 (1998). See also Micro Chemical, Inc. v. Great Plains Chemical Co., 103 F.3d 1538, 1545, 41 USPQ2d 1238, 1243 (Fed. Cir. 1997) (The on-sale bar was not triggered by an offer to sell because the inventor “was not close to completion of the invention at the time of the alleged offer and had not demonstrated a high likelihood that the invention would work for its intended purpose upon completion.”); Shatterproof Glass Corp. v. Libbey-Owens Ford Co., 758 F.2d 613, 225 USPQ 634 (Fed. Cir. 1985) (Where there was no evidence that the samples shown to the potential customers were made by the new process and apparatus, the offer to sell did not rise to the level of an on sale bar.). Compare Barmag Barmer Maschinenfabrik AG v. Murata Mach., Ltd., 731 F.2d 831, 221 USPQ 561 (Fed. Cir. 1984) (Where a “make shift” model of the inventive product was shown to the potential purchasers in conjunction with the offer to sell, the offer was enough to bar a patent under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(b).).

D.   Material Terms of an Offer for Sale Must be Present

“[A] communication that fails to constitute a definite offer to sell the product and to include material terms is not an ‘offer’ in the contract sense.” Elan Corp., PLC v. Andrx Pharms. Inc., 366 F.3d 1336, 1341, 70 USPQ2d 1722, 1728 (Fed. Cir. 2004). The court stated that an “offer to enter into a license under a patent for future sale of the invention covered by the patent when and if it has been developed... is not an offer to sell the patented invention that constitutes an on-sale bar.” Id., 70 USPQ2d at 1726. Accordingly, the court concluded that Elan’s letter was not an offer to sell a product. In addition, the court stated that the letter lacked material terms of a commercial offer such as pricing for the product, quantities, time and place of delivery, and product specifications and that the dollar amount in the letter was not a price term for the sale of the product but rather the amount requested was to form and continue a partnership, explicitly referred to as a “licensing fee.” Id.

III.   SALE BY INVENTOR, ASSIGNEE OR OTHERS ASSOCIATED WITH THE INVENTOR IN THE COURSE OF BUSINESS

A.   Sale Activity Need Not Be Public

Unlike questions of public use, there is no requirement that “on sale” activity be “public.” “Public” as used in pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(b) modifies “use” only. “Public” does not modify “sale.” Hobbs v. United States, 451 F.2d 849, 171 USPQ 713, 720 (5th Cir. 1971).

B.   Inventor’s Consent to the Sale Is Not a Prerequisite To Finding an On Sale Bar

If the invention was placed on sale by a third party who obtained the invention from the inventor, a patent is barred even if the inventor did not consent to the sale or have knowledge that the invention was embodied in the sold article. Electric Storage Battery Co. v. Shimadzu, 307 U.S. 5, 41 USPQ 155 (1938); In re Blaisdell, 242 F.2d 779, 783, 113 USPQ 289, 292 (CCPA 1957); CTS Corp. v. Electro Materials Corp. of America, 469 F. Supp. 801, 819, 202 USPQ 22, 38 (S.D.N.Y. 1979).

C.   Objective Evidence of Sale or Offer To Sell Is Needed

In determining if a sale or offer to sell the claimed invention has occurred, a key question to ask is whether the inventor sold or offered for sale a product that embodies the invention claimed in the application. Objective evidence such as a description of the inventive product in the contract of sale or in another communication with the purchaser controls over an uncommunicated intent by the seller to deliver the inventive product under the contract for sale. Ferag AG v. Quipp, Inc., 45 F.3d 1562, 1567, 33 USPQ2d 1512, 1516 (Fed. Cir. 1995) (On sale bar found where initial negotiations and agreement containing contract for sale neither clearly specified nor precluded use of the inventive design, but an order confirmation prior to the critical date did specify use of inventive design.). The purchaser need not have actual knowledge of the invention for it to be on sale. The determination of whether “the offered product is in fact the claimed invention may be established by any relevant evidence, such as memoranda, drawings, correspondence, and testimony of witnesses.” RCA Corp. v. Data Gen. Corp., 887 F.2d 1056, 1060, 12 USPQ2d 1449, 1452 (Fed. Cir. 1989). However, “what the purchaser reasonably believes the inventor to be offering is relevant to whether, on balance, the offer objectively may be said to be of the patented invention.” Envirotech Corp. v. Westech Eng’g, Inc., 904 F.2d 1571, 1576, 15 USPQ2d 1230, 1234 (Fed. Cir. 1990) (Where a proposal to supply a general contractor with a product did not mention a new design but, rather, referenced a prior art design, the uncommunicated intent of the supplier to supply the new design if awarded the contract did not constitute an “on sale” bar to a patent on the new design, even though the supplier’s bid reflected the lower cost of the new design.).

IV.   SALES BY INDEPENDENT THIRD PARTIES

A.   Sales or Offers for Sale by Independent Third Parties Will Bar a Patent

Sale or offer for sale of the invention by an independent third party more than 1 year before the filing date of applicant’s patent will bar applicant from obtaining a patent. “An exception to this rule exists where a patented method is kept secret and remains secret after a sale of the unpatented product of the method. Such a sale prior to the critical date is a bar if engaged in by the patentee or patent applicant, but not if engaged in by another.” In re Caveney, 761 F.2d 671, 675-76, 226 USPQ 1, 3-4 (Fed. Cir. 1985).

B.   Nonprior Art Publications Can Be Used as Evidence of Sale Before the Critical Date

Abstracts identifying a product’s vendor containing information useful to potential buyers such as whom to contact, price terms, documentation, warranties, training and maintenance along with the date of product release or installation before the inventor’s critical date may provide sufficient evidence of prior sale by a third party to support a rejection based on pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(b) or 103In re Epstein, 32 F.3d 1559, 31 USPQ2d 1817 (Fed. Cir. 1994) (Examiner's rejection was based on nonprior art published abstracts which disclosed software products meeting the claims. The abstracts specified software release dates and dates of first installation which were more than 1 year before applicant’s filing date.).

2133.03(c)   The “Invention” [R-11.2013]

[Editor Note: This MPEP section has limited applicability to applications subject to examination under the first inventor to file (FITF) provisions of the AIA as set forth in 35 U.S.C. 100 (note). See MPEP § 2159 et seq. to determine whether an application is subject to examination under the FITF provisions, and MPEP § 2150 et seq. for examination of applications subject to those provisions. See MPEP § 2152.02(c) through (e) for a detailed discussion of the public use and on sale provisions of AIA 35 U.S.C. 102.]

Pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102   Conditions for patentability; novelty and loss of right to patent.

A person shall be entitled to a patent unless -

*****

  • (b) the invention was…in public use or on sale in this country, more than one year prior to the date of the application for patent in the United States

*****

(Emphasis added).

I.   THE INVENTION MUST BE “READY FOR PATENTING”

In Pfaff v. Wells Elecs., Inc., 525 U.S. 55, 66-68, 48 USPQ2d 1641, 1647 (1998), the Supreme Court enunciated a two-prong test for determining whether an invention was “on sale” within the meaning of pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(b) even if it has not yet been reduced to practice. “[T]he on-sale bar applies when two conditions are satisfied before the critical date [more than one year before the effective filing date of the U.S. application]. First, the product must be the subject of a commercial offer for sale…. Second, the invention must be ready for patenting.” Id. at 67, 119 S.Ct. at 311-12, 48 USPQ2d at 1646-47.

The Federal Circuit explained that the Supreme Court’s “ready for patenting” prong applies in the context of both the on sale and public use bars. Invitrogen Corp. v. Biocrest Manufacturing L.P., 424 F.3d 1374, 1379, 76 USPQ2d 1741, 1744 (Fed. Cir. 2005) (“A bar under [pre-AIA] section 102(b) arises where, before the critical date, the invention is in public use and ready for patenting.”). “Ready for patenting,” the second prong of the Pfaff test, “may be satisfied in at least two ways: by proof of reduction to practice before the critical date; or by proof that prior to the critical date the inventor had prepared drawings or other descriptions of the invention that were sufficiently specific to enable a person skilled in the art to practice the invention.” Id. at 67, 199 S.Ct. at 311-12, 48 USPQ2d at 1647 (The patent was held invalid because the invention for a computer chip socket was “ready for patenting” when it was offered for sale more than one year prior to the application filing date. Even though the invention had not yet been reduced to practice, the manufacturer was able to produce the claimed computer chip sockets using the inventor’s detailed drawings and specifications, and those sockets contained all elements of invention claimed in the patent.). See also Weatherchem Corp. v. J.L. Clark Inc., 163 F.3d 1326, 1333, 49 USPQ2d 1001, 1006-07 (Fed. Cir. 1998) (The invention was held “ready for patenting” since the detailed drawings of plastic dispensing caps offered for sale “contained each limitation of the claims and were sufficiently specific to enable person skilled in art to practice the invention”.).

If the invention was actually reduced to practice before being sold or offered for sale more than 1 year before filing of the application, a patent will be barred.Vanmoor v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 201 F.3d 1363, 1366-67, 53 USPQ2d 1377, 1379 (Fed. Cir. 2000) (“Here the pre-critical date sales were of completed cartridges made to specifications that remained unchanged to the present day, showing that any invention embodied in the accused cartridges was reduced to practice before the critical date. The Pfaff ready for patenting condition is also satisfied because the specification drawings, available prior to the critical date, were actually used to produce the accused cartridges.”); In re Hamilton, 882 F.2d 1576, 1580, 11 USPQ2d 1890, 1893 (Fed. Cir. 1989). "If a product that is offered for sale inherently possesses each of the limitations of the claims, then the invention is on sale, whether or not the parties to the transaction recognize that the product possesses the claimed characteristics." Abbott Laboratories v. Geneva Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 182 F.3d 1315, 1319, 51 USPQ2d 1307, 1310 (Fed. Cir. 1999) (Claim for a particular anhydrous crystalline form of a pharmaceutical compound was held invalid under the on-sale bar of pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(b), even though the parties to the U.S. sales of the foreign manufactured compound did not know the identity of the particular crystalline form.); STX LLC. v. Brine Inc., 211 F.3d 588, 591, 54 USPQ2d 1347, 1350 (Fed. Cir. 2000) (Claim for a lacrosse stick was held invalid under the on-sale bar despite the argument that it was not known at the time of sale whether the sticks possessed the recited “improved playing and handling characteristics.” “Subjective qualities inherent in a product, such as ‘improved playing and handling’, cannot serve as an escape hatch to circumvent an on-sale bar.”). Actual reduction to practice in the context of an on-sale bar issue usually requires testing under actual working conditions in such a way as to demonstrate the practical utility of an invention for its intended purpose beyond the probability of failure, unless by virtue of the very simplicity of an invention its practical operativeness is clear. Field v. Knowles, 183 F.2d 593, 601, 86 USPQ 373, 379 (CCPA 1950); Steinberg v. Seitz, 517 F.2d 1359, 1363, 186 USPQ 209, 212 (CCPA 1975).

The invention need not be ready for satisfactory commercial marketing for sale to bar a patent. Atlantic Thermoplastics Co. v. Faytex Corp., 970 F.2d 834, 836-37, 23 USPQ2d 1481, 1483 (Fed. Cir. 1992).

II.   INVENTOR HAS SUBMITTED A 37 CFR 1.131 AFFIDAVIT OR DECLARATION

Affidavits or declarations submitted under 37 CFR 1.131 to swear behind a reference may constitute, among other things, an admission that an invention was “complete” more than 1 year before the filing of an application. See In re Foster, 343 F.2d 980, 987-88, 145 USPQ 166, 173 (CCPA 1965); Dart Indus. v. E.I. duPont de Nemours & Co., 489 F.2d 1359, 1365, 179 USPQ 392, 396 (7th Cir. 1973). Also see MPEP § 715.10.

III.   SALE OF A PROCESS

A claimed process, which is a series of acts or steps, is not sold in the same sense as is a claimed product, device, or apparatus, which is a tangible item. “‘Know-how’ describing what the process consists of and how the process should be carried out may be sold in the sense that the buyer acquires knowledge of the process and obtains the freedom to carry it out pursuant to the terms of the transaction. However, such a transaction is not a ‘sale’ of the invention within the meaning of [pre-AIA] §102(b) because the process has not been carried out or performed as a result of the transaction.” In re Kollar, 286 F.3d 1326, 1332, 62 USPQ2d 1425, 1429 (Fed. Cir. 2002). However, sale of a product made by the claimed process by the patentee or a licensee would constitute a sale of the process within the meaning of pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(b). See id. at 1333, 62 USPQ2d at 1429; D.L. Auld Co. v. Chroma Graphics Corp., 714 F.2d 1144, 1147-48, 219 USPQ 13, 15-16 (Fed. Cir. 1983) (Even though the sale of a product made by a claimed method before the critical date did not reveal anything about the method to the public, the sale resulted in a “forfeiture” of any right to a patent to that method); W.L. Gore & Assocs., Inc. v. Garlock, Inc., 721 F.2d 1540, 1550, 220 USPQ 303, 310 (Fed. Cir. 1983). The application of pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(b) would also be triggered by actually performing the claimed process itself for consideration. See Scaltech, Inc. v. Retec/Tetra, L.L.C., 269 F.3d 1321, 1328, 60 USPQ2d 1687, 1691(Fed. Cir. 2001) (Patent was held invalid under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(b) based on patentee’s offer to perform the claimed process for treating oil refinery waste more than one year before filing the patent application). Moreover, the sale of a device embodying a claimed process may trigger the on-sale bar. Minton v. National Ass’n. of Securities Dealers, Inc., 336 F.3d 1373, 1378, 67 USPQ2d 1614, 1618 (Fed. Cir. 2003) (finding a fully operational computer program implementing and thus embodying the claimed method to trigger the on-sale bar). However, the sale of a prior art device different from that disclosed in a patent that is asserted after the critical date to be capable of performing the claimed method is not an on-sale bar of the process. Poly-America LP v. GSE Lining Tech. Inc., 383 F.3d 1303, 1308-09, 72 USPQ2d 1685, 1688-89 (Fed. Cir. 2004) (stating that the transaction involving the sale of the prior art device did not involve a transaction of the claimed method but instead only a device different from that described in the patent for carrying out the claimed method, where the device was not used to practice the claimed method until well after the critical date, and where there was evidence that it was not even known whether the device could perform the claimed process).

2133.03(d)   “In This Country” [R-11.2013]

[Editor Note: This MPEP section is not applicable to applications subject to examination under the first inventor to file (FITF) provisions of the AIA as set forth in35 U.S.C. 100 (note). See MPEP § 2159 et seq. to determine whether an application is subject to examination under the FITF provisions, and MPEP § 2150 et seq. for examination of applications subject to those provisions. See MPEP § 2152.02(c) through (e) for a detailed discussion of the public use and on sale provisions of AIA 35 U.S.C. 102.]

For purposes of judging the applicability of the pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(b) bars, public use or on sale activity must take place in the United States. The “on sale” bar does not generally apply where both manufacture and delivery occur in a foreign country. Gandy v. Main Belting Co., 143 U.S. 587, 593 (1892). However, “on sale” status can be found if substantial activity prefatory to a “sale” occurs in the United States. Robbins Co. v. Lawrence Mfg. Co., 482 F.2d 426, 433, 178 USPQ 577, 583 (9th Cir. 1973). An offer for sale, made or originating in this country, may be sufficient prefatory activity to bring the offer within the terms of the statute, even though sale and delivery take place in a foreign country. The same rationale applies to an offer by a foreign manufacturer which is communicated to a prospective purchaser in the United States prior to the critical date. CTS Corp. v. Piher Int’l Corp., 593 F.2d 777, 201 USPQ 649 (7th Cir. 1979).

2133.03(e)   Permitted Activity; Experimental Use [R-11.2013]

[Editor Note: This MPEP section is not applicable to applications subject to examination under the first inventor to file (FITF) provisions of the AIA as set forth in35 U.S.C. 100 (note). See MPEP § 2159 et seq. to determine whether an application is subject to examination under the FITF provisions, and MPEP § 2150 et seq. for examination of applications subject to those provisions. See MPEP § 2152.02(c) through (e) for a detailed discussion of the public use and on sale provisions of AIA 35 U.S.C. 102.]

The question posed by the experimental use doctrine is “whether the primary purpose of the inventor at the time of the sale, as determined from an objective evaluation of the facts surrounding the transaction, was to conduct experimentation.” Allen Eng’g Corp. v. Bartell Indus., Inc., 299 F.3d 1336, 1354, 63 USPQ2d 1769, 1780 (Fed. Cir. 2002) (quoting EZ Dock v. Schafer Sys., Inc., 276 F.3d 1347, 1356-57, 61 USPQ2d 1289, 1295-96 (Fed. Cir. 2002)) (Linn, J., concurring). Experimentation must be the primary purpose and any commercial exploitation must be incidental.

If the use or sale was experimental, there is no bar under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(b). “A use or sale is experimental for purposes of pre-AIA section 102(b) if it represents a bona fide effort to perfect the invention or to ascertain whether it will answer its intended purpose.… If any commercial exploitation does occur, it must be merely incidental to the primary purpose of the experimentation to perfect the invention.” LaBounty Mfg. v. United States Int’l Trade Comm’n, 958 F.2d 1066, 1071, 22 USPQ2d 1025, 1028 (Fed. Cir. 1992) (quoting Pennwalt Corp. v. Akzona Inc., 740 F.2d 1573, 1581, 222 USPQ 833, 838 (Fed. Cir. 1984)). “The experimental use exception…does not include market testing where the inventor is attempting to gauge consumer demand for his claimed invention. The purpose of such activities is commercial exploitation and not experimentation.” In re Smith, 714 F.2d 1127, 1134, 218 USPQ 976, 983 (Fed. Cir. 1983).

2133.03(e)(1)    Commercial Exploitation [R-11.2013]

[Editor Note: This MPEP section is not applicable to applications subject to examination under the first inventor to file (FITF) provisions of the AIA as set forth in35 U.S.C. 100 (note). See MPEP § 2159 et seq. to determine whether an application is subject to examination under the FITF provisions, and MPEP § 2150 et seq. for examination of applications subject to those provisions. See MPEP § 2152.02(c) through (e) for a detailed discussion of the public use and on sale provisions of AIA 35 U.S.C. 102.]

One policy of the on sale and public use bars is the prevention of inventors from exploiting their inventions commercially more than 1 year prior to the filing of a patent application. Therefore, if applicant’s precritical date activity isa sale or offer for sale that is an attempt at market penetration, a patent is barred. Thus, even if there is bona fide experimental activity, an inventor may not commercially exploit an invention more than 1 year prior to the filing date of an application. In re Theis, 610 F.2d 786, 793, 204 USPQ 188, 194 (CCPA 1979).

I.   THE COMMERCIAL ACTIVITY MUST LEGITIMATELY ADVANCE DEVELOPMENT OF THE INVENTION TOWARDS COMPLETION

As the degree of commercial exploitation surrounding pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(b) activity increases, the burden on an applicant to establish clear and convincing evidence of experimental activity with respect to a public use becomes more difficult. Where the examiner has found a prima facie case of a sale or an offer to sell, this burden will rarely be met unless clear and convincing necessity for the experimentation is established by the applicant. This does not mean, of course, that there are no circumstances which would permit alleged experimental activity in an atmosphere of commercial exploitation. In certain circumstances, even a sale may be necessary to legitimately advance the experimental development of an invention if the primary purpose of the sale is experimental. In re Theis, 610 F.2d 786, 793, 204 USPQ 188, 194 (CCPA 1979); Robbins Co. v. Lawrence Mfg. Co., 482 F.2d 426, 433, 178 USPQ 577, 582 (9th Cir. 1973). However, careful scrutiny by the examiner of the objective factual circumstances surrounding such a sale is essential. See Ushakoff v. United States, 327 F.2d 669, 140 USPQ 341 (Ct.Cl. 1964); Cloud v. Standard Packaging Corp., 376 F.2d 384, 153 USPQ 317 (7th Cir. 1967).

II.   SIGNIFICANT FACTORS INDICATIVE OF “COMMERCIAL EXPLOITATION”

As discussed in MPEP § 2133.03, a policy consideration in questions of pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(b) activity is premature “commercial exploitation” of a “completed” or “ready for patenting” invention (see MPEP § 2133.03(c)). The extent of commercial activity which constitutes pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(b) “on sale” status depends upon the circumstances of the activity, the basic indicator being the subjective intent of the inventor as manifested through objective evidence. The following activities should be used by the examiner as indicia of this subjective intent:

  • (A) Preparation of various contemporaneous “commercial” documents, e.g., orders, invoices, receipts, delivery schedules, etc.;
  • (B) Preparation of price lists (Akron Brass Co. v. Elkhart Brass Mfg. Co., 353 F.2d 704, 709, 147 USPQ 301, 305 (7th Cir. 1965) and distribution of price quotations (Amphenol Corp. v. General. Time Corp., 158 USPQ 113, 117 (7th Cir. 1968));
  • (C) Display of samples to prospective customers (Cataphote Corp. v. DeSoto Chemical Coatings, Inc., 356 F.2d 24, 27, 148 USPQ 527, 529 (9th Cir. 1966) mod. on other grounds, 358 F.2d 732, 149 USPQ 159 (9th Cir.), cert. denied, 385 U.S. 832 (1966); Chicopee Mfg. Corp. v. Columbus Fiber Mills Co.,165 F.Supp. 307, 323-325, 118 USPQ 53, 65-67 (M.D.Ga. 1958));
  • (D) Demonstration of models or prototypes (General Elec. Co. v. United States, 206 USPQ 260, 266-67 (Ct. Cl. 1979); Red Cross Mfg. v. Toro Sales Co.,525 F.2d 1135, 1140, 188 USPQ 241, 244-45 (7th Cir. 1975); Philco Corp. v. Admiral Corp., 199 F. Supp. 797, 815-16, 131 USPQ 413, 429-30 (D.Del. 1961)), especially at trade conventions (InterRoyal Corp. v. Simmons Co., 204 USPQ 562, 563-65 (S.D. N.Y. 1979)), and even though no orders are actually obtained (Monogram Mfg. v. F. & H. Mfg., 144 F.2d 412, 62 USPQ 409, 412 (9th Cir. 1944));
  • (E) Use of an invention where an admission fee is charged (In re Josserand, 188 F.2d 486, 491, 89 USPQ 371, 376 (CCPA 1951); Greenewalt v. Stanley, 54 F.2d 195, 12 USPQ 122 (3d Cir. 1931)); and
  • (F) Advertising in publicity releases, brochures, and various periodicals (In re Theis, 610 F.2d 786, 792 n.6, 204 USPQ 188, 193 n. 6 (CCPA 1979);InterRoyal Corp. v. Simmons Co., 204 USPQ 562, 564-66 (S.D.N.Y.1979); Akron Brass, Inc. v. Elkhart Brass Mfg., Inc., 353 F.2d 704, 709, 147 USPQ 301, 305 (7th Cir.1965); Tucker Aluminum Prods. v. Grossman, 312 F.2d 393, 394, 136 USPQ 244, 245 (9th Cir. 1963)).

See MPEP § 2133.03(e)(4) for factors indicative of an experimental purpose.

2133.03(e)(2)    Intent [R-11.2013]

[Editor Note: This MPEP section is not applicable to applications subject to examination under the first inventor to file (FITF) provisions of the AIA as set forth in35 U.S.C. 100 (note). See MPEP § 2159 et seq. to determine whether an application is subject to examination under the FITF provisions, and MPEP § 2150 et seq. for examination of applications subject to those provisions. See MPEP § 2152.02(c) through (e) for a detailed discussion of the public use and on sale provisions of AIA 35 U.S.C. 102.]

“When sales are made in an ordinary commercial environment and the goods are placed outside the inventor’s control, an inventor’s secretly held subjective intent to ‘experiment,’ even if true, is unavailing without objective evidence to support the contention. Under such circumstances, the customer at a minimum must be made aware of the experimentation.” LaBounty Mfg., Inc. v. United States Int’l Trade Comm’n, 958 F.2d 1066, 1072, 22 USPQ2d 1025, 1029 (Fed. Cir. 1992) (quoting Harrington Mfg. Co. v. Powell Mfg. Co., 815 F.2d 1478, 1480 n.3, 2 USPQ2d 1364, 1366 n.3 (Fed. Cir. 1986); Paragon Podiatry Laboratory, Inc. v. KLM Labs., Inc., 984 F.2d 1182, 25 USPQ2d 1561 (Fed. Cir. 1993) (Paragon sold the inventive units to the trade as completed devices without any disclosure to either doctors or patients of their involvement in alleged testing. Evidence of the inventor’s secretly held belief that the units were not durable and may not be satisfactory for consumers was not sufficient, alone, to avoid a statutory bar.).

2133.03(e)(3)    “Completeness” of the Invention [R-11.2013]

[Editor Note: This MPEP section is not applicable to applications subject to examination under the first inventor to file (FITF) provisions of the AIA as set forth in35 U.S.C. 100 (note). See MPEP § 2159 et seq. to determine whether an application is subject to examination under the FITF provisions, and MPEP § 2150 et seq. for examination of applications subject to those provisions. See MPEP § 2152.02(c) through (e) for a detailed discussion of the public use and on sale provisions of AIA 35 U.S.C. 102.]

I.    EXPERIMENTAL USE ENDS WHEN THE INVENTION IS ACTUALLY REDUCED TO PRACTICE

Experimental use “means perfecting or completing an invention to the point of determining that it will work for its intended purpose.” Therefore, experimental use “ends with an actual reduction to practice.” RCA Corp. v. Data Gen. Corp., 887 F.2d 1056, 1061, 12 USPQ2d 1449, 1453 (Fed. Cir. 1989). If the examiner concludes from the evidence of record that an applicant was satisfied that an invention was in fact “complete,” awaiting approval by the applicant from an organization such as Underwriters’ Laboratories will not normally overcome this conclusion. InterRoyal Corp. v. Simmons Co., 204 USPQ 562, 566 (S.D.N.Y. 1979); Skil Corp. v. Rockwell Manufacturing Co., 358 F. Supp. 1257, 1261, 178 USPQ 562, 565 (N.D.Ill. 1973), aff’d. in part, rev’d in part sub nom. Skil Corp. v. Lucerne Products Inc., 503 F.2d 745, 183 USPQ 396, 399 (7th Cir. 1974), cert. denied, 420 U.S. 974, 185 USPQ 65 (1975). See MPEP § 2133.03(c) for more information of what constitutes a “complete” invention.

The fact that alleged experimental activity does not lead to specific modifications or refinements of an invention is evidence, although not conclusive evidence, that such activity is not within the realm permitted by the statute. This is especially the case where the evidence of record clearly demonstrates to the examiner that an invention was considered “complete” by an inventor at the time of the activity. Nevertheless, any modifications or refinements which did result from such experimental activity must at least be a feature of the claimed invention to be of any probative value. In re Theis, 610 F.2d 786, 793, 204 USPQ 188, 194 (CCPA 1979).

II.    DISPOSAL OF PROTOTYPES

Where a prototype of an invention has been disposed of by an inventor before the critical date, inquiry by the examiner should focus upon the intent of the inventor and the reasonableness of the disposal under all circumstances. The fact that an otherwise reasonable disposal of a prototype involves incidental income is not necessarily fatal. In re Dybel, 524 F.2d 1393, 1399, n.5, 187 USPQ 593, 597 n.5 (CCPA 1975). However, if a prototype is considered “complete” by an inventor and all experimentation on the underlying invention has ceased, unrestricted disposal of the prototype constitutes a bar under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(b)In re Blaisdell, 242 F.2d 779, 113 USPQ 289 (CCPA 1957); contra, Watson v. Allen, 254 F.2d 342, 117 USPQ 68 (D.C. Cir. 1958).

2133.03(e)(4)    Factors Indicative of an Experimental Purpose [R-11.2013]

[Editor Note: This MPEP section is not applicable to applications subject to examination under the first inventor to file (FITF) provisions of the AIA as set forth in35 U.S.C. 100 (note). See MPEP § 2159 et seq. to determine whether an application is subject to examination under the FITF provisions, and MPEP § 2150 et seq. for examination of applications subject to those provisions. See MPEP § 2152.02(c) through (e) for a detailed discussion of the public use and on sale provisions of AIA 35 U.S.C. 102.]

The courts have considered a number of factors in determining whether a claimed invention was the subject of a commercial offer for sale primarily for purposes of experimentation. “These factors include: (1) the necessity for public testing, (2) the amount of control over the experiment retained by the inventor, (3) the nature of the invention, (4) the length of the test period, (5) whether payment was made, (6) whether there was a secrecy obligation, (7) whether records of the experiment were kept, (8) who conducted the experiment, ... (9) the degree of commercial exploitation during testing[,] ... (10) whether the invention reasonably requires evaluation under actual conditions of use, (11) whether testing was systematically performed, (12) whether the inventor continually monitored the invention during testing, and (13) the nature of contacts made with potential customers.” Allen Eng’g Corp. v. Bartell Indus., Inc., 299 F.3d 1336, 1353, 63 USPQ2d 1769, 1780 (Fed. Cir. 2002) (quoting EZ Dock v. Schafer Sys., Inc., 276 F.3d 1347, 1357, 61 USPQ2d 1289, 1296 (Fed. Cir. 2002)) (Linn, J., concurring). Another critical attribute of experimentation is the “customer’s awareness of the purported testing in the context of a sale.” Electromotive Div. of Gen. Motors Corp. v. Transportation Sys. Div. of Gen. Elec. Co., 417 F.3d 1203, 1241, 75 USPQ2d 1650, 1658 (Fed. Cir. 2005).

Once alleged experimental activity is advanced by an applicant to explain a prima facie case under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(b), the examiner must determine whether the scope and length of the activity were reasonable in terms of the experimental purpose intended by the applicant and the nature of the subject matter involved. No one of, or particular combination of, factors is necessarily determinative of this purpose.

See MPEP § 2133.03(e)(1) for factors indicative of commercial exploitation.

2133.03(e)(5)    Experimentation and Degree of Supervision and Control [R-11.2013]

[Editor Note: This MPEP section is not applicable to applications subject to examination under the first inventor to file (FITF) provisions of the AIA as set forth in35 U.S.C. 100 (note). See MPEP § 2159 et seq. to determine whether an application is subject to examination under the FITF provisions, and MPEP § 2150 et seq. for examination of applications subject to those provisions. See MPEP § 2152.02(c) through (e) for a detailed discussion of the public use and on sale provisions of AIA 35 U.S.C. 102.]

  THE INVENTOR MUST MAINTAIN SUFFICIENT CONTROL OVER THE INVENTION DURING TESTING BY THIRD PARTIES

Thesignificant determinative factors in questions of experimental purpose are the extent of supervision and control maintained by an inventor over an invention during an alleged period of experimentation , and the customer’s awareness of the experimentation. Electromotive Div. of Gen. Motors Corp. v. Transportation Sys. Div. of Gen. Elec. Co., 417 F.3d 1203, 1214,75 USPQ2d 1650, 1658 (Fed. Cir. 2005)(“control and customer awareness ordinarily must be proven if experimentation is to be found”). Once a period of experimental activity has ended and supervision and control has been relinquished by an inventor without any restraints on subsequent use of an invention, an unrestricted subsequent use of the invention is a pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(b) bar. In re Blaisdell, 242 F.2d 779, 784, 113 USPQ 289, 293 (CCPA 1957).

2133.03(e)(6)    Permitted Experimental Activity and Testing [R-11.2013]

[Editor Note: This MPEP section is not applicable to applications subject to examination under the first inventor to file (FITF) provisions of the AIA as set forth in35 U.S.C. 100 (note). See MPEP § 2159 et seq. to determine whether an application is subject to examination under the FITF provisions, and MPEP § 2150 et seq. for examination of applications subject to those provisions. See MPEP § 2152.02(c) through (e) for a detailed discussion of the public use and on sale provisions of AIA 35 U.S.C. 102.]

I.    DEVELOPMENTAL TESTING IS PERMITTED

Testing of an invention in the normal context of its technological development is generally within the realm of permitted experimental activity. Likewise, experimentation to determine utility, as that term is applied in 35 U.S.C. 101, may also constitute permissible activity. See General Motors Corp. v. Bendix Aviation Corp., 123 F. Supp. 506, 521, 102 USPQ 58, 69 (N.D.Ind. 1954). For example, where an invention relates to a chemical composition with no known utility, i.e., a patent application for the composition could not be filed (35 U.S.C. 10135 U.S.C. 112(a) or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 112, first paragraph), continued testing to find utility would likely be permissible under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(b), absent a sale of the composition or other evidence of commercial exploitation.

II.    MARKET TESTING IS NOT PERMITTED

Experimentation to determine product acceptance, i.e., market testing, is typical of a trader’s and not an inventor’s experiment and is thus not within the area of permitted experimental activity. Smith & Davis Mfg. Co. v. Mellon, 58 F. 705, 707 (8th Cir. 1893) Likewise, testing of an invention for the benefit of appeasing a customer, or to conduct “minor ‘tune up’ procedures not requiring an inventor’s skills, but rather the skills of a competent technician,” are also not within the exception. In re Theis, 610 F.2d 786, 793, 204 USPQ 188, 193-94 (CCPA 1979).

III.    EXPERIMENTAL ACTIVITY IN THE CONTEXT OF DESIGN APPLICATIONS

The public use of an ornamental design which is directed toward generating consumer interest in the aesthetics of the design is not an experimental use. In re Mann, 861 F.2d 1581, 8 USPQ2d 2030 (Fed. Cir. 1988) (display of a wrought iron table at a trade show held to be public use). However, “experimentation directed to functional features of a product also containing an ornamental design may negate what otherwise would be considered a public use within the meaning of section 102(b).” Tone Brothers, Inc. v. Sysco Corp., 28 F.3d 1192, 1196, 31 USPQ2d 1321, 1326 (Fed. Cir. 1994) (A study wherein students evaluated the effect of the functional features of a spice container design may be considered an experimental use.).

2133.03(e)(7)    Activity of an Independent Third Party Inventor [R-11.2013]

[Editor Note: This MPEP section is not applicable to applications subject to examination under the first inventor to file (FITF) provisions of the AIA as set forth in35 U.S.C. 100 (note) . See MPEP § 2159 et seq. to determine whether an application is subject to examination under the FITF provisions, and MPEP § 2150 et seq. for examination of applications subject to those provisions. See MPEP § 2152.02(c) through (e) for a detailed discussion of the public use and on sale provisions of AIA 35 U.S.C. 102.]

  EXPERIMENTAL USE EXCEPTION IS PERSONAL TO AN APPLICANT

The statutory bars of pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(b) are applicable even though public use or on sale activity is by a party other than an applicant. Where an applicant presents evidence of experimental activity by such other party, the evidence will not overcome the prima facie case under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(b)based upon the activity of such party unless the activity was under the supervision and control of the applicant. Magnetics v. Arnold Eng’g Co., 438 F.2d 72, 74, 168 USPQ 392, 394 (7th Cir. 1971), Bourne v. Jones, 114 F.Supp. 413, 419, 98 USPQ 206, 210 (S.D. Fla. 1951), aff'd., 207 F.2d 173, 98 USPQ 205 (5th Cir. 1953), cert. denied, 346 U.S. 897, 99 USPQ 490 (1953); contra, Watson v. Allen, 254 F.2d 342, 117 USPQ 68 (D.C.Cir. 1957). In other words, the experimental use activity exception is personal to an applicant.

2134    Pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(c) [R-11.2013]

[Editor Note: This MPEP section is not applicable to applications subject to examination under the first inventor to file (FITF) provisions of the AIA as set forth in35 U.S.C. 100 (note). See MPEP § 2159 et seq. to determine whether an application is subject to examination under the FITF provisions, and MPEP § 2150 et seq. for examination of applications subject to those provisions.]

Pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102   Conditions for patentability; novelty and loss of right to patent.

A person shall be entitled to a patent unless -

*****

  • (c) he has abandoned the invention.

*****

I.   UNDER 35 U.S.C. 102(c), AN ABANDONMENT MUST BE INTENTIONAL

“Actual abandonment under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(c) requires that the inventor intend to abandon the invention, and intent can be implied from the inventor’s conduct with respect to the invention. In re Gibbs, 437 F.2d 486, 168 USPQ 578 (CCPA 1971). Such intent to abandon the invention will not be imputed, and every reasonable doubt should be resolved in favor of the inventor.” Ex parte Dunne, 20 USPQ2d 1479 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1991).

II.   DELAY IN MAKING FIRST APPLICATION

Abandonment under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(c) requires a deliberate, though not necessarily express, surrender of any rights to a patent. To abandon the invention the inventor must intend a dedication to the public. Such dedication may be either express or implied, by actions or inactions of the inventor. Delay alone is not sufficient to infer the requisite intent to abandon. Moore v. United States, 194 USPQ 423, 428 (Ct. Cl. 1977) (The drafting and retention in his own files of two patent applications by inventor indicates an intent to retain his invention; delay in filing the applications was not sufficient to establish abandonment); but see Davis Harvester Co., Inc. v. Long Mfg. Co., 252 F. Supp. 989, 1009-10, 149 USPQ 420, 435-436 (E.D. N.C. 1966) (Where the inventor does nothing over a period of time to develop or patent his invention, ridicules the attempts of another to develop that invention and begins to show active interest in promoting and developing his invention only after successful marketing by another of a device embodying that invention, the inventor has abandoned his invention under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(c).).

III.   DELAY IN REAPPLYING FOR PATENT AFTER ABANDONMENT OF PREVIOUS PATENT APPLICATION

Where there is no evidence of expressed intent or conduct by inventor to abandon his invention, delay in reapplying for patent after abandonment of a previous application does not constitute abandonment under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(c)Petersen v. Fee Int’l, Ltd., 381 F. Supp. 1071, 182 USPQ 264 (W.D. Okla. 1974).

IV.   DISCLOSURE WITHOUT CLAIMING IN A PRIOR ISSUED PATENT

Any inference of abandonment (i.e., intent to dedicate to the public) of subject matter disclosed but not claimed in a previously issued patent is rebuttable by an application filed at any time before a statutory bar arises. Accordingly, a rejection of a claim of a patent application under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(c) predicated solely on the issuance of a patent which discloses the subject matter of the claim in the application without claiming it would be improper, regardless of whether there is copendency between the application at issue and the application which issued as the patent. In re Gibbs, 437 F.2d 486, 168 USPQ 578 (CCPA 1971).

V.   ONLY WHEN THERE IS A PRIORITY CONTEST CAN A LAPSE OF TIME BAR A PATENT

The mere lapse of time will not bar a patent. The only exception is when there is a priority contest under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(g) and applicant abandons, suppresses or conceals the invention. Panduit Corp. v. Dennison Mfg. Co., 774 F.2d 1082, 1101, 227 USPQ 337, 350 (Fed. Cir. 1985). Abandonment, suppression and concealment are treated by the courts under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(g). See MPEP § 2138.03 for more information on this issue.

2135    Pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(d) [R-11.2013]

[Editor Note: This MPEP section is not applicable to applications subject to examination under the first inventor to file (FITF) provisions of the AIA as set forth in35 U.S.C. 100 (note). See MPEP § 2159 et seq. to determine whether an application is subject to examination under the FITF provisions, and MPEP § 2150 et seq. for examination of applications subject to those provisions.]

Pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102   Conditions for patentability; novelty and loss of right to patent.

A person shall be entitled to a patent unless -

*****

  • (d) the invention was first patented or caused to be patented, or was the subject of an inventor’s certificate, by the applicant or his legal representatives or assigns in a foreign country prior to the date of the application for patent in this country on an application for patent or inventor’s certificate filed more than twelve months before the filing of the application in the United States.

*****

  GENERAL REQUIREMENTS OF 35 U.S.C. 102(d)

Pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(d) establishes four conditions which, if all are present, establish a bar against the granting of a patent in this country:

  • (A) The foreign application must be filed more than 12 months before the effective U.S. filing date (See MPEP § 706.02 regarding effective U.S. filing date of an application);
  • (B) The foreign application must have been filed by the same applicant as in the United States or by his or her legal representatives or assigns.
  • (C) The foreign patent or inventor’s certificate must be actually granted (e.g., by sealing of the papers in Great Britain) before the U.S. filing date. It need not be published.
  • (D) The same invention must be involved.

If such a foreign patent or inventor’s certificate is discovered by the examiner, the rejection is made under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(d) on the ground of statutory bar. See MPEP § 2135.01 for further clarification of each of the four requirements of pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(d).

2135.01   The Four Requirements of Pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(d) [R-11.2013]

[Editor Note: This MPEP section is not applicable to applications subject to examination under the first inventor to file (FITF) provisions of the AIA as set forth in35 U.S.C. 100 (note). See MPEP § 2159 et seq. to determine whether an application is subject to examination under the FITF provisions, and MPEP § 2150 et seq. for examination of applications subject to those provisions.]

I.   FOREIGN APPLICATION MUST BE FILED MORE THAN 12 MONTHS BEFORE THE EFFECTIVE U.S. FILING DATE

A.   An Anniversary Date Ending on a Weekend or Holiday Results in an Extension to the Next Business Day

The U.S. application is filed in time to prevent a pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(d) bar from arising if it is filed on the 1 year anniversary date of the filing date of the foreign application. If this day is a Saturday, Sunday or Federal holiday, the year would be extended to the following business day. See Ex parte Olah, 131 USPQ 41 (Bd. App. 1960). Despite changes to 37 CFR 1.6(a)(2) and 37 CFR 1.10, which require the PTO to accord a filing date to an application as of the date of deposit as “Express Mail” with the U.S. Postal Service in accordance with 37 CFR 1.10 (e.g., a Saturday filing date), the rule changes do not affect applicant’s concurrent right to defer the filing of an application until the next business day when the last day for “taking any action” falls on a Saturday, Sunday, or a Federal holiday (e.g., the last day of the 1-year grace period falls on a Saturday).

B.   A Continuation-in-Part Breaks the Chain of Priority as to Foreign as Well as U.S. Parents

In the case where applicant files a foreign application, later files a U.S. application claiming priority based on the foreign application, and then files a continuation-in-part (CIP) application whose claims are not entitled to the filing date of the U.S. parent, the effective filing date is the filing date of the CIP and applicant cannot obtain the benefit of either the U.S. parent or foreign application filing dates. In re Van Langenhoven, 458 F.2d 132, 137, 173 USPQ 426, 429 (CCPA 1972). If the foreign application issues into a patent before the filing date of the CIP, it may be used in a pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(d)/103 rejection if the subject matter added to the CIP does not render the claims nonobvious over the foreign patent. Ex parte Appeal No. 242-47, 196 USPQ 828 (Bd. App. 1976) (Foreign patent can be combined with other prior art to bar a U.S. patent in an obviousness rejection based on pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(d)/103).

II.   FOREIGN APPLICATION MUST HAVE BEEN FILED BY SAME APPLICANT, HIS OR HER LEGAL REPRESENTATIVE OR ASSIGNS

Note that where the U.S. application was made by two or more inventors, it is permissible for these inventors to claim priority from separate applications, each to one of the inventors or a subcombination of inventors. For instance, a U.S. application naming inventors A and B may be entitled to priority from one application to A and one to B filed in a foreign country.

III.   THE FOREIGN PATENT OR INVENTOR’S CERTIFICATE WAS ACTUALLY GRANTED BEFORE THE U.S. FILING DATE

A.   To Be “Patented” an Exclusionary Right Must Be Awarded to the Applicant

“Patented” means “a formal bestowal of patent rights from the sovereign to the applicant.” In re Monks, 588 F.2d 308, 310, 200 USPQ 129, 131 (CCPA 1978);American Infra-Red Radiant Co. v. Lambert Indus., 360 F.2d 977, 149 USPQ 722 (8th Cir.), cert. denied, 385 U.S. 920 (1966) (German Gebrauchsmuster petty patent was held to be a patent usable in a pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(d) rejection. Gebrauchmustern are not examined and only grant a 6-year patent term. However, except as to duration, the exclusionary patent right granted is as extensive as in the U.S.).

B.   A Published Application Is Not a “Patent”

An application must issue into a patent before it can be applied in a pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(d) rejection. Ex parte Fujishiro, 199 USPQ 36 (Bd. App. 1977) (“Patenting,” within the meaning of pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(d), does not occur upon laying open of a Japanese utility model application (kokai or kohyo)); Ex parte Links, 184 USPQ 429 (Bd. App. 1974) (German applications, which have not yet been published for opposition, are published in the form of printed documents called Offenlegungsschriften 18 months after filing. These applications are unexamined or in the process of being examined at the time of publication. The Board held that an Offenlegungsschrift is not a patent under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(d) even though some provisional rights are granted. The Board explained that the provisional rights are minimal and do not come into force if the application is withdrawn or refused.).

C.   An Allowed Application Can Be a “Patent” for Purposes of Pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(d) as of the Date Published for Opposition Even Though It Has Not Yet Been Granted as a Patent

An examined application which has been allowed by the examiner and published to allow the public to oppose the grant of a patent has been held to be a “patent” for purposes of rejection under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(d) as of the date of publication for opposition if substantial provisional enforcement rights arise.Ex parte Beik, 161 USPQ 795 (Bd. App. 1968) (This case dealt with examined German applications. After a determination that an application is allowable, the application is published in the form of a printed document called an Auslegeschrift. The publication begins a period of opposition were the public can present evidence showing unpatentability. Provisional patent rights are granted which are substantially the same as those available once the opposition period is over and the patent is granted. The Board found that an Auslegeschrift provides the legal effect of a patent for purposes of rejection under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(d).).

D.   Grant Occurs When Patent Becomes Enforceable

The critical date of a foreign patent as a reference under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(d) is the date the patent becomes enforceable (issued, sealed or granted). In re Monks, 588 F.2d 308, 310, 200 USPQ 129, 131 (CCPA 1978) (British reference became available as prior art on date the patent was “sealed” because as of this date applicant had the right to exclude others from making, using or selling the claimed invention.).

E.   Pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(d) Applies as of Grant Date Even If There Is a Period of Secrecy After Patent Grant

A period of secrecy after granting the patent, as in Belgium and Spain, has been held to have no effect in connection with pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(d). These patents are usable in rejections under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(d) as of the date patent rights are granted. In re Kathawala, 9 F.3d 942, 28 USPQ2d 1789 (Fed. Cir. 1993) (An invention is “patented” for purposes of pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(d) when the patentee’s rights under the patent become fixed. The fact that applicant’s Spanish application was not published until after the U.S. filing date is immaterial since the Spanish patent was granted before U.S. filing.); Gramme Elec. Co. v. Arnoux and Hochhausen Elec. Co., 17 F. 838, 1883 C.D. 418 (S.D.N.Y. 1883) (Rejection made under a predecessor of pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(d)based on an Austrian patent granted an exclusionary right for 1 year but was kept secret, at the option of the patentee, for that period. The court held that the Austrian patent grant date was the relevant date under the statute for purposes of pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(d) but that the patent could not have been used to in a rejection under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(a) or (b).); In re Talbott, 443 F.2d 1397, 170 USPQ 281 (CCPA 1971) (Applicant cannot avoid a pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(d) rejection by exercising an option to keep the subject matter of a German Gebrauchsmuster (petty patent) in secrecy until time of U.S. filing.).

IV.   THE SAME INVENTION MUST BE INVOLVED

  “Same Invention” Means That the Application Claims Could Have Been Presented in the Foreign Patent

Under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(d), the “invention... patented” in the foreign country must be the same as the invention sought to be patented in the U.S. When the foreign patent contains the same claims as the U.S. application, there is no question that “the invention was first patented... in a foreign country.” In re Kathawala, 9 F.3d 942, 945, 28 USPQ2d 1785, 1787 (Fed. Cir. 1993). However, the claims need not be identical or even within the same statutory class. If applicant is granted a foreign patent which fully discloses the invention and which gives applicant a number of different claiming options in the U.S., the reference in pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(d) to “‘invention... patented’ necessarily includes all the disclosed aspects of the invention. Thus, the [pre-AIA] section 102(d) bar applies regardless whether the foreign patent contains claims to less than all aspects of the invention.” 9 F.3d at 946, 28 USPQ2d at 1788. In essence, a pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(d) rejection applies if applicant’s foreign application supports the subject matter of the U.S. claims. Id. at 944, 947, 28 USPQ2d at 1786, 1789 (Applicant was granted a Spanish patent claiming a method of making a composition. The patent disclosed compounds, methods of use and processes of making the compounds. After the Spanish patent was granted, the applicant filed a U.S. application with claims directed to the compound but not the process of making it. The Federal Circuit held that it did not matter that the claims in the U.S. application were directed to the composition instead of the process because the foreign specification would have supported claims to the composition. It was immaterial that the formulations were unpatentable pharmaceutical compositions in Spain.).

2136    Pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e) [R-11.2013]

[Editor Note: This MPEP section is not applicable to applications subject to examination under the first inventor to file (FITF) provisions of the AIA as set forth in35 U.S.C. 100 (note), except for determining eligibilty of SIRs as eligible prior art. See MPEP § 2159 et seq. to determine whether an application is subject to examination under the FITF provisions, and MPEP § 2150 et seq. for examination of applications subject to those provisions.]

Pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102   Conditions for patentability; novelty and loss of right to patent.

A person shall be entitled to a patent unless-

*****

  • (e) the invention was described in — (1) an application for patent, published under section 122(b), by another filed in the United States before the invention by the applicant for patent or (2) a patent granted on an application for patent by another filed in the United States before the invention by the applicant for patent, except that an international application filed under the treaty defined in section 351(a) shall have the effects for the purposes of this subsection of an application filed in the United States only if the international application designated the United States and was published under Article 21(2) of such treaty in the English language.

*****

Pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e) allows the use of certain international application publications and U.S. patent application publications, and certain U.S. patents as prior art under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e) as of their respective U.S. filing dates, including certain international filing dates. The prior art date of a reference underpre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e) may be the international filing date if the international filing date was on or after November 29, 2000, the international application designated the United States, and the international application was published by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) under the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) Article 21(2) in the English language. See MPEP § 706.02(f)(1) for examination guidelines on the application of pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e). References based on international applications that were filed prior to November 29, 2000 are subject to the pre-AIPA version of 35 U.S.C. 102(e) (i.e., the version in force on November 28, 2000). See MPEP § 2136.03 for additional information.

I.    STATUTORY INVENTION REGISTRATIONS (SIRs) ARE ELIGIBLE AS PRIOR ART UNDER 35 U.S.C. 102 and Pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e)

In accordance with former 35 U.S.C. 157(c), a published SIR will be treated the same as a U.S. patent for all defensive purposes, usable as a reference as of its filing date in the same manner as a U.S. patent. A SIR is prior art under all applicable sections of 35 U.S.C. 102 including pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e). See MPEP § 1111.

II.    DEFENSIVE PUBLICATIONS ARE NOT PRIOR ART AS OF THEIR FILING DATE

The Defensive Publication Program, available between April 1968 and May 1985, provided for the voluntary publication of the abstract of the technical disclosure of a pending application under certain conditions. A defensive publication is not a patent or an application publication under 35 U.S.C. 122(b); it is a publication. Therefore, it is prior art only as of its publication date. Ex parte Osmond, 191 USPQ 334 (Bd. App. 1973). See MPEP § 711.06(a) for more information on Defensive Publications.

2136.01   Status of U.S. Application as a Reference [R-11.2013]

[Editor Note: This MPEP section is not applicable to applications subject to examination under the first inventor to file (FITF) provisions of the AIA as set forth in35 U.S.C. 100 (note). See MPEP § 2159 et seq. to determine whether an application is subject to examination under the FITF provisions, and MPEP § 2150 et seq. for examination of applications subject to those provisions.]

I.    WHEN THERE IS NO COMMON ASSIGNEE OR INVENTOR, A U.S. APPLICATION MUST ISSUE AS A PATENT OR BE PUBLISHED AS A SIR OR AS AN APPLICATION PUBLICATION BEFORE IT IS AVAILABLE AS PRIOR ART UNDER Pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e)

In addition to U.S. patents and SIRs, certain U.S. application publications and certain international application publications are also available as prior art underpre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e) as of their effective U.S. filing dates (which will include certain international filing dates). See MPEP § 706.02(a).

II.    WHEN THERE IS A COMMON ASSIGNEE OR INVENTOR, A PROVISIONAL Pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e) REJECTION OVER AN EARLIER FILED UNPUBLISHED APPLICATION CAN BE MADE

Based on the assumption that an application will ripen into a U.S. patent (or into an application publication), it is permissible to provisionally reject a later application over an earlier filed, and unpublished, application under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e) when there is a common assignee or inventor. In re Irish, 433 F.2d 1342, 167 USPQ 764 (CCPA 1970). In addition, a provisional pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e) rejection may be made if the earlier filed copending U.S. application has been published as redacted (37 CFR 1.217) and the subject matter relied upon in the rejection is not supported in the redacted publication of the patent application. Such a provisional rejection “serves to put applicant on notice at the earliest possible time of the possible prior art relationship between copending applications” and gives applicant the fullest opportunity to overcome the rejection by amendment or submission of evidence. In addition, since both applications are pending and usually have the same assignee, more options are available to applicant for overcoming the provisional rejection than if the other application were already issued. Ex parte Bartfeld, 16 USPQ2d 1714 (Bd. Pat. App. & Int. 1990) aff’d on other grounds, 925 F.2d 1450, 17 USPQ2d 1885 (Fed. Cir. 1991). Note that provisional rejections over pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e) are only authorized when there is a common inventor or assignee, otherwise the copending application prior to publication must remain confidential. MPEP § 706.02(f)(2) and MPEP § 706.02(k) discuss the procedures to be used in provisional rejections over pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e) and pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e)/103.

For applications filed on or after November 29, 1999 or pending on or after December 10, 2004, a provisional rejection under 35 U.S.C. 103(a) using prior art under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e) is not proper if the application contains evidence that the application and the prior art reference were owned by the same person, or subject to an obligation of assignment to the same person, at the time the invention was made. The changes to pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e) in the Intellectual Property and High Technology Technical Amendments Act of 2002 (Pub. L. 107-273, 116 Stat. 1758 (2002)) did not affect 35 U.S.C. 103(c) as amended on November 29, 1999. See MPEP § 706.02(l)(1) through § 706.02(l)(3) for information relating to rejections under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 103 and evidence of common ownership.

In addition, certain non-commonly owned references may be disqualified from being applied in a rejection under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 103(a) due to the Cooperative Research and Technology Enhancement Act of 2004 (CREATE Act) (Pub. L. 108-453; 118 Stat. 3596 (2004)), which was enacted on December 10, 2004 and was effective for all patents granted on or after December 10, 2004. The CREATE Act amended pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 103(c) to provide that subject matter developed by another person shall be treated as owned by the same person or subject to an obligation of assignment to the same person for purposes of determining obviousness if certain conditions are met. Pre-AIA 35 U.S.C.103(c), as amended by the CREATE Act, continues to apply only to subject matter which qualifies as prior art under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e), (f) or (g), and which is being relied upon in a rejection under 35 U.S.C. 103. It does not apply to or affect subject matter which is applied in a rejection under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102 or a double patenting rejection (see 37 CFR 1.78(c) and MPEP § 804). In addition, if the subject matter qualifies as prior art under any other subsection of pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102 (e.g., pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(a) or (b)) it will not be disqualified as prior art under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 103(c). See also MPEP § 706.02(l)(1) through § 706.02(l)(3) for information relating to rejections under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 103 and evidence of joint research agreements.

2136.02   Content of the Prior Art Available Against the Claims [R-11.2013]

Editor Note: This MPEP section is not applicable to applications subject to examination under the first inventor to file (FITF) provisions of the AIA as set forth in35 U.S.C. 100 (note). See MPEP § 2159 et seq. to determine whether an application is subject to examination under the FITF provisions, and MPEP § 2150 et seq. for examination of applications subject to those provisions.]

I.    A 35 U.S.C. 102(e) REJECTION MAY RELY ON ANY PART OF THE PATENT OR APPLICATION PUBLICATION DISCLOSURE

Under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e), the entire disclosure of a U.S. patent, a U.S. patent application publication, or an international application publication having an earlier effective U.S. filing date (which will include certain international filing dates) can be relied on to reject the claims. Sun Studs, Inc. v. ATA Equip. Leasing, Inc., 872 F.2d 978, 983, 10 USPQ2d 1338, 1342 (Fed. Cir. 1989). See MPEP § 706.02(a).

II.    REFERENCE MUST ITSELF CONTAIN THE SUBJECT MATTER RELIED ON IN THE REJECTION

When a U.S. patent, a U.S. patent application publication, or an international application publication is used to reject claims under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e), the disclosure relied on in the rejection must be present in the issued patent or application publication. It is the earliest effective U.S. filing date (which will include certain international filing dates) of the U.S. patent or application publication being relied on as the critical reference date and subject matter not included in the patent or application publication itself can only be used when that subject matter becomes public. Portions of the patent application which were canceled are not part of the patent or application publication and thus cannot be relied on in a pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e) rejection over the issued patent or application publication. Ex parte Stalego, 154 USPQ 52 (Bd. App. 1966). Likewise, subject matter which is disclosed in a parent application, but not included in the child continuation-in-part (CIP) cannot be relied on in a pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e) rejection over the issued or published CIP. In re Lund, 376 F.2d 982, 153 USPQ 625 (CCPA 1967) (The examiner made a pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e) rejection over an issued U.S. patent which was a continuation-in-part (CIP). The parent application of the U.S. patent reference contained an example II which was not carried over to the CIP. The court held that the subject matter embodied in the canceled example II could not be relied on as of either parent or child filing date. Thus, the use of example II subject matter to reject the claims under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e) was improper.).

III.    THE SUPREME COURT HAS AUTHORIZED 35 U.S.C. 103 REJECTIONS BASED ON Pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e)

U.S. patents may be used as of their filing dates to show that the claimed subject matter is anticipated or obvious. Obviousness can be shown by combining other prior art with the U.S. patent reference in a 35 U.S.C. 103 rejection. Hazeltine Research v. Brenner, 382 U.S. 252, 147 USPQ 429 (1965). Similarly, certain U.S. application publications and certain international application publications may also be used as of their earliest effective U.S. filing dates (which will include certain international filing dates) to show that the claimed subject matter would have been anticipated or obvious.

See MPEP § 706.02(1)(1) through § 706.02(l)(3) for additional information on rejections under 35 U.S.C. 103 and evidence of common ownership or a joint research agreement.

2136.03   Critical Reference Date [R-11.2013]

[Editor Note: This MPEP section is not applicable to applications subject to examination under the first inventor to file (FITF) provisions of the AIA as set forth in35 U.S.C. 100 (note). See MPEP § 2159 et seq. to determine whether an application is subject to examination under the FITF provisions, and MPEP § 2150 et seq. for examination of applications subject to those provisions.]

I.   FOREIGN PRIORITY DATE

  Reference’s Foreign Priority Date Under 35 U.S.C. 119(a)-(d) and (f) Cannot Be Used as the Pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e) Reference Date

Pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e) is explicitly limited to certain references “filed in the United States before the invention thereof by the applicant” (emphasis added). Foreign applications’ filing dates that are claimed (via 35 U.S.C. 119(a)–(d), (f) or 35 U.S.C. 365(a)) in applications, which have been published as U.S. or WIPO application publications or patented in the U.S., may not be used as pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e) dates for prior art purposes. This includes international filing dates claimed as foreign priority dates under 35 U.S.C. 365(a).Therefore, the foreign priority date of the reference under 35 U.S.C. 119(a)-(d), (f), and 35 U.S.C. 365(a) cannot be used to antedate the application filing date. In contrast, applicant may be able to overcome the pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e) rejection by proving he or she is entitled to his or her own 35 U.S.C. 119 priority date which is earlier than the reference’s U.S. filing date. In re Hilmer, 359 F.2d 859, 149 USPQ 480 (CCPA 1966) (Hilmer I) (Applicant filed an application with a right of priority to a German application. The examiner rejected the claims over a U.S. patent to Habicht based on its Swiss priority date. The U.S. filing date of Habicht was later than the application’s German priority date. The court held that the reference’s Swiss priority date could not be relied on in a pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e) rejection. Because the U.S. filing date of Habicht was later than the earliest effective filing date (German priority date) of the application, the rejection was reversed.). See MPEP § 201.15 for information on procedures to be followed in considering applicant's right of priority.

Note that certain international application (PCT) filings are considered to be “filings in the United States” for purposes of applying an application publication as prior art. See MPEP § 706.02(a).

II.   INTERNATIONAL (PCT) APPLICATIONS; INTERNATIONAL APPLICATION PUBLICATIONS

A.   International Application Filed On or After November 29, 2000

If the potential reference resulted from, or claimed the benefit of, an international application, the following must be determined:

  • (A) If the international application meets the following three conditions:
    • (1) an international filing date on or after November 29, 2000;
    • (2) designated the United States; and
    • (3) published under PCT Article 21(2) in English,

    the international filing date is a U.S. filing date for prior art purposes under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e). If such an international application properly claims benefit to an earlier-filed U.S. or international application, or priority to an earlier-filed U.S. provisional application, apply the reference under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e) as of the earlier filing date, assuming all the conditions of pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e) and 35 U.S.C. 119(e)120, or 365(c) are met. In addition, the subject matter relied upon in the rejection must be disclosed in the earlier-filed application in compliance with35 U.S.C. 112(a) /pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 112, first paragraph, in order to give that subject matter the benefit of the earlier filing date under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e). Note, where the earlier application is an international application, the earlier international application must satisfy the same three conditions (i.e., filed on or after November 29, 2000, designated the U.S., and had been published in English under PCT Article 21(2)) for the earlier international filing date to be a U.S. filing date for prior art purposes under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C.102(e).

  • (B) If the international application was filed on or after November 29, 2000, but did not designate the United States or was not published in English underPCT Article 21(2), do not treat the international filing date as a U.S. filing date. In this situation, do not apply the reference as of its international filing date, its date of completion of the 35 U.S.C. 371(c)(1), (2) and (4) requirements, or any earlier filing date to which such an international application claims benefit or priority. The reference may be applied under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(a) or (b) as of its publication date, or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e) as of any later U.S. filing date of an application that properly claimed the benefit of the international application (if applicable).

B.   International Application Filed Before November 29, 2000

References based on international applications that were filed prior to November 29, 2000 are subject to the pre-AIPA version of 35 U.S.C. 102(e) (i.e., the version in force on November 28, 2000) as set forth below.

Former 35 U.S.C. 102  Conditions for patentability; novelty and loss of right to patent (as in force on November 28, 2000)

A person shall be entitled to a patent unless-

*****

  • (e) the invention was described in a patent granted on an application for patent by another filed in the United States before the invention thereof by the applicant for patent, or on an international application by another who has fulfilled the requirements of paragraphs (1), (2), and (4) of section 371(c) of this title before the invention thereof by the applicant for patent.

*****

If an international application has an international filing date prior to November 29, 2000, the reference should be applied under the provisions of 35 U.S.C. 102 and 374 as in force on November 28, 2000 (prior to the AIPA amendments):

  • (1) For U.S. patents, apply the reference under 35 U.S.C. 102(e) as in force on November 28, 2000 as of the earlier of the date of completion of the requirements of 35 U.S.C. 371(c)(1), (2) and (4) or the filing date of the later-filed U.S. application that claimed the benefit of the international application;
  • (2) For U.S. application publications and WIPO publications directly resulting from international applications under PCT Article 21(2), never apply these references under 35 U.S.C. 102(e) as in force on November 28, 2000. These references may be applied as of their publication dates under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(a) or (b);
  • (3) For U.S. application publications of applications that claim the benefit under 35 U.S.C. 120 or 365(c) of an international application filed prior to November 29, 2000, apply the reference under 35 U.S.C. 102(e) as in force on November 28, 2000 as of the actual filing date of the later-filed U.S. application that claimed the benefit of the international application.

Examiners should be aware that although a publication of, or a U.S. patent issued from, an international application may not be available as prior art under former 35 U.S.C. 102(e) as in force on November 28, 2000 or under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e), the corresponding WIPO publication of an international application may have an earlier  pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(a) or (b) date.

III.   PRIORITY FROM PROVISIONAL APPLICATION UNDER 35 U.S.C. 119(e)

The pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e) critical reference date of a U.S. patent or U.S. application publications and certain international application publications entitled to the benefit of the filing date of a provisional application under 35 U.S.C. 119(e) is the filing date of the provisional application with certain exceptions if the provisional application(s) properly supports the subject matter relied upon to make the rejection in compliance with 35 U.S.C 112(a)pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 112, first paragraph. See MPEP § 706.02(f)(1), examples 5 to 9. Note that international applications which (1) were filed prior to November 29, 2000, or (2) did not designate the U.S., or (3) were not published in English under PCT Article 21(2) by WIPO, may not be used to reach back (bridge) to an earlier filing date through a priority or benefit claim for prior art purposes under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e).

IV.   PARENT’S FILING DATE WHEN REFERENCE IS A CONTINUATION-IN-PART OF THE PARENT

  Filing Date of U.S. Parent Application Can Only Be Used as the Pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e) Date If It Supports the Subject Matter Relied Upon in the Child

For prior art purposes, a U.S. patent or patent application publication that claims the benefit of an earlier filing date under 35 U.S.C. 120 of a prior nonprovisional application would be accorded the earlier filing date as its prior art date under pre-AIA  35 U.S.C. 102(e), provided the earlier-filed application properly supports the subject matter relied upon in any rejection in compliance with 35 U.S.C. 112(a) or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C.  112, first paragraph. In other words, the subject matter used in the rejection must be disclosed in the earlier-filed application in compliance with 35 U.S.C. 112(a) or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 112, first paragraph, in order for that subject matter to be entitled to the earlier filing date under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e).

See also MPEP § 706.02(f)(1), examples 2 and 5 to 9.

V.   DATE OF CONCEPTION OR REDUCTION TO PRACTICE

  Pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e) Reference Date Is the Filing Date, Not Date of Inventor’s Conception or Reduction to Practice

If a reference available under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e) discloses, but does not claim the subject matter of the claims being examined or an obvious variant, the reference is not prior art under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(g). Furthermore, the reference does not qualify as “prior art” under 35 U.S.C. 102 as of a date earlier than its filing date based upon any prior inventive activity that is disclosed in the U.S. patent or U.S. patent application publication in the absence of evidence that the subject matter was actually reduced to practice in this country on an earlier date. See MPEP § 2138. When the cases are not in interference, the effective date of the reference as prior art is its filing date in the United States (which will include certain international filing dates), as stated in pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e). SeeMPEP § 706.02(a). The date that the prior art subject matter was conceived or reduced to practice is of no importance when pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(g) is not at issue. Sun Studs, Inc. v. ATA Equip. Leasing, Inc., 872 F.2d 978, 983, 10 USPQ2d 1338, 1342 (Fed. Cir. 1989) (The defendant sought to invalidate patents issued to Mason and Sohn assigned to Sun Studs. The earliest of these patents issued in June 1973. A U.S. patent to Mouat was found which issued in March 1976 and which disclosed the invention of Mason and Sohn. While the patent to Mouat issued after the Mason and Sohn patents, it was filed 7 months earlier than the earliest of the Mason and Sohn patents. Sun Studs submitted affidavits showing conception in 1969 and diligence to the constructive reduction to practice and therefore antedated the patent to Mouat. The defendant sought to show that Mouat conceived the invention in 1966. The court held that conception of the subject matter of the reference only becomes an issue when the claims of the conflicting patents cover inventions which are the same or obvious over one another. When pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e) applies but not pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(g), the filing date of the prior art patent is the earliest date that can be used to reject or invalidate claims.).

2136.04   Different Inventive Entity; Meaning of “By Another” [R-11.2013]

[Editor Note: This MPEP section is not applicable to applications subject to examination under the first inventor to file (FITF) provisions of the AIA as set forth in35 U.S.C. 100 (note). See MPEP § 2159 et seq. to determine whether an application is subject to examination under the FITF provisions, and MPEP § 2150 et seq. for examination of applications subject to those provisions.]

I.   IF THERE IS ANY DIFFERENCE IN THE INVENTIVE ENTITY, THE REFERENCE IS “BY ANOTHER”

“Another” means other than applicants, In re Land, 368 F.2d 866, 151 USPQ 621 (CCPA 1966), in other words, a different inventive entity. The inventive entity is different if not all inventors are the same. The fact that the application and reference have one or more inventors in common is immaterial. Ex parte DesOrmeaux, 25 USPQ2d 2040 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1992) (The examiner made a pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e) rejection based on an issued U.S. patent to three inventors. The rejected application was a continuation-in-part of the issued parent with an extra inventor. The Board found that the patent was “by another” and thus could be used in a pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e)/103 rejection of the application.).

II.   A DIFFERENT INVENTIVE ENTITY IS PRIMA FACIE EVIDENCE THAT THE REFERENCE IS “BY ANOTHER”

As stated by the House and Senate reports on the bills enacting section pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e) as part of the 1952 Patent Act, this subsection of 102 codifies the Milburn rule of Milburn v. Davis-Bournonville, 270 U.S. 390 (1926). The Milburn rule authorized the use of a U.S. patent containing a disclosure of the invention as a reference against a later filed application as of the U.S. patent filing date. The existence of an earlier filed U.S. application containing the subject matter claimed in the application being examined indicates that applicant was not the first inventor. Therefore, a U.S. patent, a U.S. patent application publication or international application publication, by a different inventive entity, whether or not the application shares some inventors in common with the patent, is prima facie evidence that the invention was made “by another” as set forth in pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e)In re Mathews, 408 F.2d 1393, 161 USPQ 276 (CCPA 1969); In re Facius, 408 F.2d 1396, 161 USPQ 294 (CCPA 1969); Ex parte DesOrmeaux, 25 USPQ2d 2040 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1992). See MPEP § 706.02(b) and § 2136.05 for discussion of methods of overcoming pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e) rejections.

2136.05   Overcoming a Rejection Under Pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e) [R-11.2013]

[Editor Note: This MPEP section is not applicable to applications subject to examination under the first inventor to file (FITF) provisions of the AIA as set forth in35 U.S.C. 100 (note). See MPEP § 2159 et seq. to determine whether an application is subject to examination under the FITF provisions, and MPEP § 2150 et seq. for examination of applications subject to those provisions.]

 

I.   A Pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e) REJECTION CAN BE OVERCOME BY ANTEDATING THE FILING DATE OR SHOWING THAT DISCLOSURE RELIED ON IS APPLICANT'S OWN WORK

When a prior U.S. patent, U.S. patent application publication, or international application publication is not a statutory bar, a pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e) rejection can be overcome by antedating the filing date (see MPEP § 2136.03 regarding critical reference date of pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e) prior art) of the reference by submitting an affidavit or declaration under 37 CFR 1.131 or by submitting an affidavit or declaration under 37 CFR 1.132 establishing that the relevant disclosure is applicant’s own work. In re Mathews, 408 F.2d 1393, 161 USPQ 276 (CCPA 1969). The filing date can also be antedated by applicant’s earlier foreign priority application or provisional application if 35 U.S.C. 119 is met and the foreign application or provisional application “supports” (conforms to35 U.S.C. 112(a) or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 112, first paragraph, requirements) all the claims of the U.S. application. In re Gosteli,, 872 F.2d 1008, 10 USPQ2d 1614 (Fed. Cir. 1989). But a prior application which was not copending with the application at issue cannot be used to antedate a reference. In re Costello, 717 F.2d 1346, 219 USPQ 389 (Fed. Cir. 1983). A terminal disclaimer also does not overcome a pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e) rejection. See, e.g., In re Bartfeld, 925 F.2d 1415, 17 USPQ2d 1885 (Fed. Cir. 1991).

See MPEP § 706.02(b) for a list of methods which can be used to overcome rejections based on pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e) rejections. For information on the required contents of a 37 CFR 1.131 affidavit or declaration and the situations in which such affidavits and declarations are permitted see MPEP § 715. An affidavit or declaration is not appropriate if the reference describes applicant’s own work. In this case, applicant must submit an affidavit or declaration under 37 CFR 1.132. See the next subsection for more information concerning the requirements of 37 CFR 1.132 affidavits and declarations.

II.   A Pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e) REJECTION CAN BE OVERCOME BY SHOWING THE REFERENCE IS DESCRIBING APPLICANT’S OWN WORK

“The fact that an application has named a different inventive entity than a patent does not necessarily make that patent prior art.” Applied Materials Inc. v. Gemini Research Corp., 835 F.2d 279, 15 USPQ2d 1816 (Fed. Cir. 1988). The issue turns on what the evidence of record shows as to who invented the subject matter. In re Whittle, 454 F.2d 1193, 1195, 172 USPQ 535, 537 (CCPA 1972). In fact, even if applicant’s work was publicly disclosed prior to his or her application, applicant’s own work may not be used against him or her in an application subject to pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102 unless there is a time bar under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(b)In re DeBaun, 687 F.2d 459, 214 USPQ 933 (CCPA 1982) (citing In re Katz, 687 F.2d 450, 215 USPQ 14 (CCPA 1982)). Therefore, when the unclaimed subject matter of a reference is applicant’s own invention, applicant may overcome a prima facie case based on the patent, U.S. patent application publication, or international application publication, by showing that the disclosure is a description of applicant’s own previous work. Such a showing can be made by proving that the patentee, or the inventor(s) of the U.S. patent application publication or the international application publication, was associated with applicant (e.g. worked for the same company) and learned of applicant’s invention from applicant. In re Mathews, 408 F.2d 1393, 161 USPQ 276 (CCPA 1969). In the situation where one application is first filed by inventor X and then a later application is filed by X & Y, it must be proven that the joint invention was made first, was thereafter described in the sole applicant’s patent, or was thereafter described in the sole applicant’s U.S. patent application publication or international application publication, and then the joint application was filed. In re Land, 368 F.2d 866, 151 USPQ 621 (CCPA 1966).

In In re Land, separate U.S. patents to Rogers and to Land were used to reject a joint application to Rogers and Land under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e)/103. The inventors worked for the same company (Polaroid) and in the same laboratory. All the patents flowed from the same research. In addition, the patent applications were prepared by the same attorneys, were interrelated and contained cross-references to each other. The court affirmed the rejection because (1) the inventive entities of the patents (one to Rogers and one to Land) were different from the inventive entity of the joint application (Rogers and Land) and (2) Land and Rogers brought their knowledge of their individual work with them when they made the joint invention. There was no indication that the portions of the references relied on disclosed anything they did jointly. Neither was there any showing that what they did jointly was done before the filing of the reference patent applications.

See also In re Carreira, 532 F.2d 1356, 189 USPQ 461 (CCPA 1976) (The examiner rejected claims to a joint application to Carreira, Kyrakakis, Solodar, and Labana under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e) and 103 in view of a U.S. patent issued to Tulagin and Carreira or a patent issued to Clark. The applicants submitted declarations under 37 CFR 1.132 by Tulagin and Clark in which each declarant stated he was “not the inventor of the use of compounds having a hydroxyl group in a position ortho to an azo linkage.” The court held that these statements were vague and inconclusive because the declarants did not disclose the use of this generic compound but rather species of this generic compound in their patents and it was the species which met the claims. The declaration that each did not invent the use of the generic compound does not establish that Tulagin and Clark did not invent the use of the species.)

MPEP § 715.01(a)§ 715.01(c), and § 716.10 set forth more information pertaining to the contents and uses of affidavits and declarations under 37 CFR 1.132for antedating references. See MPEP § 706.02(l)(1) for information pertaining to rejections under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e)/103 and the applicability of pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 103(c).

III.   APPLICANT NEED NOT SHOW DILIGENCE OR REDUCTION TO PRACTICE WHEN THE SUBJECT MATTER DISCLOSED IN THE REFERENCE IS APPLICANT’S OWN WORK

When the reference reflects applicant’s own work, applicant need not prove diligence or reduction to practice to establish that he or she invented the subject matter disclosed in the reference. A showing that the reference disclosure arose from applicant’s work coupled with a showing of conception by the applicant before the filing date of the reference will overcome the pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e) rejection. The showing can be made by submission of an affidavit by the inventor under 37 CFR 1.132. The other patentees need not submit an affidavit disclaiming inventorship, but, if submitted, a disclaimer by all other patentees should be considered by the examiner. In re DeBaun, 687 F.2d 459, 214 USPQ 933 (CCPA 1982) (Declaration submitted by DeBaun stated that he was the inventor of subject matter disclosed in the U.S. patent reference of DeBaun and Noll. Exhibits were attached to the declaration showing conception and included drawings DeBaun had prepared and given to counsel for purposes of preparing the application which issued as the reference patent. The court held that, even though the evidence was not sufficient to antedate the prior art patent under 37 CFR 1.131, diligence and/or reduction to practice was not required to show DeBaun invented the subject matter. Declarant’s statement that he conceived the invention first was enough to overcome the pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e)rejection.).

IV.   CLAIMING OF INDIVIDUAL ELEMENTS OR SUBCOMBINATIONS IN A COMBINATION CLAIM OF THE REFERENCE DOES NOT ITSELF ESTABLISH THAT THE PATENTEE INVENTED THOSE ELEMENTS

The existence of combination claims in a reference is not evidence that the patentee invented the individual elements or subcombinations included if the elements and subcombinations are not separately claimed apart from the combination. In re DeBaun, 687 F.2d 459, 214 USPQ 933 (CCPA 1982) (citing In re Facius, 408 F.2d 1396, 1406, 161 USPQ 294, 301 (CCPA 1969)).

See also In re Mathews, 408 F.2d 1393, 161 USPQ 276 (CCPA 1969) (On September 15, 1961, Dewey filed an application disclosing and claiming a time delay protective device for an electric circuit. In disclosing the invention, Dewey completely described, but did not claim, a “gating means 19” invented by Mathews which was usable in the protective device. Dewey and Mathews were coworkers at General Electric Company, the assignee. Mathews filed his application on March 7, 1963, before the Dewey patent issued but almost 18 months after its filing. The Mathews application disclosed that “one illustration of a circuit embodying the present invention is shown in copending patent application S.N. 138,476-Dewey.” The examiner used Dewey to reject all the Mathews claims under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e). In response, Mathews submitted an affidavit by Dewey under 37 CFR 1.132. In the affidavit, Dewey stated that he did not invent the gating means 19 but had learned of the gating means through Mathews and that GE attorneys had advised that the gating means be disclosed in Dewey’s application to comply with 35 U.S.C. 112, first paragraph. The examiner argued that the only way to overcome a pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e) rejection was by submitting an affidavit or declaration under 37 CFR 1.131 to antedate the filing date of the reference. The court reversed the rejection, holding that the totality of the evidence on record showed that Dewey derived his knowledge from Mathews who is “the original, first and sole inventor.”).

2137    Pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(f) [R-11.2013]

[Editor Note: This MPEP section is not applicable to applications subject to examination under the first inventor to file (FITF) provisions of the AIA as set forth in35 U.S.C. 100 (note). See MPEP § 2159 et seq. to determine whether an application is subject to examination under the FITF provisions, and MPEP § 2150 et seq. for examination of applications subject to those provisions. For information pertaining to derivation proceedings see 37 CFR 42.401.]

Pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102   Conditions for patentability; novelty and loss of right to patent.

A person shall be entitled to a patent unless -

*****

  • (f) he did not himself invent the subject matter sought to be patented.

*****

Where it can be shown that an applicant “derived” an invention from another, a rejection under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(f) is proper. Ex parte Kusko, 215 USPQ 972, 974 (Bd. App. 1981) (“most, if not all, determinations under section 102(f) involve the question of whether one party derived an invention from another”).

While derivation will bar the issuance of a patent to the deriver, a disclosure by the deriver, absent a bar under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(b), will not bar the issuance of a patent to the party from which the subject matter was derived. In re Costello, 717 F.2d 1346, 1349, 219 USPQ 389, 390-91 (Fed. Cir. 1983) (“[a] prior art reference that is not a statutory bar may be overcome [in an application subject to pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102] by two generally recognized methods”: an affidavit under 37 CFR 1.131, or an affidavit under 37 CFR 1.132 “showing that the relevant disclosure is a description of the applicant’s own work”); In re Facius, 408 F.2d 1396, 1407, 161 USPQ 294, 302 (CCPA 1969) (subject matter incorporated into a patent that was brought to the attention of the patentee by applicant, and hence derived by the patentee from the applicant, is available for use against applicant unless applicant had actually invented the subject matter placed in the patent).

Where there is a published article identifying the authorship (MPEP § 715.01(c)) or a patent identifying the inventorship (MPEP § 715.01(a)) that discloses subject matter being claimed in an application undergoing examination, the designation of authorship or inventorship does not raise a presumption of inventorship with respect to the subject matter disclosed in the article or with respect to the subject matter disclosed but not claimed in the patent so as to justify a rejection under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(f). However, it is incumbent upon the inventors named in the application, in reply to an inquiry regarding the appropriate inventorship under pre-AIA subsection (f), or to rebut a rejection under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(a) or (e), to provide a satisfactory showing by way of affidavit under 37 CFR 1.132 that the inventorship of the application is correct in that the reference discloses subject matter invented by the applicant rather than derived from the author or patentee notwithstanding the authorship of the article or the inventorship of the patent. In re Katz, 687 F.2d 450, 455, 215 USPQ 14, 18 (CCPA 1982) (inquiry is appropriate to clarify any ambiguity created by an article regarding inventorship, and it is then incumbent upon the applicant to provide “a satisfactory showing that would lead to a reasonable conclusion that [applicant] is the…inventor” of the subject matter disclosed in the article and claimed in the application).

I.   DERIVATION REQUIRES COMPLETE CONCEPTION BY ANOTHER AND COMMUNICATION TO THE ALLEGED DERIVER

“The mere fact that a claim recites the use of various components, each of which can be argumentatively assumed to be old, does not provide a proper basis for a rejection under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(f).” Ex parte Billottet, 192 USPQ 413, 415 (Bd. App. 1976). Derivation requires complete conception by another and communication of that conception by any means to the party charged with derivation prior to any date on which it can be shown that the one charged with derivation possessed knowledge of the invention. Kilbey v. Thiele, 199 USPQ 290, 294 (Bd. Pat. Inter. 1978).

See also Price v. Symsek, 988 F.2d 1187, 1190, 26 USPQ2d 1031, 1033 (Fed. Cir. 1993); Hedgewick v. Akers, 497 F.2d 905, 908, 182 USPQ 167, 169 (CCPA 1974). “Communication of a complete conception must be sufficient to enable one of ordinary skill in the art to construct and successfully operate the invention.”Hedgewick, 497 F.2d at 908, 182 USPQ at 169. See also Gambro Lundia AB v. Baxter Healthcare Corp., 110 F.3d 1573, 1577, 42 USPQ2d 1378, 1383 (Fed. Cir. 1997) (Issue in proving derivation is “whether the communication enabled one of ordinary skill in the art to make the patented invention.”).

II.   PARTY ALLEGING DERIVATION DOES NOT HAVE TO PROVE AN ACTUAL REDUCTION TO PRACTICE, DERIVATION OF PUBLIC KNOWLEDGE, OR DERIVATION IN THIS COUNTRY

The party alleging derivation “need not prove an actual reduction to practice in order to show derivation.” Scott v. Brandenburger, 216 USPQ 326, 327 (Bd. App. 1982). Furthermore, the application of subsection (f) is not limited to public knowledge derived from another, and “the site of derivation need not be in this country to bar a deriver from patenting the subject matter.” Ex parte Andresen, 212 USPQ 100, 102 (Bd. App. 1981).

III.   DERIVATION DISTINGUISHED FROM PRIORITY OF INVENTION

Although derivation and priority of invention both focus on inventorship, derivation addresses originality (i.e., who invented the subject matter), whereas priority focuses on which party first invented the subject matter. Price v. Symsek, 988 F.2d 1187, 1190, 26 USPQ2d 1031, 1033 (Fed. Cir. 1993).

IV.   Pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(f) MAY APPLY WHERE Pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(a) AND Pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e) ARE NOT AVAILABLE STATUTORY GROUNDS FOR REJECTION

Pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(f) does not require an inquiry into the relative dates of a reference and the application, and therefore may be applicable where pre-AIA subsections (a) and (e) are not available for references having an effective date subsequent to the effective date of the application being examined. However for a reference having a date later than the date of the application some evidence may exist that the subject matter of the reference was derived from the applicant in view of the relative dates. Ex parte Kusko, 215 USPQ 972, 974 (Bd. App. 1981) (The relative dates of the events are important in determining derivation; a publication dated more than a year after applicant’s filing date that merely lists as literary coauthors individuals other than applicant is not the strong evidence needed to rebut a declaration by the applicant that he is the sole inventor.).

2137.01   Inventorship [R-11.2013]

The requirements that the applicant for a patent in an application filed before September 16, 2012 be the inventor, and that the inventors be identified in applications filed on or after September 16, 2012, are characteristics of U.S. patent law not generally shared by other countries. Consequently, foreign applicants may misunderstand U.S. law regarding naming of the actual inventors causing an error in the inventorship of a U.S. application that may claim priority to a previous foreign application under 35 U.S.C. 119. A request under 37 CFR 1.48 is required to correct any error in naming the inventors in the U.S. application as filed. See MPEP § 201.03. Foreign applicants may need to be reminded of the requirement for the same inventor or at least one common joint inventor between a U.S. application and a 35 U.S.C. 119 priority application. See MPEP § 213.02, subsection II.

If a determination is made that the inventive entity named in a U.S. application is not correct, such as when a request under 37 CFR 1.48(a) is not granted or is not entered for technical reasons, but the admission therein regarding the error in inventorship is uncontroverted, a rejection should be made on this basis. For applications subject to the first inventor to file provisions of the AIA (see 35 U.S.C. 100 (note) and MPEP § 2159 et seq.), the claims should be rejected under 35 U.S.C. 101 and 35 U.S.C. 115 for failing to set forth the correct inventorship (see MPEP § 2157); for applications not subject to the first inventor to file provisions, the claims should be rejected under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(f).

I.   NAMING INVENTORSHIP

The inventor, or each individual who is a joint inventor of a claimed invention, in an application for patent (other than a provisional application) must execute an oath or declaration directed to the application, except as provided for in 37 CFR 1.64. See MPEP § 602.01(a) for the requirements of an inventor’s oath or declaration in an application filed on or after September 16, 2012. See MPEP § 602.01(b) for the requirements of an original oath or declaration in an application filed before September 16, 2012.

For applications filed before September 16, 2012, pre-AIA 37 CFR 1.41(a)(1) defines the inventorship of a nonprovisional application as that inventorship set forth in the oath or declaration filed to comply with the requirements of pre-AIA 37 CFR 1.63, except as otherwise provided. Thus the party or parties executing an oath or declaration under pre-AIA 37 CFR 1.63 are presumed to be the inventors. Driscoll v. Cebalo, 5 USPQ2d 1477, 1481 (Bd. Pat. Inter. 1982); In re DeBaun, 687 F.2d 459, 463, 214 USPQ 933, 936 (CCPA 1982) (The inventor of an element, per se, and the inventor of that element as used in a combination may differ. “The existence of combination claims does not evidence inventorship by the patentee of the individual elements or subcombinations thereof if the latter are not separately claimed apart from the combination.” (quoting In re Facius, 408 F.2d 1396, 1406, 161 USPQ 294, 301 (CCPA 1969) (emphasis in original)); Brader v. Schaeffer, 193 USPQ 627, 631 (Bd. Pat. Inter. 1976) (in regard to an inventorship correction: “[a]s between inventors their word is normally taken as to who are the actual inventors” when there is no disagreement).

II.   AN INVENTOR MUST CONTRIBUTE TO THE CONCEPTION OF THE INVENTION

The definition for inventorship can be simply stated: “The threshold question in determining inventorship is who conceived the invention. Unless a person contributes to the conception of the invention, he is not an inventor. … Insofar as defining an inventor is concerned, reduction to practice, per se, is irrelevant [except for simultaneous conception and reduction to practice, Fiers v. Revel, 984 F.2d 1164, 1168, 25 USPQ2d 1601, 1604-05 (Fed. Cir. 1993)]. One must contribute to the conception to be an inventor.” In re Hardee, 223 USPQ 1122, 1123 (Comm’r Pat. 1984). See also Board of Education ex rel. Board of Trustees of Florida State Univ. v. American Bioscience Inc., 333 F.3d 1330, 1340, 67 USPQ2d 1252, 1259 (Fed. Cir. 2003) (“Invention requires conception.” With regard to the inventorship of chemical compounds, an inventor must have a conception of the specific compounds being claimed. “[G]eneral knowledge regarding the anticipated biological properties of groups of complex chemical compounds is insufficient to confer inventorship status with respect to specifically claimed compounds.”); Ex parte Smernoff, 215 USPQ 545, 547 (Bd. App. 1982) (“one who suggests an idea of a result to be accomplished, rather than the means of accomplishing it, is not an coinventor”). See MPEP § 2138.04 - § 2138.05 for a discussion of what evidence is required to establish conception or reduction to practice.

III.   AS LONG AS THE INVENTOR MAINTAINS INTELLECTUAL DOMINATION OVER MAKING THE INVENTION, IDEAS, SUGGESTIONS, AND MATERIALS MAY BE ADOPTED FROM OTHERS

“In arriving at … conception [the inventor] may consider and adopt ideas and materials derived from many sources … [such as] a suggestion from an employee, or hired consultant … so long as he maintains intellectual domination of the work of making the invention down to the successful testing, selecting or rejecting as he goes…even if such suggestion [or material] proves to be the key that unlocks his problem.” Morse v. Porter, 155 USPQ 280, 283 (Bd. Pat. Inter. 1965). See also New England Braiding Co. v. A.W. Chesterton Co., 970 F.2d 878, 883, 23 USPQ2d 1622, 1626 (Fed. Cir. 1992) (Adoption of the ideas and materials from another can become a derivation.).

IV.   THE INVENTOR IS NOT REQUIRED TO REDUCE THE INVENTION TO PRACTICE

Difficulties arise in separating members of a team effort, where each member of the team has contributed something, into those members that actually contributed to the conception of the invention, such as the physical structure or operative steps, from those members that merely acted under the direction and supervision of the conceivers. Fritsch v. Lin, 21 USPQ2d 1737, 1739 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1991) (The inventor “took no part in developing the procedures…for expressing the EPO gene in mammalian host cells and isolating the resulting EPO product.” However, “it is not essential for the inventor to be personally involved in carrying out process steps…where implementation of those steps does not require the exercise of inventive skill.”); In re DeBaun, 687 F.2d 459, 463, 214 USPQ 933, 936 (CCPA 1982) (“there is no requirement that the inventor be the one to reduce the invention to practice so long as the reduction to practice was done on his behalf”).

See also Mattor v. Coolegem, 530 F.2d 1391, 1395, 189 USPQ 201, 204 (CCPA 1976) (one following oral instructions is viewed as merely a technician); Tucker v. Naito, 188 USPQ 260, 263 (Bd. Pat. Inter. 1975) (inventors need not “personally construct and test their invention”); Davis v. Carrier, 81 F.2d 250, 252, 28 USPQ 227, 229 (CCPA 1936) (noninventor’s work was merely that of a skilled mechanic carrying out the details of a plan devised by another).

V.   REQUIREMENTS FOR JOINT INVENTORSHIP

The inventive entity for a particular application is based on some contribution to at least one of the claims made by each of the named inventors. “Inventors may apply for a patent jointly even though (1) they did not physically work together or at the same time, (2) each did not make the same type or amount of contribution, or (3) each did not make a contribution to the subject matter of every claim of the patent.” 35 U.S.C. 116. “[T]he statute neither states nor implies that two inventors can be ‘joint inventors’ if they have had no contact whatsoever and are completely unaware of each other's work.” What is required is some “quantum of collaboration or connection.” In other words, “[f]or persons to be joint inventors under Section 116, there must be some element of joint behavior, such as collaboration or working under common direction, one inventor seeing a relevant report and building upon it or hearing another’s suggestion at a meeting.” Kimberly-Clark Corp. v. Procter & Gamble Distrib. Co., 973 F.2d 911, 916-17, 23 USPQ2d 1921, 1925-26 (Fed. Cir. 1992); Moler v. Purdy, 131 USPQ 276, 279 (Bd. Pat. Inter. 1960) (“it is not necessary that the inventive concept come to both [joint inventors] at the same time”).

Each joint inventor must generally contribute to the conception of the invention. A coinventor need not make a contribution to every claim of a patent. A contribution to one claim is enough. “The contributor of any disclosed means of a means-plus-function claim element is a joint inventor as to that claim, unless one asserting sole inventorship can show that the contribution of that means was simply a reduction to practice of the sole inventor’s broader concept.” Ethicon Inc. v. United States Surgical Corp., 135 F.3d 1456, 1460-63, 45 USPQ2d 1545, 1548-1551 (Fed. Cir. 1998) (The electronics technician who contributed to one of the two alternative structures in the specification to define “the means for detaining” in a claim limitation was held to be a joint inventor.).

2137.02   Applicability of Pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 103(c) [R-11.2013]

[Editor Note: This MPEP section is not applicable to applications subject to examination under the first inventor to file (FITF) provisions of the AIA as set forth in35 U.S.C. 100 (note). See MPEP § 2159 et seq. to determine whether an application is subject to examination under the FITF provisions, and MPEP § 2150 et seq. for examination of applications subject to those provisions.]

Pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 103(c) states that subsection (f) of pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102 will not preclude patentability where subject matter developed by another person, that would otherwise qualify under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(f), and the claimed invention of an application under examination were owned by the same person, subject to an obligation of assignment to the same person, or involved in a joint research agreement, which meets the requirements of pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 103(c)(2) and (c)(3), at the time the invention was made. See MPEP § 706.02(l) and § 2146.

Inventorship is generally “by another” where there are different inventive entities with at least one inventor in common. For case law relating to inventorship by “another” involving different inventive entities with at least one inventor in common see Ex parte DesOrmeaux, 25 USPQ2d 2040 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1992) (the presence of a common inventor in a reference patent and a pending application does not preclude the determination that the reference inventive entity is to “another” within the meaning of [pre-AIA] 35 U.S.C. 102(e)) and the discussion of prior art available under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e) in MPEP § 2136.04.

2138    Pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(g) [R-11.2013]

[Editor Note: This MPEP section has limited applicability to applications subject to examination under the first inventor to file (FITF) provisions of the AIA as set forth in 35 U.S.C. 100 (note). See MPEP § 2159 et seq. to determine whether an application is subject to examination under the FITF provisions, MPEP § 2159.03 for the conditions under which this section applies to an AIA application, and MPEP § 2150 et seq. for examination of applications subject to those provisions.]

Pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102   Conditions for patentability; novelty and loss of right to patent.

A person shall be entitled to a patent unless -

*****

  • (g)(1) during the course of an interference conducted under section 135 or section 291, another inventor involved therein establishes, to the extent permitted in section 104, that before such person’s invention thereof the invention was made by such other inventor and not abandoned, suppressed, or concealed, or (2) before such person’s invention thereof, the invention was made in this country by another inventor who had not abandoned, suppressed, or concealed it. In determining priority of invention under this subsection, there shall be considered not only the respective dates of conception and reduction to practice of the invention, but also the reasonable diligence of one who was first to conceive and last to reduce to practice, from a time prior to conception by the other.

Pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(g) issues such as conception, reduction to practice and diligence, while more commonly applied to interference matters, also arise in other contexts.

Pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(g) may form the basis for an ex parte rejection if: (1) the subject matter at issue has been actually reduced to practice by another before the applicant’s invention; and (2) there has been no abandonment, suppression or concealment. See, e.g., Amgen, Inc. v. Chugai Pharmaceutical Co., 927 F.2d 1200, 1205, 18 USPQ2d 1016, 1020 (Fed. Cir. 1991); New Idea Farm Equipment Corp. v. Sperry Corp., 916 F.2d 1561, 1566, 16 USPQ2d 1424, 1428 (Fed. Cir. 1990); E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co. v. Phillips Petroleum Co., 849 F.2d 1430, 1434, 7 USPQ2d 1129, 1132 (Fed. Cir. 1988); Kimberly-Clark v. Johnson & Johnson, 745 F.2d 1437, 1444-46, 223 USPQ 603, 606-08 (Fed. Cir. 1984). To qualify as prior art under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(g), however, there must be evidence that the subject matter was actually reduced to practice, in that conception alone is not sufficient. See Kimberly-Clark, 745 F.2d at 1445, 223 USPQ at 607. While the filing of an application for patent is a constructive reduction to practice, the filing of an application does not in itself provide the evidence necessary to show an actual reduction to practice of any of the subject matter disclosed in the application as is necessary to provide the basis for an ex parterejection under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(g). Thus, absent evidence showing an actual reduction to practice (which is generally not available during ex parteexamination), the disclosure of a United States patent application publication or patent falls under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e) and not under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(g)Cf. In re Zletz, 893 F.2d 319, 323, 13 USPQ2d 1320, 1323 (Fed. Cir. 1990) (the disclosure in a reference United States patent does not fall under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(g) but under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e)).

In addition, subject matter qualifying as prior art only under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(g) may also be the basis for an ex parte rejection under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 103. See In re Bass, 474 F.2d 1276, 1283, 177 USPQ 178, 183 (CCPA 1973) (in an unsuccessful attempt to utilize a 37 CFR 1.131 affidavit relating to a combination application, applicants admitted that the subcombination screen of a copending application which issued as a patent was earlier conceived than the combination). Pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 103(c), however, states that subsection (g) of pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102 will not preclude patentability where subject matter developed by another person, that would otherwise qualify under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(g), and the claimed invention of an application under examination were owned by the same person, subject to an obligation of assignment to the same person, or involved in a joint research agreement, which meets the requirements of pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 103(c)(2) and (c)(3), at the time the invention was made. See MPEP § 706.02(l) and § 2146.

For additional examples of pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(g) issues such as conception, reduction to practice and diligence outside the context of interference matters, see In re Costello, 717 F.2d 1346, 219 USPQ 389 (Fed. Cir. 1983) (discussing the concepts of conception and constructive reduction to practice in the context of a declaration under 37 CFR 1.131), and Kawai v. Metlesics, 480 F.2d 880, 178 USPQ 158 (CCPA 1973) (holding constructive reduction to practice for priority under 35 U.S.C. 119 requires meeting the requirements of 35 U.S.C. 101 and 35 U.S.C. 112).

2138.01   Interference Practice [R-11.2013]

[Editor Note: This MPEP section has limited applicability to applications subject to examination under the first inventor to file (FITF) provisions of the AIA as set forth in 35 U.S.C. 100 (note). See MPEP § 2159 et seq. to determine whether an application is subject to examination under the FITF provisions, MPEP § 2159.03 for the conditions under which this section applies to an AIA application, and MPEP § 2150 et seq. for examination of applications subject to those provisions.]

I.   Pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(g) IS THE BASIS OF INTERFERENCE PRACTICE

Subsection (g) of pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102 is the basis of interference practice for determining priority of invention between two parties. See Bigham v. Godtfredsen, 857 F.2d 1415, 1416, 8 USPQ2d 1266, 1267 (Fed. Cir. 1988), 35 U.S.C. 135, 37 CFR Part 41, Subparts D and E and MPEP Chapter 2300. An interference is an inter partes proceeding directed at determining the first to invent as among the parties to the proceeding, involving two or more pending applications naming different inventors or one or more pending applications and one or more unexpired patents naming different inventors. The United States is unusual in having a first to invent rather than a first to file system. Paulik v. Rizkalla, 760 F.2d 1270, 1272, 226 USPQ 224, 225 (Fed. Cir. 1985) (reviews the legislative history of the subsection in a concurring opinion by Judge Rich). The first of many to reduce an invention to practice around the same time will be the sole party to obtain a patent, Radio Corp. of America v. Radio Eng’g Labs., Inc., 293 U.S. 1, 2, 21 USPQ 353, 353-4 (1934), unless another was the first to conceive and couple a later-in-time reduction to practice with diligence from a time just prior to when the second conceiver entered the field to the first conceiver’s reduction to practice. Hull v. Davenport, 90 F.2d 103, 105, 33 USPQ 506, 508 (CCPA 1937). See the priority time charts below illustrating this point. Upon conclusion of an interference, subject matter claimed by the losing party that was the basis of the interference is rejected under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(g), unless the acts showing prior invention were not in this country.

It is noted that 35 U.S.C. 101 requires that whoever invents or discovers is the party who may obtain a patent for the particular invention or discovery. 35 U.S.C. 111 (applicant) or 35 U.S.C. 116 (applicants) set forth the requirement that the actual inventor(s) be the party who applies for a patent or that a patent be applied for on behalf of the inventor. Where it can be shown that an applicant has “derived” an invention from another, a rejection under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(f) is proper. Ex parte Kusko, 215 USPQ 972, 974 (Bd. App. 1981) (“most, if not all, determinations under [pre-AIA] Section 102(f) involve the question of whether one party derived an invention from another”); Price v. Symsek, 988 F.2d 1187, 1190, 26 USPQ2d 1031, 1033 (Fed. Cir. 1993) (Although derivation and priority of invention both focus on inventorship, derivation addresses originality, i.e., who invented the subject matter, whereas priority focuses on which party invented the subject matter first.).

II.    PRIORITY TIME CHARTS

The following priority time charts illustrate the award of invention priority in several situations. The time charts apply to interference proceedings and are also applicable to declarations or affidavits filed under 37 CFR 1.131 to antedate references which are available as prior art under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(a) or102(e). Note, however, in the context of 37 CFR 1.131, an applicant does not have to show that the invention was not abandoned, suppressed, or concealed from the time of an actual reduction to practice to a constructive reduction to practice because the length of time taken to file a patent application after an actual reduction to practice is generally of no consequence except in an interference proceeding. Paulik v. Rizkalla, 760 F.2d 1270, 226 USPQ 224 (Fed. Cir. 1985). See the discussion of abandonment, suppression, and concealment in MPEP § 2138.03.

For purposes of analysis under 37 CFR 1.131, the conception and reduction to practice of the reference to be antedated are both considered to be on the effective filing date of domestic patent or foreign patent or the date of printed publication.

In the charts, C = conception, R = reduction to practice (either actual or constructive), Ra = actual reduction to practice, Rc = constructive reduction to practice, and TD = commencement of diligence.

Example 1
Priority Time Chart Example 1

A is awarded priority in an interference, or antedates B as a reference in the context of a declaration or affidavit filed under 37 CFR 1.131, because A conceived the invention before B and constructively reduced the invention to practice before B reduced the invention to practice. The same result would be reached if the conception date was the same for both inventors A and B.

Example 2
Priority Time Chart Example 2

A is awarded priority in an interference, or antedates B as a reference in the context of a declaration or affidavit filed under 37 CFR 1.131, if A can show reasonable diligence from TD (a point just prior to B’s conception) until Rc because A conceived the invention before B, and diligently constructively reduced the invention to practice even though this was after B reduced the invention to practice.

Example 3
Priority Time Chart Example 3

A is awarded priority in an interference in the absence of abandonment, suppression, or concealment from Ra to Rc, because A conceived the invention before B, actually reduced the invention to practice before B reduced the invention to practice, and did not abandon, suppress, or conceal the invention after actually reducing the invention to practice and before constructively reducing the invention to practice.

A antedates B as a reference in the context of a declaration or affidavit filed under 37 CFR 1.131 because A conceived the invention before B and actually reduced the invention to practice before B reduced the invention to practice.

Example 4
Priority Time Chart Example 4

A is awarded priority in an interference if A can show reasonable diligence from TD (a point just prior to B’s conception) until Ra in the absence of abandonment, suppression, or concealment from Ra to Rc, because A conceived the invention before B, diligently actually reduced the invention to practice (after B reduced the invention to practice), and did not abandon, suppress, or conceal the invention after actually reducing the invention to practice and before constructively reducing the invention to practice.

A antedates B as a reference in the context of a declaration or affidavit filed under 37 CFR 1.131 because A conceived the invention before B, and diligently actually reduced the invention to practice, even though this was after B reduced the invention to practice.

III.    37 CFR 1.131 DOES NOT APPLY IN INTERFERENCE PROCEEDINGS

Interference practice operates to the exclusion of ex parte practice under 37 CFR 1.131 which permits an applicant to show an actual date of invention prior to the effective date of a reference or activity applied under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102 or 103, as long as the refrence is not a statutory bar under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(b) or a U.S. patent application publication claiming the same patentable invention. Ex parte Standish, 10 USPQ2d 1454, 1457 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1988) (An application claim to the “same patentable invention” claimed in a domestic patent requires interference rather than an affidavit under 37 CFR 1.131 to antedate the patent. The term “same patentable invention” encompasses a claim that is either anticipated by or obvious in view of the subject matter recited in the patent claim.). Subject matter which is prior art under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(g) and is subject to an interference is not open to further inquiry under 37 CFR 1.131 during the interference proceeding.

IV.    LOST COUNTS IN AN INTERFERENCE ARE NOT, PER SE, STATUTORY PRIOR ART

Loss of an interference count alone does not make its subject matter statutory prior art to losing party; however, lost count subject matter that is available as prior art under 35 U.S.C. 102 may be used alone or in combination with other references under 35 U.S.C. 103. But see In re Deckler, 977 F.2d 1449, 24 USPQ2d 1448 (Fed. Cir. 1992) (Under the principles of res judicata and collateral estoppel, Deckler was not entitled to claims that were patentably indistinguishable from the claim lost in interference even though the subject matter of the lost count was not available for use in an obviousness rejection under35 U.S.C. 103.).

2138.02   “The Invention Was Made in This Country” [R-11.2013]

[Editor Note: This MPEP section has limited applicability to applications subject to examination under the first inventor to file (FITF) provisions of the AIA as set forth in 35 U.S.C. 100 (note). See MPEP § 2159 et seq. to determine whether an application is subject to examination under the FITF provisions, MPEP § 2159.03 for the conditions under which this section applies to an AIA application, and MPEP § 2150 et seq. for examination of applications subject to those provisions.]

An invention is made when there is a conception and a reduction to practice. Dunn v. Ragin, 50 USPQ 472, 474 (Bd. Pat. Inter. 1941). Prior art under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(g) is limited to an invention that is made. In re Katz, 687 F.2d 450, 454, 215 USPQ 14, 17 (CCPA 1982) (the publication of an article, alone, is not deemed a constructive reduction to practice, and therefore its disclosure does not prove that any invention within the meaning of pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(g) has ever been made).

Subject matter under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(g) is available only if made in this country. Pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 104Kondo v.Martel, 220 USPQ 47 (Bd. Pat. Inter. 1983) (acts of conception, reduction to practice and diligence must be demonstrated in this country). Compare Colbert v. Lofdahl, 21 USPQ2d 1068, 1071 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1991) (“[i]f the invention is reduced to practice in a foreign country and knowledge of the invention was brought into this country and disclosed to others, the inventor can derive no benefit from the work done abroad and such knowledge is merely evidence of conception of the invention”).

In accordance with pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(g)(1), a party involved in an interference proceeding under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 135 or 291 may establish a date of invention under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 104Pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 104, as amended by GATT (Public Law 103-465, 108 Stat. 4809 (1994)) and NAFTA (Public Law 103-182, 107 Stat. 2057 (1993)), provides that an applicant can establish a date of invention in a NAFTA member country on or after December 8, 1993 or in WTO member country other than a NAFTA member country on or after January 1, 1996. Accordingly, an interference count may be won or lost on the basis of establishment of invention by one of the parties in a NAFTA or WTO member country, thereby rendering the subject matter of that count unpatentable to the other party under the principles of res judicata and collateral estoppel, even though such subject matter is not available as statutory prior art under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(g). See MPEP § 2138.01 regarding lost interference counts which are not statutory prior art.

2138.03   “By Another Who Has Not Abandoned, Suppressed, or Concealed It” [R-11.2013]

[Editor Note: This MPEP section has limited applicability to applications subject to examination under the first inventor to file (FITF) provisions of the AIA as set forth in 35 U.S.C. 100 (note). See MPEP § 2159 et seq. to determine whether an application is subject to examination under the FITF provisions, MPEP § 2159.03 for the conditions under which this section applies to an AIA application, and MPEP § 2150 et seq. for examination of applications subject to those provisions.]

Pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(g) generally makes available as prior art within the meaning of 35 U.S.C. 103, the prior invention of another who has not abandoned, suppressed or concealed it. In re Bass, 474 F.2d 1276, 177 USPQ 178 (CCPA 1973); In re Suska, 589 F.2d 527, 200 USPQ 497 (CCPA 1979) (The result of applying the suppression and concealment doctrine is that the inventor who did not conceal (but was the de facto last inventor) is treated legally as the first to invent, while the de facto first inventor who suppressed or concealed is treated as a later inventor. The de facto first inventor, by his suppression and concealment, lost the right to rely on his actual date of invention not only for priority purposes, but also for purposes of avoiding the invention of the counts as prior art.).

“The courts have consistently held that an invention, though completed, is deemed abandoned, suppressed, or concealed if, within a reasonable time after completion, no steps are taken to make the invention publicly known. Thus failure to file a patent application; to describe the invention in a publicly disseminated document; or to use the invention publicly, have been held to constitute abandonment, suppression, or concealment.” Correge v. Murphy, 705 F.2d 1326, 1330, 217 USPQ 753, 756 (Fed. Cir. 1983) (quoting International Glass Co. v. United States, 408 F.2d 395, 403, 159 USPQ 434, 441 (Ct. Cl. 1968)). In Correge, an invention was actually reduced to practice, 7 months later there was a public disclosure of the invention, and 8 months thereafter a patent application was filed. The court held filing a patent application within 1 year of a public disclosure is not an unreasonable delay, therefore reasonable diligence must only be shown between the date of the actual reduction to practice and the public disclosure to avoid the inference of abandonment.

I.   DURING AN INTERFERENCE PROCEEDING, AN INFERENCE OF SUPPRESSION OR CONCEALMENT MAY ARISE FROM DELAY IN FILING PATENT APPLICATION

Once an invention is actually reduced to practice an inventor need not rush to file a patent application. Shindelar v. Holdeman, 628 F.2d 1337, 1341, 207 USPQ 112, 116 (CCPA 1980). The length of time taken to file a patent application after an actual reduction to practice is generally of no consequence except in an interference proceeding. Paulik v. Rizkalla, 760 F.2d 1270, 1271, 226 USPQ 225, 226 (Fed. Cir. 1985) (suppression or concealment may be deliberate or may arise due to an inference from a “too long” delay in filing a patent application). Peeler v. Miller, 535 F.2d 647, 656, 190 USPQ 117,124 (CCPA 1976) (“mere delay, without more, is not sufficient to establish suppression or concealment.” “What we are deciding here is that Monsanto’s delay is not ‘merely delay’ and that Monsanto's justification for the delay is inadequate to overcome the inference of suppression created by the excessive delay.” The word “mere” does not imply a total absence of a limit on the duration of delay. Whether any delay is “mere” is decided only on a case-by-case basis.).

Where a junior party in an interference relies upon an actual reduction to practice to demonstrate first inventorship, and where the hiatus in time between the date for the junior party's asserted reduction to practice and the filing of its application is unreasonably long, the hiatus may give rise to an inference that the junior party in fact suppressed or concealed the invention and the junior party will not be allowed to rely upon the earlier actual reduction to practice. Young v. Dworkin, 489 F.2d 1277, 1280 n.3, 180 USPQ 388, 391 n.3 (CCPA 1974) (suppression and concealment issues are to be addressed on a case-by-case basis).

II.   SUPPRESSION OR CONCEALMENT NEED NOT BE ATTRIBUTED TO INVENTOR

Suppression or concealment need not be attributed to the inventor. Peeler v. Miller, 535 F.2d 647, 653-54, 190 USPQ 117, 122 (CCPA 1976) (“four year delay from the time an inventor … completes his work … and the time his assignee-employer files a patent application is, prima facie, unreasonably long in an interference with a party who filed first”); Shindelar v. Holdeman, 628 F.2d 1337, 1341-42, 207 USPQ 112, 116-17 (CCPA 1980) (A patent attorney’s workload will not preclude a holding of an unreasonable delay—a total of 3 months was identified as possible of excuse in regard to the filing of an application.).

III.   INFERENCE OF SUPPRESSION OR CONCEALMENT IS REBUTTABLE

Notwithstanding a finding of suppression or concealment, a constructive reduction to practice such as renewed activity just prior to other party’s entry into field coupled with the diligent filing of an application would still cause the junior party to prevail. Lutzker v. Plet, 843 F.2d 1364, 1367-69, 6 USPQ2d 1370, 1371-72 (Fed. Cir. 1988) (activities directed towards commercialization not sufficient to rebut inference); Holmwood v. Cherpeck, 2 USPQ2d 1942, 1945 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1986) (the inference of suppression or concealment may be rebutted by showing activity directed to perfecting the invention, preparing the application, or preparing other compounds within the scope of the generic invention); Engelhardt v. Judd, 369 F.2d 408, 411, 151 USPQ 732, 735 (CCPA 1966) (“We recognize that an inventor of a new series of compounds should not be forced to file applications piecemeal on each new member as it is synthesized, identified and tested for utility. A reasonable amount of time should be allowed for completion of the research project on the whole series of new compounds, and a further reasonable time period should then be allowed for drafting and filing the patent application(s) thereon.”); Bogoslowsky v. Huse, 142 F.2d 75, 77, 61 USPQ 349, 351 (CCPA 1944) (The doctrine of suppression and concealment is not applicable to conception without an actual reduction to practice.).

IV.   ABANDONMENT

A finding of suppression or concealment may not amount to a finding of abandonment wherein a right to a patent is lost. Steierman v. Connelly, 197 USPQ 288, 289 (Comm'r Pat. 1976); Correge v. Murphy, 705 F.2d 1326, 1329, 217 USPQ 753, 755 (Fed. Cir. 1983) (an invention cannot be abandoned until it is first reduced to practice).

2138.04   “Conception” [R-11.2013]

[Editor Note: This MPEP section has limited applicability to applications subject to examination under the first inventor to file (FITF) provisions of the AIA as set forth in 35 U.S.C. 100 (note). See MPEP § 2159 et seq. to determine whether an application is subject to examination under the FITF provisions, MPEP § 2159.03 for the conditions under which this section applies to an AIA application, and MPEP § 2150 et seq. for examination of applications subject to those provisions.]

Conception has been defined as “the complete performance of the mental part of the inventive act” and it is “the formation in the mind of the inventor of a definite and permanent idea of the complete and operative invention as it is thereafter to be applied in practice….” Townsend v. Smith, 36 F.2d 292, 295, 4 USPQ 269, 271 (CCPA 1930). “[C]onception is established when the invention is made sufficiently clear to enable one skilled in the art to reduce it to practice without the exercise of extensive experimentation or the exercise of inventive skill.” Hiatt v. Ziegler, 179 USPQ 757, 763 (Bd. Pat. Inter. 1973). Conception has also been defined as a disclosure of an invention which enables one skilled in the art to reduce the invention to a practical form without “exercise of the inventive faculty.”Gunter v. Stream, 573 F.2d 77, 197 USPQ 482 (CCPA 1978). See also Coleman v. Dines, 754 F.2d 353, 224 USPQ 857 (Fed. Cir. 1985) (It is settled that in establishing conception a party must show possession of every feature recited in the count, and that every limitation of the count must have been known to the inventor at the time of the alleged conception. Conception must be proved by corroborating evidence.); Hybritech Inc. v. Monoclonal Antibodies Inc., 802 F. 2d 1367, 1376, 231 USPQ 81, 87 (Fed. Cir. 1986) (Conception is the “formation in the mind of the inventor, of a definite and permanent idea of the complete and operative invention, as it is hereafter to be applied in practice.”); Hitzeman v. Rutter, 243 F.3d 1345, 58 USPQ2d 1161 (Fed. Cir. 2001) (Inventor’s “hope” that a genetically altered yeast would produce antigen particles having the particle size and sedimentation rates recited in the claims did not establish conception, since the inventor did not show that he had a “definite and permanent understanding” as to whether or how, or a reasonable expectation that, the yeast would produce the recited antigen particles.).

I.    CONCEPTION MUST BE DONE IN THE MIND OF THE INVENTOR

The inventor must form a definite and permanent idea of the complete and operable invention to establish conception. Bosies v. Benedict, 27 F.3d 539, 543, 30 USPQ2d 1862, 1865 (Fed. Cir. 1994) (Testimony by a noninventor as to the meaning of a variable of a generic compound described in an inventor’s notebook was insufficient as a matter of law to establish the meaning of the variable because the testimony was not probative of what the inventors conceived.).

II.    AS LONG AS THE INVENTOR MAINTAINS INTELLECTUAL DOMINATION OVER MAKING THE INVENTION, IDEAS, SUGGESTIONS, AND MATERIALS MAY BE ADOPTED FROM OTHERS

An inventor may consider and adopt ideas, suggestions and materials derived from many sources: a suggestion from an employee, a hired consultant or a friend even if the adopted material proves to be the key that unlocks the problem so long as the inventor “maintains intellectual domination of the work of making the invention down to the successful testing, selecting or rejecting….” Morse v. Porter, 155 USPQ 280, 283 (Bd. Pat. Inter. 1965); Staehelin v. Secher, 24 USPQ2d 1513, 1522 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1992) (“evidence of conception naming only one of the actual inventive entity inures to the benefit of and serves as evidence of conception by the complete inventive entity”).

III.    CONCEPTION REQUIRES CONTEMPORANEOUS RECOGNITION AND APPRECIATION OF THE INVENTION

There must be a contemporaneous recognition and appreciation of the invention for there to be conception. Silvestri v. Grant, 496 F.2d 593, 596, 181 USPQ 706, 708 (CCPA 1974) (“an accidental and unappreciated duplication of an invention does not defeat the patent right of one who, though later in time was the first to recognize that which constitutes the inventive subject matter”); Invitrogen, Corp. v. Clontech Laboratories, Inc., 429 F.3d 1052, 1064, 77 USPQ2d 1161, 1169 (Fed. Cir. 2005) (In situations where there is unrecognized accidental duplication, establishing conception requires evidence that the inventor actually made the invention and understood the invention to have the features that comprise the inventive subject matter at issue).Langer v. Kaufman, 465 F.2d 915, 918, 175 USPQ 172, 174 (CCPA 1972) (new form of catalyst was not recognized when it was first produced; conception cannot be established nunc pro tunc). However, an inventor does not need to know that the invention will work for there to be complete conception. Burroughs Wellcome Co. v. Barr Labs., Inc.,40 F.3d 1223, 1228, 32 USPQ2d 1915, 1919 (Fed. Cir. 1994) (Draft patent application disclosing treatment of AIDS with AZT reciting dosages, forms, and routes of administration was sufficient to collaborate conception whether or not the inventors believed the inventions would work based on initial screening tests.) Furthermore, the inventor does not need to appreciate the patentability of the invention. Dow Chem. Co. v. Astro-Valcour, Inc., 267 F.3d 1334, 1341, 60 USPQ2d 1519, 1523 (Fed. Cir. 2001).

The first to conceive of a species is not necessarily the first to conceive of the generic invention. In re Jolley, 308 F.3d 1317, 1323 n.2, 64 USPQ2d 1901, 1905 n.2 (Fed. Cir. 2002). Further, while conception of a species within a genus may constitute conception of the genus, conception of one species and the genus may not constitute conception of another species in the genus. Oka v. Youssefyeh, 849 F.2d 581, 7 USPQ2d 1169 (Fed. Cir. 1988) (conception of a chemical requires both the idea of the structure of the chemical and possession of an operative method of making it). See also Amgen v. Chugai Pharmaceutical Co., 927 F.2d 1200, 1206, 18 USPQ2d 1016, 1021 (Fed. Cir. 1991) (in the isolation of a gene, defining a gene by its principal biological property is not sufficient for conception absent an ability to envision the detailed constitution as well as a method for obtaining it); Fiers v. Revel, 984 F.2d 1164, 1170, 25 USPQ2d 1601, 1605 (Fed. Cir. 1993) (“[b]efore reduction to practice, conception only of a process for making a substance, without conception of a structural or equivalent definition of that substance, can at most constitute a conception of the substance claimed as a process” but cannot constitute conception of the substance; as “conception is not enablement,” conception of a purified DNA sequence coding for a specific protein by function and a method for its isolation that could be carried out by one of ordinary skill in the art is not conception of that material).

On rare occasions conception and reduction to practice occur simultaneously. Alpert v. Slatin, 305 F.2d 891, 894, 134 USPQ 296, 299 (CCPA 1962). “[I]n some unpredictable areas of chemistry and biology, there is no conception until the invention has been reduced to practice.” MacMillan v. Moffett, 432 F.2d 1237, 1234-40, 167 USPQ 550, 552-553 (CCPA 1970). See also Hitzeman v. Rutter, 243 F.3d 1345, 58 USPQ2d 1161 (Fed. Cir. 2001) (conception simultaneous with reduction to practice where appellant lacked reasonable certainty that yeast’s performance of certain intracellular processes would result in the claimed antigen particles); Dunn v. Ragin, 50 USPQ 472, 475 (Bd. Pat. Inter. 1941) (a new variety of asexually reproduced plant is conceived and reduced to practice when it is grown and recognized as a new variety). Under these circumstances, conception is not complete if subsequent experimentation reveals factual uncertainty which “so undermines the specificity of the inventor’s idea that it is not yet a definite and permanent reflection of the complete invention as it will be used in practice.” Burroughs Wellcome Co. v. Barr Labs., Inc., 40 F.3d 1223, 1229, 32 USPQ2d 1915, 1920 (Fed. Cir. 1994).

IV.    A PREVIOUSLY ABANDONED APPLICATION WHICH WAS NOT COPENDING WITH A SUBSEQUENT APPLICATION IS EVIDENCE ONLY OF CONCEPTION

An abandoned application with which no subsequent application was copending serves to abandon benefit of the application’s filing as a constructive reduction to practice and the abandoned application is evidence only of conception. In re Costello, 717 F.2d 1346, 1350, 219 USPQ 389, 392 (Fed. Cir. 1983).

2138.05   “Reduction to Practice” [R-11.2013]

[Editor Note: This MPEP section has limited applicability to applications subject to examination under the first inventor to file (FITF) provisions of the AIA as set forth in 35 U.S.C. 100 (note). See MPEP § 2159 et seq. to determine whether an application is subject to examination under the FITF provisions, MPEP § 2159.03 for the conditions under which this section applies to an AIA application, and MPEP § 2150 et seq. for examination of applications subject to those provisions.]

Reduction to practice may be an actual reduction or a constructive reduction to practice which occurs when a patent application on the claimed invention is filed. The filing of a patent application serves as conception and constructive reduction to practice of the subject matter described in the application. Thus the inventor need not provide evidence of either conception or actual reduction to practice when relying on the content of the patent application. Hyatt v. Boone, 146 F.3d 1348, 1352, 47 USPQ2d 1128, 1130 (Fed. Cir. 1998). A reduction to practice can be done by another on behalf of the inventor. De Solms v. Schoenwald, 15 USPQ2d 1507, 1510 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1990). “While the filing of the original application theoretically constituted a constructive reduction to practice at the time, the subsequent abandonment of that application also resulted in an abandonment of the benefit of that filing as a constructive reduction to practice. The filing of the original application is, however, evidence of conception of the invention.” In re Costello, 717 F.2d 1346, 1350, 219 USPQ 389, 392 (Fed. Cir. 1983)(The second application was not co-pending with the original application and it did not reference the original application. Because of the requirements of 35 U.S.C. 120 had not been satisfied, the filing of the original application was not recognized as constructive reduction to practice of the invention.).

I.   CONSTRUCTIVE REDUCTION TO PRACTICE REQUIRES COMPLIANCE WITH 35 U.S.C. 112(a) or Pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 112, FIRST PARAGRAPH

When a party to an interference seeks the benefit of an earlier-filed U.S. patent application, the earlier application must meet the requirements of 35 U.S.C. 120and 35 U.S.C. 112(a) or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 112, first paragraph for the subject matter of the count. The earlier application must meet the enablement requirement and must contain a written description of the subject matter of the interference count. Hyatt v. Boone, 146 F.3d 1348, 1352, 47 USPQ2d 1128, 1130 (Fed. Cir. 1998). Proof of a constructive reduction to practice requires sufficient disclosure under the “how to use” and “how to make” requirements of 35 U.S.C. 112(a) or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 112, first paragraph. Kawai v. Metlesics, 480 F.2d 880, 886, 178 USPQ 158, 163 (CCPA 1973) (A constructive reduction to practice is not proven unless the specification discloses a practical utility where one would not be obvious. Prior art which disclosed an anticonvulsant compound which differed from the claimed compound only in the absence of a -CH2- group connecting two functional groups was not sufficient to establish utility of the claimed compound because the compounds were not so closely related that they could be presumed to have the same utility.). The purpose of the written description requirement is “to ensure that the inventor had possession, as of the filing date of the application relied on, of the specific subject matter later claimed by him.” In re Edwards, 568 F.2d 1349, 1351-52, 196 USPQ 465, 467 (CCPA 1978). The written description must include all of the limitations of the interference count, or the applicant must show that any absent text is necessarily comprehended in the description provided and would have been so understood at the time the patent application was filed. Furthermore, the written description must be sufficient, when the entire specification is considered, such that the “necessary and only reasonable construction” that would be given it by a person skilled in the art is one that clearly supports each positive limitation in the count. Hyatt v. Boone, 146 F.3d at 1354-55, 47 USPQ2d at 1130-1132 (Fed. Cir. 1998) (The claim could be read as describing subject matter other than that of the count and thus did not establish that the applicant was in possession of the invention of the count.). See also Bigham v. Godtfredsen, 857 F.2d 1415, 1417, 8 USPQ2d 1266, 1268 (Fed. Cir. 1988) (“[t]he generic term halogen comprehends a limited number of species, and ordinarily constitutes a sufficient written description of the common halogen species,” except where the halogen species are patentably distinct).

II.   REQUIREMENTS TO ESTABLISH ACTUAL REDUCTION TO PRACTICE

“In an interference proceeding, a party seeking to establish an actual reduction to practice must satisfy a two-prong test: (1) the party constructed an embodiment or performed a process that met every element of the interference count, and (2) the embodiment or process operated for its intended purpose.”Eaton v. Evans, 204 F.3d 1094, 1097, 53 USPQ2d 1696, 1698 (Fed. Cir. 2000).

The same evidence sufficient for a constructive reduction to practice may be insufficient to establish an actual reduction to practice, which requires a showing of the invention in a physical or tangible form that shows every element of the count. Wetmore v. Quick, 536 F.2d 937, 942, 190 USPQ 223, 227 (CCPA 1976). For an actual reduction to practice, the invention must have been sufficiently tested to demonstrate that it will work for its intended purpose, but it need not be in a commercially satisfactory stage of development. See, e.g., Scott v. Finney, 34 F.3d 1058, 1062, 32 USPQ2d 1115, 1118-19 (Fed. Cir. 1994) (citing numerous cases wherein the character of the testing necessary to support an actual reduction to practice varied with the complexity of the invention and the problem it solved). If a device is so simple, and its purpose and efficacy so obvious, construction alone is sufficient to demonstrate workability. King Instrument Corp. v. Otari Corp., 767 F.2d 853, 860, 226 USPQ 402, 407 (Fed. Cir. 1985).

For additional cases pertaining to the requirements necessary to establish actual reduction to practice see DSL Dynamic Sciences, Ltd. v. Union Switch & Signal, Inc., 928 F.2d 1122, 1126, 18 USPQ2d 1152, 1155 (Fed. Cir. 1991) (“events occurring after an alleged actual reduction to practice can call into question whether reduction to practice has in fact occurred”); Fitzgerald v. Arbib, 268 F.2d 763, 765-66, 122 USPQ 530, 531-32 (CCPA 1959) (“the reduction to practice of a three-dimensional design invention requires the production of an article embodying that design” in “other than a mere drawing”); Birmingham v. Randall, 171 F.2d 957, 80 USPQ 371, 372 (CCPA 1948) (To establish an actual reduction to practice of an invention directed to a method of making a product, it is not enough to show that the method was performed. “[S]uch an invention is not reduced to practice until it is established that the product made by the process is satisfactory, and [ ] this may require successful testing of the product.”).

III.   TESTING REQUIRED TO ESTABLISH AN ACTUAL REDUCTION TO PRACTICE

“The nature of testing which is required to establish a reduction to practice depends on the particular facts of each case, especially the nature of the invention.”Gellert v. Wanberg, 495 F.2d 779, 783, 181 USPQ 648, 652 (CCPA 1974) (“an invention may be tested sufficiently … where less than all of the conditions of actual use are duplicated by the tests”); Wells v. Fremont, 177 USPQ 22, 24-5 (Bd. Pat. Inter. 1972) (“even where tests are conducted under ‘bench’ or laboratory conditions, those conditions must ‘fully duplicate each and every condition of actual use’ or if they do not, then the evidence must establish a relationship between the subject matter, the test condition and the intended functional setting of the invention,” but it is not required that all the conditions of all actual uses be duplicated, such as rain, snow, mud, dust and submersion in water).

IV.   REDUCTION TO PRACTICE REQUIRES RECOGNITION AND APPRECIATION OF THE INVENTION

The invention must be recognized and appreciated for a reduction to practice to occur. “The rule that conception and reduction to practice cannot be established nunc pro tunc simply requires that in order for an experiment to constitute an actual reduction to practice, there must have been contemporaneous appreciation of the invention at issue by the inventor…. Subsequent testing or later recognition may not be used to show that a party had contemporaneous appreciation of the invention. However, evidence of subsequent testing may be admitted for the purpose of showing that an embodiment was produced and that it met the limitations of the count.” Cooper v. Goldfarb, 154 F.3d 1321, 1331, 47 USPQ2d 1896, 1904 (Fed. Cir. 1998) (citations omitted). Meitzner v. Corte, 537 F.2d 524, 528, 190 USPQ 407, 410 (CCPA 1976) (there can be no conception or reduction to practice of a new form or of a process using such a new form of an otherwise old composition where there has been no recognition or appreciation of the existence of the new form); Estee Lauder, Inc. v. L’Oreal S.A., 129 F.3d 588, 593, 44 USPQ2d 1610, 1615 (Fed. Cir. 1997) (“[W]hen testing is necessary to establish utility, there must be recognition and appreciation that the tests were successful for reduction to practice to occur.” A showing that testing was completed before the critical date, and that testing ultimately proved successful, was held insufficient to establish a reduction to practice before the critical date, since the success of the testing was not appreciated or recognized until after the critical date.); Parker v. Frilette, 462 F.2d 544, 547, 174 USPQ 321, 324 (CCPA 1972) (“[an] inventor need not understand precisely why his invention works in order to achieve an actual reduction to practice”).

V.   RECOGNITION OF THE INVENTION BY ANOTHER MAY INURE TO THE BENEFIT OF THE INVENTOR

“Inurement involves a claim by an inventor that, as a matter of law, the acts of another person should accrue to the benefit of the inventor.” Cooper v. Goldfarb,154 F.3d 1321, 1331, 47 USPQ2d 1896, 1904 (Fed. Cir. 1998). Before a non-inventor’s recognition of the utility of the invention can inure to the benefit of the inventor, the following three-prong test must be met: (1) the inventor must have conceived of the invention, (2) the inventor must have had an expectation that the embodiment tested would work for the intended purpose of the invention, and (3) the inventor must have submitted the embodiment for testing for the intended purpose of the invention. Genentech Inc. v. Chiron Corp., 220 F.3d 1345, 1354, 55 USPQ2d 1636, 1643 (Fed. Cir. 2000). In Genentech, a non-inventor hired by the inventors to test yeast samples for the presence of the fusion protein encoded by the DNA construct of the invention recognized the growth-enhancing property of the fusion protein, but did not communicate this recognition to the inventors. The court found that because the inventors did not submit the samples for testing growth-promoting activity, the intended purpose of the invention, the third prong was not satisfied and the uncommunicated recognition of the activity of the fusion protein by the non-inventor did not inure to their benefit. See also Cooper v. Goldfarb, 240 F.3d 1378, 1385, 57 USPQ2d 1990, 1995 (Fed. Cir. 2001) (Cooper sent to Goldfarb samples of a material for use in vascular grafts. At the time the samples were sent, Cooper was unaware of the importance of the fibril length of the material. Cooper did not at any time later convey to, or request from, Goldfarb any information regarding fibril length. Therefore, Goldfarb’s determination of the fibril lengths of the material could not inure to Cooper’s benefit.).

VI.   IN AN INTERFERENCE PROCEEDING, ALL LIMITATIONS OF A COUNT MUST BE REDUCED TO PRACTICE

The device reduced to practice must include every limitation of the count. Fredkin v. Irasek, 397 F.2d 342, 158 USPQ 280, 285 (CCPA 1968); every limitation in a count is material and must be proved to establish an actual reduction to practice. Meitzner v. Corte, 537 F.2d 524, 528, 190 USPQ 407, 410. See also Hull v. Bonis, 214 USPQ 731, 734 (Bd. Pat. Inter. 1982) (no doctrine of equivalents—remedy is a preliminary motion to amend the count to conform to the proofs).

VII.   CLAIMED INVENTION IS NOT ACTUALLY REDUCED TO PRACTICE UNLESS THERE IS A KNOWN UTILITY

Utility for the invention must be known at the time of the reduction to practice. Wiesner v. Weigert, 666 F.2d 582, 588, 212 USPQ 721, 726 (CCPA 1981) (except for plant and design inventions); Azar v. Burns, 188 USPQ 601, 604 (Bd. Pat. Inter. 1975) (a composition and a method cannot be actually reduced to practice unless the composition and the product produced by the method have a practical utility); Ciric v. Flanigen, 511 F.2d 1182, 1185, 185 USPQ 103, 105-6 (CCPA 1975) (“when a count does not recite any particular utility, evidence establishing a substantial utility for any purpose is sufficient to prove a reduction to practice”; “the demonstrated similarity of ion exchange and adsorptive properties between the newly discovered zeolites and known crystalline zeolites … have established utility for the zeolites of the count”); Engelhardt v. Judd, 369 F.2d 408, 411, 151 USPQ 732, 735 (CCPA 1966) (When considering an actual reduction to practice as a bar to patentability for claims to compounds, it is sufficient to successfully demonstrate utility of the compounds in animals for somewhat different pharmaceutical purposes than those asserted in the specification for humans.); Rey-Bellet v. Engelhardt, 993 F.2d 1380, 1384, 181 USPQ 453, 455 (CCPA 1974) (Two categories of tests on laboratory animals have been considered adequate to show utility and reduction to practice: first, tests carried out to prove utility in humans where there is a satisfactory correlation between humans and animals, and second, tests carried out to prove utility for treating animals.).

VIII.   A PROBABLE UTILITY MAY NOT BE SUFFICIENT TO ESTABLISH UTILITY

A probable utility does not establish a practical utility, which is established by actual testing or where the utility can be “foretold with certainty.” Bindra v. Kelly,206 USPQ 570, 575 (Bd. Pat. Inter. 1979) (Reduction to practice was not established for an intermediate useful in the preparation of a second intermediate with a known utility in the preparation of a pharmaceutical. The record established there was a high degree of probability of a successful preparation because one skilled in the art may have been motivated, in the sense of 35 U.S.C. 103, to prepare the second intermediate from the first intermediate. However, a strong probability of utility is not sufficient to establish practical utility.); Wu v. Jucker, 167 USPQ 467, 472 (Bd. Pat. Inter. 1968) (screening test where there was an indication of possible utility is insufficient to establish practical utility). But see Nelson v. Bowler, 628 F.2d 853, 858, 206 USPQ 881, 885 (CCPA 1980) (Relevant evidence is judged as a whole for its persuasiveness in linking observed properties to suggested uses. Reasonable correlation between the two is sufficient for an actual reduction to practice.).

2138.06   “Reasonable Diligence” [R-11.2013]

[Editor Note: This MPEP section has limited applicability to applications subject to examination under the first inventor to file (FITF) provisions of the AIA as set forth in 35 U.S.C. 100 (note). See MPEP § 2159 et seq. to determine whether an application is subject to examination under the FITF provisions, MPEP § 2159.03 for the conditions under which this section applies to an AIA application, and MPEP § 2150 et seq. for examination of applications subject to those provisions.]

The diligence of pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(g) relates to reasonable “attorney-diligence” and “engineering-diligence” (Keizer v. Bradley, 270 F.2d 396, 397, 123 USPQ 215, 216 (CCPA 1959)), which does not require that “an inventor or his attorney … drop all other work and concentrate on the particular invention involved….” Emery v. Ronden, 188 USPQ 264, 268 (Bd. Pat. Inter. 1974).

I.   CRITICAL PERIOD FOR ESTABLISHING DILIGENCE BETWEEN ONE WHO WAS FIRST TO CONCEIVE BUT LATER TO REDUCE TO PRACTICE THE INVENTION

The critical period for diligence for a first conceiver but second reducer begins not at the time of conception of the first conceiver but just prior to the entry in the field of the party who was first to reduce to practice and continues until the first conceiver reduces to practice. Hull v. Davenport, 90 F.2d 103, 105, 33 USPQ 506, 508 (CCPA 1937) (“lack of diligence from the time of conception to the time immediately preceding the conception date of the second conceiver is not regarded as of importance except as it may have a bearing upon his subsequent acts”). What serves as the entry date into the field of a first reducer is dependent upon what is being relied on by the first reducer, e.g., conception plus reasonable diligence to reduction to practice (Fritsch v. Lin, 21 USPQ2d 1731, 1734 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1991), Emery v. Ronden, 188 USPQ 264, 268 (Bd. Pat. Inter. 1974)); an actual reduction to practice or a constructive reduction to practice by the filing of either a U.S. application (Rebstock v. Flouret, 191 USPQ 342, 345 (Bd. Pat. Inter. 1975)) or reliance upon priority under 35 U.S.C. 119 of a foreign application (Justus v. Appenzeller, 177 USPQ 332, 339 (Bd. Pat. Inter. 1971) (chain of priorities under 35 U.S.C. 119 and 120, priority under 35 U.S.C. 119 denied for failure to supply certified copy of the foreign application during pendency of the application filed within the twelfth month)).

II.   THE ENTIRE PERIOD DURING WHICH DILIGENCE IS REQUIRED MUST BE ACCOUNTED FOR BY EITHER AFFIRMATIVE ACTS OR ACCEPTABLE EXCUSES

An applicant must account for the entire period during which diligence is required. Gould v. Schawlow, 363 F.2d 908, 919, 150 USPQ 634, 643 (CCPA 1966) (Merely stating that there were no weeks or months that the invention was not worked on is not enough.); In re Harry, 333 F.2d 920, 923, 142 USPQ 164, 166 (CCPA 1964) (statement that the subject matter “was diligently reduced to practice” is not a showing but a mere pleading). A 2-day period lacking activity has been held to be fatal. In re Mulder, 716 F.2d 1542, 1545, 219 USPQ 189, 193 (Fed. Cir. 1983) (37 CFR 1.131 issue); Fitzgerald v. Arbib, 268 F.2d 763, 766, 122 USPQ 530, 532 (CCPA 1959) (Less than 1 month of inactivity during critical period. Efforts to exploit an invention commercially do not constitute diligence in reducing it to practice. An actual reduction to practice in the case of a design for a three-dimensional article requires that it should be embodied in some structure other than a mere drawing.); Kendall v. Searles, 173 F.2d 986, 993, 81 USPQ 363, 369 (CCPA 1949) (Diligence requires that applicants must be specific as to dates and facts.).

The period during which diligence is required must be accounted for by either affirmative acts or acceptable excuses. Rebstock v. Flouret, 191 USPQ 342, 345 (Bd. Pat. Inter. 1975); Rieser v. Williams, 225 F.2d 419, 423, 118 USPQ 96, 100 (CCPA 1958) (Being last to reduce to practice, party cannot prevail unless he has shown that he was first to conceive and that he exercised reasonable diligence during the critical period from just prior to opponent’s entry into the field);Griffith v. Kanamaru, 816 F.2d 624, 2 USPQ2d 1361 (Fed. Cir. 1987) (Court generally reviewed cases on excuses for inactivity including vacation extended by ill health and daily job demands, and held lack of university funding and personnel are not acceptable excuses.); Litchfield v. Eigen, 535 F.2d 72, 190 USPQ 113 (CCPA 1976) (budgetary limits and availability of animals for testing not sufficiently described); Morway v. Bondi, 203 F.2d 741, 749, 97 USPQ 318, 323 (CCPA 1953) (voluntarily laying aside inventive concept in pursuit of other projects is generally not an acceptable excuse although there may be circumstances creating exceptions); Anderson v. Crowther, 152 USPQ 504, 512 (Bd. Pat. Inter. 1965) (preparation of routine periodic reports covering all accomplishments of the laboratory insufficient to show diligence); Wu v. Jucker, 167 USPQ 467, 472-73 (Bd. Pat. Inter. 1968) (applicant improperly allowed test data sheets to accumulate to a sufficient amount to justify interfering with equipment then in use on another project); Tucker v. Natta, 171 USPQ 494,498 (Bd. Pat. Inter. 1971) (“[a]ctivity directed toward the reduction to practice of a genus does not establish, prima facie, diligence toward the reduction to practice of a species embraced by said genus”); Justus v. Appenzeller, 177 USPQ 332, 340-1 (Bd. Pat. Inter. 1971) (Although it is possible that patentee could have reduced the invention to practice in a shorter time by relying on stock items rather than by designing a particular piece of hardware, patentee exercised reasonable diligence to secure the required hardware to actually reduce the invention to practice. “[I]n deciding the question of diligence it is immaterial that the inventor may not have taken the expeditious course….”).

III.   WORK RELIED UPON TO SHOW REASONABLE DILIGENCE MUST BE DIRECTLY RELATED TO THE REDUCTION TO PRACTICE

The work relied upon to show reasonable diligence must be directly related to the reduction to practice of the invention in issue. Naber v. Cricchi, 567 F.2d 382, 384, 196 USPQ 294, 296 (CCPA 1977), cert. denied, 439 U.S. 826 (1978). See also Scott v. Koyama, 281 F.3d 1243, 1248-49, 61 USPQ2d 1856, 1859 (Fed. Cir. 2002) (Activities directed at building a plant to practice the claimed process of producing tetrafluoroethane on a large scale constituted efforts toward actual reduction to practice, and thus were evidence of diligence. The court distinguished cases where diligence was not found because inventors either discontinued development or failed to complete the invention while pursuing financing or other commercial activity.); In re Jolley, 308 F.3d 1317, 1326-27, 64 USPQ2d 1901, 1908-09 (Fed. Cir. 2002) (diligence found based on research and procurement activities related to the subject matter of the interference count). “[U]nder some circumstances an inventor should also be able to rely on work on closely related inventions as support for diligence toward the reduction to practice on an invention in issue.” Ginos v. Nedelec, 220 USPQ 831, 836 (Bd. Pat. Inter. 1983) (work on other closely related compounds that were considered to be part of the same invention and which were included as part of a grandparent application). “The work relied upon must be directed to attaining a reduction to practice of the subject matter of the counts. It is not sufficient that the activity relied on concerns related subject matter.” Gunn v. Bosch, 181 USPQ 758, 761 (Bd. Pat. Inter. 1973) (An actual reduction to practice of the invention at issue which occurred when the inventor was working on a different invention “was fortuitous, and not the result of a continuous intent or effort to reduce to practice the invention here in issue. Such fortuitousness is inconsistent with the exercise of diligence toward reduction to practice of that invention.” 181 USPQ at 761. Furthermore, evidence drawn towards work on improvement of samples or specimens generally already in use at the time of conception that are but one element of the oscillator circuit of the count does not show diligence towards the construction and testing of the overall combination.); Broos v. Barton, 142 F.2d 690, 691, 61 USPQ 447, 448 (CCPA 1944) (preparation of application in U.S. for foreign filing constitutes diligence); De Solms v. Schoenwald, 15 USPQ2d 1507 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1990) (principles of diligence must be given to inventor’s circumstances including skill and time; requirement of corroboration applies only to testimony of inventor); Huelster v. Reiter, 168 F.2d 542, 78 USPQ 82 (CCPA 1948) (if inventor was not able to make an actual reduction to practice of the invention, he must also show why he was not able to constructively reduce the invention to practice by the filing of an application).

IV.   DILIGENCE REQUIRED IN PREPARING AND FILING PATENT APPLICATION

The diligence of attorney in preparing and filing patent application inures to the benefit of the inventor. Conception was established at least as early as the date a draft of a patent application was finished by a patent attorney on behalf of the inventor. Conception is less a matter of signature than it is one of disclosure. Attorney does not prepare a patent application on behalf of particular named persons, but on behalf of the true inventive entity. Six days to execute and file application is acceptable. Haskell v. Coleburne, 671 F.2d 1362, 213 USPQ 192, 195 (CCPA 1982). See also Bey v. Kollonitsch, 866 F.2d 1024, 231 USPQ 967 (Fed. Cir. 1986) (Reasonable diligence is all that is required of the attorney. Reasonable diligence is established if attorney worked reasonably hard on the application during the continuous critical period. If the attorney has a reasonable backlog of unrelated cases which he takes up in chronological order and carries out expeditiously, that is sufficient. Work on a related case(s) that contributed substantially to the ultimate preparation of an application can be credited as diligence.).

V.   END OF DILIGENCE PERIOD IS MARKED BY EITHER ACTUAL OR CONSTRUCTIVE REDUCTION TO PRACTICE

“[I]t is of no moment that the end of that period [for diligence] is fixed by a constructive, rather than an actual, reduction to practice.” Justus v. Appenzeller, 177 USPQ 332, 340-41 (Bd. Pat. Inter. 1971).

2139-2140    [Reserved]

 

2141    Examination Guidelines for Determining Obviousness Under 35 U.S.C. 103 [R-11.2013]

[Editor Note: This MPEP section is applicable to applications subject to the first inventor to file (FITF) provisions of the AIA except that the relevant date is the "effective filing date" of the claimed invention instead of the "time of the invention," which is only applicable to applications subject to pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102. See35 U.S.C. 100 (note) and MPEP § 2150 et seq.]

35 U.S.C. 103  Conditions for patentability; non-obvious subject matter

A patent for a claimed invention may not be obtained, notwithstanding that the claimed invention is not identically disclosed as set forth insection 102 , if the differences between the claimed invention and the prior art are such that the claimed invention as a whole would have been obvious before the effective filing date of the claimed invention to a person having ordinary skill in the art to which the claimed invention pertains. Patentability shall not be negated by the manner in which the invention was made.

Pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 103  Conditions for patentability; nonobvious 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.

*****

  EXAMINATION GUIDELINES FOR DETERMINING OBVIOUSNESS UNDER 35 U.S.C. 103

These guidelines are intended to assist Office personnel to make a proper determination of obviousness under 35 U.S.C. 103, and to provide an appropriate supporting rationale in view of the recent decision by the Supreme Court in KSR International Co. v. Teleflex Inc. (KSR), 550 U.S. 398, 82 USPQ2d 1385 (2007). The guidelines are based on the Office’s current understanding of the law, and are believed to be fully consistent with the binding precedent of the Supreme Court. The KSR decision reinforced earlier decisions that validated a more flexible approach to providing reasons for obviousness. However, the Supreme Court’s pronouncement in KSR overruled cases such as In re Lee, 277 F.3d 1338, 61 USPQ2d 1430 (Fed. Cir. 2002), insofar as those cases require record evidence of an express reason to modify the prior art. As the Federal Circuit has explained:

At the time [of the decision in In re Lee], we required the PTO to identify record evidence of a teaching, suggestion, or motivation to combine references because “[o]mission of a relevant factor required by precedent is both legal error and arbitrary agency action.” However, this did not preclude examiners from employing common sense. More recently [in DyStar Textilfarben GmbH v. C.H. Patrick Co., 464 F.3d 1356, 1366 (Fed.Cir. 2006)], we explained that use of common sense does not require a “specific hint or suggestion in a particular reference,” only a reasoned explanation that avoids conclusory generalizations.

Perfect Web Technologies, Inc. v. InfoUSA, Inc., 587 F.3d 1324, 1329, 92 USPQ2d 1849, 1854 (Fed. Cir. 2009) (citations omitted).

These guidelines do not constitute substantive rule making and hence do not have the force and effect of law. They have been developed as a matter of internal Office management and are not intended to create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable by any party against the Office. Rejections will continue to be based upon the substantive law, and it is these rejections that are appealable. Consequently, any failure by Office personnel to follow the guidelines is neither appealable nor petitionable.

I.   THE KSR DECISION AND PRINCIPLES OF THE LAW OF OBVIOUSNESS

The Supreme Court in KSR reaffirmed the familiar framework for determining obviousness as set forth in Graham v. John Deere Co., 383 U.S. 1, 148 USPQ 459 (1966), but stated that the Federal Circuit had erred by applying the teaching-suggestion-motivation (TSM) test in an overly rigid and formalistic way. KSR, 550 U.S. at 404, 82 USPQ2d at 1391. Specifically, the Supreme Court stated that the Federal Circuit had erred in four ways: (1) “by holding that courts and patent examiners should look only to the problem the patentee was trying to solve ” (Id. at 420, 82 USPQ2d at 1397); (2) by assuming “that a person of ordinary skill attempting to solve a problem will be led only to those elements of prior art designed to solve the same problem” (Id.); (3) by concluding “that a patent claim cannot be proved obvious merely by showing that the combination of elements was ‘obvious to try’” (Id. at 421, USPQ2d at 1397); and (4) by overemphasizing “the risk of courts and patent examiners falling prey to hindsight bias” and as a result applying “[r]igid preventative rules that deny factfinders recourse to common sense” (Id.).

In KSR, the Supreme Court particularly emphasized “the need for caution in granting a patent based on the combination of elements found in the prior art,”Id. at 415, 82 USPQ2d at 1395, and discussed circumstances in which a patent might be determined to be obvious. Importantly, the Supreme Court reaffirmed principles based on its precedent that “[t]he combination of familiar elements according to known methods is likely to be obvious when it does no more than yield predictable results.”Id. at 415-16, 82 USPQ2d at 1395. The Supreme Court stated that there are “[t]hree cases decided after Graham [that] illustrate this doctrine.” Id.  at 416, 82 USPQ2d at 1395. (1) “In United States v. Adams, . . . [t]he Court recognized that when a patent claims a structure already known in the prior art that is altered by the mere substitution of one element for another known in the field, the combination must do more than yield a predictable result.” Id.(2) “In Anderson’s-Black Rock, Inc. v. Pavement Salvage Co., . . . [t]he two [pre-existing elements] in combination did no more than they would in separate, sequential operation.” Id.  at 416-17, 82 USPQ2d at 1395. (3) “[I]n Sakraida v. AG Pro, Inc., the Court derived . . . the conclusion that when a patent simply arranges old elements with each performing the same function it had been known to perform and yields no more than one would expect from such an arrangement, the combination is obvious.” Id. at 417, 82 USPQ2d at 1395-96 (Internal quotations omitted.). The principles underlining these cases are instructive when the question is whether a patent application claiming the combination of elements of prior art would have been obvious. The Supreme Court further stated that:

When a work is available in one field of endeavor, design incentives and other market forces can prompt variations of it, either in the same field or a different one. If a person of ordinary skill can implement a predictable variation, § 103 likely bars its patentability. For the same reason, if a technique has been used to improve one device, and a person of ordinary skill in the art would recognize that it would improve similar devices in the same way, using the technique is obvious unless its actual application is beyond his or her skill. Id. at 417, 82 USPQ2d at 1396.

When considering obviousness of a combination of known elements, the operative question is thus “whether the improvement is more than the predictable use of prior art elements according to their established functions.” Id.

The Supreme Court’s flexible approach to the obviousness inquiry is reflected in numerous pre-KSR decisions; see MPEP § 2144. That section provides many lines of reasoning to support a determination of obviousness based upon earlier legal precedent that had condoned the use of particular examples of what may be considered common sense or ordinary routine practice (e.g., making integral, changes in shape, making adjustable). Thus, the type of reasoning sanctioned by the opinion in KSR has long been part of the patent examination process.

II.   THE BASIC FACTUAL INQUIRES OF GRAHAM v. JOHN DEERE CO.

An invention that would have been obvious to a person of ordinary skill at the time of the invention is not patentable. See 35 U.S.C. 103 or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 103(a).  As reiterated by the Supreme Court in KSR, the framework for the objective analysis for determining obviousness under 35 U.S.C. 103 is stated inGraham v. John Deere Co., 383 U.S. 1, 148 USPQ 459 (1966). Obviousness is a question of law based on underlying factual inquiries. The factual inquiries enunciated by the Court are as follows:

  • (A) Determining the scope and content of the prior art; and
  • (B) Ascertaining the differences between the claimed invention and the prior art; and
  • (C) Resolving the level of ordinary skill in the pertinent art.

Objective evidence relevant to the issue of obviousness must be evaluated by Office personnel. Id. at 17-18, 148 USPQ at 467. Such evidence, sometimes referred to as “secondary considerations,” may include evidence of commercial success, long-felt but unsolved needs, failure of others, and unexpected results. The evidence may be included in the specification as filed, accompany the application on filing, or be provided in a timely manner at some other point during the prosecution. The weight to be given any objective evidence is made on a case-by-case basis. The mere fact that an applicant has presented evidence does not mean that the evidence is dispositive of the issue of obviousness.

The question of obviousness must be resolved on the basis of the factual inquiries set forth above. While each case is different and must be decided on its own facts, the Graham factors, including secondary considerations when present, are the controlling inquiries in any obviousness analysis. The Graham factors were reaffirmed and relied upon by the Supreme Court in its consideration and determination of obviousness in the fact situation presented in KSR, 550 U.S. at 406-07, 82 USPQ2d at 1391 (2007). The Supreme Court has utilized the Graham factors in each of its obviousness decisions since Graham. See Sakraida v. Ag Pro, Inc., 425 U.S. 273, 189 USPQ 449, reh’g denied, 426 U.S. 955 (1976); Dann v. Johnston, 425 U.S. 219, 189 USPQ 257 (1976); and Anderson’s-Black Rock, Inc. v. Pavement Salvage Co., 396 U.S. 57, 163 USPQ 673 (1969). As stated by the Supreme Court in KSR, “While the sequence of these questions might be reordered in any particular case, the [Graham] factors continue to define the inquiry that controls.”KSR, 550 U.S. at 407, 82 USPQ2d at 1391.

  Office Personnel As Factfinders

Office personnel fulfill the critical role of factfinder when resolving the Graham inquiries. It must be remembered that while the ultimate determination of obviousness is a legal conclusion, the underlying Graham inquiries are factual. When making an obviousness rejection, Office personnel must therefore ensure that the written record includes findings of fact concerning the state of the art and the teachings of the references applied. In certain circumstances, it may also be important to include explicit findings as to how a person of ordinary skill would have understood prior art teachings, or what a person of ordinary skill would have known or could have done. Factual findings made by Office personnel are the necessary underpinnings to establish obviousness.

Once the findings of fact are articulated, Office personnel must provide an explanation to support an obviousness rejection under 35 U.S.C. 10335 U.S.C. 132requires that the applicant be notified of the reasons for the rejection of the claim so that he or she can decide how best to proceed. Clearly setting forth findings of fact and the rationale(s) to support a rejection in an Office action leads to the prompt resolution of issues pertinent to patentability.

In short, the focus when making a determination of obviousness should be on what a person of ordinary skill in the pertinent art would have known at the time of the invention, and on what such a person would have reasonably expected to have been able to do in view of that knowledge. This is so regardless of whether the source of that knowledge and ability was documentary prior art, general knowledge in the art, or common sense. What follows is a discussion of the Grahamfactual inquiries.

A.   Determining the Scope and Content of the Prior Art

In determining the scope and content of the prior art, Office personnel must first obtain a thorough understanding of the invention disclosed and claimed in the application under examination by reading the specification, including the claims, to understand what the applicant has invented. See MPEP § 904. The scope of the claimed invention must be clearly determined by giving the claims the “broadest reasonable interpretation consistent with the specification.” See Phillips v. AWH Corp., 415 F.3d 1303, 1316, 75 USPQ2d 1321, 1329 (Fed. Cir. 2005) and MPEP § 2111. Once the scope of the claimed invention is determined, Office personnel must then determine what to search for and where to search.

1.   What To Search For:

The search should cover the claimed subject matter and should also cover the disclosed features which might reasonably be expected to be claimed. See MPEP § 904.02. Although a rejection need not be based on a teaching or suggestion to combine, a preferred search will be directed to finding references that provide such a teaching or suggestion if they exist.

2.   Where To Search:

Office personnel should continue to follow the general search guidelines set forth in MPEP § 904 to § 904.03 regarding search of the prior art. Office personnel are reminded that, for purposes of 35 U.S.C. 103, prior art can be either in the field of applicant’s endeavor or be reasonably pertinent to the particular problem with which the applicant was concerned. See MPEP § 2141.01(a) for a discussion of analogous art. Furthermore, prior art that is in a field of endeavor other than that of the applicant (as noted by the Court in KSR, “[w]hen a work is available in one field of endeavor, design incentives and other market forces can prompt variations of it, either in the same field or a different one,” 550 U.S. at 417, 82 USPQ2d at 1396 (emphasis added)), or solves a problem which is different from that which the applicant was trying to solve, may also be considered for the purposes of 35 U.S.C. 103. (The Court in KSR stated that “[t]he first error…in this case was…holding that courts and patent examiners should look only to the problem the patentee was trying to solve. The Court of Appeals failed to recognize that the problem motivating the patentee may be only one of many addressed by the patent’s subject matter…The second error [was]…that a person of ordinary skill attempting to solve a problem will be led only to those elements of prior art designed to solve the same problem.” 550 U.S. at 420, 82 USPQ2d at 1397. Federal Circuit case law prior to the Supreme Court’s decision in KSR is generally in accord with these statements by the KSR Court. See e.g., In re Dillon, 919 F.2d 688, 693, 16 USPQ2d 1897, 1902 (Fed. Cir. 1990) (en banc) ( "[I]t is not necessary in order to establish a prima facie case of obviousness that both a structural similarity between a claimed and prior art compound (or a key component of a composition) be shown and that there be a suggestion in or expectation from the prior art that the claimed compound or composition will have the same or a similar utility as one newly discovered by applicant" ) (emphasis added);In re Lintner, 458 F.2d 1013, 1018, 173 USPQ 560, 562 (CCPA 1972) (“The fact that [applicant] uses sugar for a different purpose does not alter the conclusion that its use in a prior art composition would be prima facie obvious from the purpose disclosed in the references.”).

For a discussion of what constitutes prior art, see MPEP § 901 to § 901.06(d) and § 2121 to § 2129. See MPEP § 2141.01(a) for a discussion of analogous art.

B.   Ascertaining the Differences Between the Claimed Invention and the Prior Art

Ascertaining the differences between the claimed invention and the prior art requires interpreting the claim language, see MPEP § 2111, and considering both the invention and the prior art as a whole. See MPEP § 2141.02.

C.   Resolving the Level of Ordinary Skill in the Art

Any obviousness rejection should include, either explicitly or implicitly in view of the prior art applied, an indication of the level of ordinary skill. A finding as to the level of ordinary skill may be used as a partial basis for a resolution of the issue of obviousness.

The person of ordinary skill in the art is a hypothetical person who is presumed to have known the relevant art at the time of the invention. Factors that may be considered in determining the level of ordinary skill in the art may include: (1) “type of problems encountered in the art;” (2) “prior art solutions to those problems;” (3) “rapidity with which innovations are made;” (4) “sophistication of the technology; and” (5) “educational level of active workers in the field." In re GPAC, 57 F.3d 1573, 1579, 35 USPQ2d 1116, 1121 (Fed. Cir. 1995). "In a given case, every factor may not be present, and one or more factors may predominate.” Id. See also Custom Accessories, Inc. v. Jeffrey-Allan Indust., Inc., 807 F.2d 955, 962, 1 USPQ2d 1196, 1201 (Fed. Cir. 1986); Environmental Designs, Ltd. V. Union Oil Co., 713 F.2d 693, 696, 218 USPQ 865, 868 (Fed. Cir. 1983).

“A person of ordinary skill in the art is also a person of ordinary creativity, not an automaton.”KSR, 550 U.S. at 421, 82 USPQ2d at 1397. “[I]n many cases a person of ordinary skill will be able to fit the teachings of multiple patents together like pieces of a puzzle.”Id. at 420, 82 USPQ2d at 1397. Office personnel may also take into account “the inferences and creative steps that a person of ordinary skill in the art would employ.”Id. at 418, 82 USPQ2d at 1396.

In addition to the factors above, Office personnel may rely on their own technical expertise to describe the knowledge and skills of a person of ordinary skill in the art. The Federal Circuit has stated that examiners and administrative patent judges on the Board are “persons of scientific competence in the fields in which they work” and that their findings are “informed by their scientific knowledge, as to the meaning of prior art references to persons of ordinary skill in the art.” In re Berg, 320 F.3d 1310, 1315, 65 USPQ2d 2003, 2007 (Fed. Cir. 2003). In addition, examiners “are assumed to have some expertise in interpreting the references and to be familiar from their work with the level of skill in the art .” PowerOasis, Inc. v. T-Mobile USA, Inc., 522 F.3d 1299, 86 USPQ2d 1385 (Fed. Cir. 2008) (quoting Am. Hoist & Derrick Co. v. Sowa & Sons, 725 F.2d 1350, 1360, 220 USPQ 763, 770 (Fed. Cir. 1984). See MPEP § 2141 for a discussion of the level of ordinary skill.

III.   RATIONALES TO SUPPORT REJECTIONS UNDER 35 U.S.C. 103

Once the Graham factual inquiries are resolved, Office personnel must determine whether the claimed invention would have been obvious to one of ordinary skill in the art.

The obviousness analysis cannot be confined by . . . overemphasis on the importance of published articles and the explicit content of issued patents. . . . . In many fields it may be that there is little discussion of obvious techniques or combinations, and it often may be the case that market demand, rather than scientific literature, will drive design trends.KSR, 550 U.S. at 419, 82 USPQ2d at 1396.

Prior art is not limited just to the references being applied, but includes the understanding of one of ordinary skill in the art. The prior art reference (or references when combined) need not teach or suggest all the claim limitations, however, Office personnel must explain why the difference(s) between the prior art and the claimed invention would have been obvious to one of ordinary skill in the art. The “mere existence of differences between the prior art and an invention does not establish the invention’s nonobviousness.” Dann v. Johnston, 425 U.S. 219, 230, 189 USPQ 257, 261 (1976). The gap between the prior art and the claimed invention may not be “so great as to render the [claim] nonobvious to one reasonably skilled in the art.” Id . In determining obviousness, neither the particular motivation to make the claimed invention nor the problem the inventor is solving controls. The proper analysis is whether the claimed invention would have been obvious to one of ordinary skill in the art after consideration of all the facts. See 35 U.S.C. 103 or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 103(a). Factors other than the disclosures of the cited prior art may provide a basis for concluding that it would have been obvious to one of ordinary skill in the art to bridge the gap. The rationales discussed below outline reasoning that may be applied to find obviousness in such cases.

If the search of the prior art and the resolution of the Graham factual inquiries reveal that an obviousness rejection may be made using the familiar teaching-suggestion-motivation (TSM) rationale, then such a rejection should be made. Although the Supreme Court in KSR cautioned against an overly rigid application of TSM, it also recognized that TSM was one of a number of valid rationales that could be used to determine obviousness. (According to the Supreme Court, establishment of the TSM approach to the question of obviousness “captured a helpful insight.” 550 U.S. at 418, 82 USPQ2d at 1396 (citing In re Bergel, 292 F.2d 955, 956-57, 130 USPQ 206, 207-208 (1961)). Furthermore, the Court explained that “[t]here is no necessary inconsistency between the idea underlying the TSM test and the Graham analysis.” 550 U.S. at 419, 82 USPQ2d at 1396. The Supreme Court also commented that the Federal Circuit “no doubt has applied the test in accord with these principles [set forth in KSR] in many cases.” Id. Office personnel should also consider whether one or more of the other rationales set forth below support a conclusion of obviousness. The Court in KSR identified a number of rationales to support a conclusion of obviousness which are consistent with the proper “functional approach” to the determination of obviousness as laid down in GrahamKSR, 550 U.S. at 415-21, 82 USPQ2d at 1395-97. Note that the list of rationales provided below is not intended to be an all-inclusive list. Other rationales to support a conclusion of obviousness may be relied upon by Office personnel.

The key to supporting any rejection under 35 U.S.C. 103 is the clear articulation of the reason(s) why the claimed invention would have been obvious. The Supreme Court in KSR noted that the analysis supporting a rejection under 35 U.S.C. 103 should be made explicit. The Court quoting In re Kahn, 441 F.3d 977, 988, 78 USPQ2d 1329, 1336 (Fed. Cir. 2006), stated that “‘[R]ejections on obviousness cannot be sustained by mere conclusory statements; instead, there must be some articulated reasoning with some rational underpinning to support the legal conclusion of obviousness.’” KSR, 550 U.S. at 418, 82 USPQ2d at 1396. Exemplary rationales that may support a conclusion of obviousness include:

  • (A) Combining prior art elements according to known methods to yield predictable results;
  • (B) Simple substitution of one known element for another to obtain predictable results;
  • (C) Use of known technique to improve similar devices (methods, or products) in the same way;
  • (D) Applying a known technique to a known device (method, or product) ready for improvement to yield predictable results;
  • (E) “Obvious to try” – choosing from a finite number of identified, predictable solutions, with a reasonable expectation of success;
  • (F) Known work in one field of endeavor may prompt variations of it for use in either the same field or a different one based on design incentives or other market forces if the variations are predictable to one of ordinary skill in the art;
  • (G) Some teaching, suggestion, or motivation in the prior art that would have led one of ordinary skill to modify the prior art reference or to combine prior art reference teachings to arrive at the claimed invention.

    See MPEP § 2143 for a discussion of the rationales listed above along with examples illustrating how the cited rationales may be used to support a finding of obviousness. See also MPEP § 2144 - § 2144.09 for additional guidance regarding support for obviousness determinations.

IV.   APPLICANT’S REPLY

Once Office personnel have established the Graham factual findings and concluded that the claimed invention would have been obvious, the burden then shifts to the applicant to (A) show that the Office erred in these findings or (B) provide other evidence to show that the claimed subject matter would have been nonobvious. 37 CFR 1.111(b) requires applicant to distinctly and specifically point out the supposed errors in the Office’s action and reply to every ground of objection and rejection in the Office action. The reply must present arguments pointing out the specific distinction believed to render the claims patentable over any applied references.

If an applicant disagrees with any factual findings by the Office, an effective traverse of a rejection based wholly or partially on such findings must include a reasoned statement explaining why the applicant believes the Office has erred substantively as to the factual findings. A mere statement or argument that the Office has not established a prima facie case of obviousness or that the Office’s reliance on common knowledge is unsupported by documentary evidence will not be considered substantively adequate to rebut the rejection or an effective traverse of the rejection under 37 CFR 1.111(b). Office personnel addressing this situation may repeat the rejection made in the prior Office action and make the next Office action final. See MPEP § 706.07(a).

V.   CONSIDERATION OF APPLICANT’S REBUTTAL EVIDENCE

Office personnel should consider all rebuttal evidence that is timely presented by the applicants when reevaluating any obviousness determination. Rebuttal evidence may include evidence of “secondary considerations,” such as “commercial success, long felt but unsolved needs, [and] failure of others” (Graham v. John Deere Co., 383 U.S. at 17, 148 USPQ at 467), and may also include evidence of unexpected results. As set forth above, Office personnel must articulate findings of fact that support the rationale relied upon in an obviousness rejection. As a result, applicants are likely to submit evidence to rebut the fact finding made by Office personnel. For example, in the case of a claim to a combination, applicants may submit evidence or argument to demonstrate that:

  • (A) one of ordinary skill in the art could not have combined the claimed elements by known methods (e.g., due to technological difficulties);
  • (B) the elements in combination do not merely perform the function that each element performs separately; or
  • (C) the results of the claimed combination were unexpected.

Once the applicant has presented rebuttal evidence, Office personnel should reconsider any initial obviousness determination in view of the entire record. See, e.g., In re Piasecki, 745 F.2d 1468, 1472, 223 USPQ 785, 788 (Fed. Cir. 1984); In re Eli Lilly & Co., 90 F.2d 943, 945, 14 USPQ2d 1741, 1743 (Fed. Cir. 1990). All the rejections of record and proposed rejections and their bases should be reviewed to confirm their continued viability. The Office action should clearly communicate the Office’s findings and conclusions, articulating how the conclusions are supported by the findings. The procedures set forth in MPEP § 706.07(a) are to be followed in determining whether an action may be made final.

See MPEP § 2145 concerning consideration of applicant’s rebuttal evidence. See also MPEP § 716 to § 716.10 regarding affidavits or declarations filed under37 CFR 1.132 for purposes of traversing grounds of rejection.

2141.01   Scope and Content of the Prior Art [R-11.2013]

[Editor Note: This MPEP section is applicable to applications subject to the first inventor to file (FITF) provisions of the AIA except that the relevant date is the "effective filing date" of the claimed invention instead of the "time the invention was made," which is only applicable to applications subject to pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102. See 35 U.S.C. 100 (note) and MPEP § 2150 et seq.]

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 103Ex 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.”).

Furthermore, admitted prior art can be relied upon for both anticipation and obviousness determinations, regardless of whether the admitted prior art would otherwise qualify as prior art under the statutory categories of 35 U.S.C. 102Riverwood Int’l Corp. v. R.A. Jones & Co., 324 F.3d 1346, 1354, 66 USPQ2d 1331, 1337 (Fed. Cir. 2003); Constant v. Advanced Micro-Devices Inc., 848 F.2d 1560, 1570, 7 USPQ2d 1057, 1063 (Fed. Cir. 1988). See MPEP § 2129 for discussion of admissions as prior art.

35 U.S.C. 103 rejection is based on 35 U.S.C. 102(a)(1) or (a)(2) or pre-AIA 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 subject to pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102 is said to be a statutory bar just as if it anticipated the claims under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(b). Analogously, an obviousness rejection based on a publication which would be applied under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 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.

For an overview of what constitutes prior art under 35 U.S.C. 102, see MPEP § 901 - § 901.06(d)§ 2121 - § 2129 and § 2151 - § 2155 .

II.   SUBSTANTIVE CONTENT OF THE PRIOR ART

See MPEP § 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, subsection 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. ...” 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.   Pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 103(c) — EVIDENCE REQUIRED TO SHOW CONDITIONS OF Pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 103(c) APPLY

An applicant subject to pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102 who wants to avail himself or herself of the benefits of pre-AIA 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 pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102 used in a rejection under pre-AIA 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 pre-AIA 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 pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102 used in a rejection under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 103(a).

Note that for applications filed prior to November 29, 1999, and granted as patents prior to December 10, 2004pre-AIA 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 pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 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 pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(e)/103rejection with a terminal disclaimer by alleging that the public policy intent of pre-AIA 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 [R-08.2012]

[Editor Note: This MPEP section is applicable to applications subject to the first inventor to file (FITF) provisions of the AIA except that the relevant date is the "effective filing date" of the claimed invention instead of the "time of the invention," which is only applicable to applications subject to pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102. See35 U.S.C. 100 (note) and MPEP § 2150 et seq.]

I.   TO RELY ON A REFERENCE UNDER 35 U.S.C. 103, IT MUST BE ANALOGOUS PRIOR ART

In order for a reference to be proper for use in an obviousness rejection under 35 U.S.C. 103 , the reference must be analogous art to the claimed invention. In re Bigio, 381 F.3d 1320, 1325, 72 USPQ2d 1209, 1212 (Fed. Cir. 2004). The examiner must determine what is “analogous prior art” for the purpose of analyzing the obviousness of the subject matter at issue. “Under the correct analysis, any need or problem known in the field of endeavor at the time of the invention and addressed by the patent [or application at issue] can provide a reason for combining the elements in the manner claimed. ” KSR Int'l Co. v. Teleflex Inc., 550 U.S. 398, 420, 82 USPQ2d 1385, 1397 (2007). This does not require that the reference be from the same field of endeavor as the claimed invention, in light of the Supreme Court's instruction that "[w]hen a work is available in one field of endeavor, design incentives and other market forces can prompt variations of it, either in the same field or a different one." Id. at 417, 82 USPQ2d 1396. Rather, a reference is analogous art to the claimed invention if: (1) the reference is from the same field of endeavor as the claimed invention (even if it addresses a different problem); or (2) the reference is reasonably pertinent to the problem faced by the inventor (even if it is not in the same field of endeavor as the claimed invention). See Bigio, 381 F.3d at 1325, 72 USPQ2d at 1212.

In order for a reference to be "reasonably pertinent" to the problem, it must "logically [] have commended itself to an inventor's attention in considering his problem. " In re Icon Health and Fitness, Inc., 496 F.3d 1374, 1379-80 (Fed. Cir. 2007) (quoting In re Clay, 966 F.2d 656,658, 23 USPQ2 1058, 1061 (Fed. Cir. 1992)). A recent decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, In re Klein, 647 F.3d 1343, 98 USPQ2d 1991 (Fed. Cir. 2011), is instructive as to the "reasonably pertinent" prong for determining whether a reference is analogous art. In determining whether a reference is reasonably pertinent, an examiner should consider the problem faced by the inventor, as reflected - either explicitly or implicitly - in the specification. In order to support a determination that a reference is reasonably pertinent, it may be appropriate to include a statement of the examiner's understanding of the problem. The question of whether a reference is reasonably pertinent often turns on how the problem to be solved is perceived. If the problem to be solved is viewed in a narrow or constrained way, and such a view is not consistent with the specification, the scope of available prior art may be inappropriately limited. It may be necessary for the examiner to explain why an inventor seeking to solve the identified problem would have looked to the reference in an attempt to find a solution to the problem, i.e., factual reasons why the prior art is pertinent to the identified problem.

Any argument by the applicant that the examiner has misconstrued the problem to be solved, and as a result has improperly relied on nonanalogous art, should be fully considered in light of the specification. In evaluating the applicant's argument, the examiner should look to the teachings of the specification and the inferences that would reasonably have been drawn from the specification by a person of ordinary skill in the art as a guide to understanding the problem to be solved. A prior art reference not in the same field of endeavor as the claimed invention must be reasonably pertinent to the problem to be solved in order to qualify as analogous art and be applied in an obviousness rejection.

II.   CONSIDER SIMILARITIES AND DIFFERENCES IN STRUCTURE AND FUNCTION

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).).

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, Stevenson v. Int'l 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. Id.at 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. Id. 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. Id. 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, 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, 1400 (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.”).

2141.02   Differences Between Prior Art and Claimed Invention [R-08.2012]

[Editor Note: This MPEP section is applicable to applications subject to the first inventor to file (FITF) provisions of the AIA except that the relevant date is the "effective filing date" of the claimed invention instead of the "time the invention was made," which is only applicable to applications subject to pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102. See 35 U.S.C. 100 (note) and MPEP § 2150 et seq.]

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 & Assoc., 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. 1987), 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 & Assoc., 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 [R-08.2012]

[Editor Note: This MPEP section is applicable to applications subject to the first inventor to file (FITF) provisions of the AIA except that the relevant date is the "effective filing date" of the claimed invention instead of the "time of the invention" or "time the invention was made," which are only applicable to applications subject to pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102. See 35 U.S.C. 100 (note) and MPEP § 2150 et seq.]

I.    FACTORS TO CONSIDER IN DETERMINING LEVEL OF ORDINARY SKILL

The person of ordinary skill in the art is a hypothetical person who is presumed to have known the relevant art at the time of the invention. Factors that may be considered in determining the level of ordinary skill in the art may include: (A) “type of problems encountered in the art;” (B) “prior art solutions to those problems;” (C) “rapidity with which innovations are made;” (D) “sophistication of the technology; and” (E) “educational level of active workers in the field. In a given case, every factor may not be present, and one or more factors may predominate.” In re GPAC, 57 F.3d 1573, 1579, 35 USPQ2d 1116, 1121 (Fed. Cir. 1995); Custom Accessories, Inc. v. Jeffrey-Allan Indus., Inc., 807 F.2d 955, 962, 1 USPQ2d 1196, 1201 (Fed. Cir. 1986 ); Environmental Designs, Ltd. V. Union Oil Co., 713 F.2d 693, 696, 218 USPQ 865, 868 (Fed. Cir. 1983).

“A person of ordinary skill in the art is also a person of ordinary creativity, not an automaton.” KSR Int'l Co. v. Teleflex Inc., 550 U.S. 398, 421, 82 USPQ2d 1385, 1397 (2007). “[I]n many cases a person of ordinary skill will be able to fit the teachings of multiple patents together like pieces of a puzzle.” Id. at 420, 82 USPQ2d 1397. Office personnel may also take into account “the inferences and creative steps that a person of ordinary skill in the art would employ.” Id. at 418, 82 USPQ2d at 1396.

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." Nat'l Steel Car, Ltd. v. Can. Pac. Ry., 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 can, nonetheless, “... be used to demonstrate a motivation to combine implicit in the knowledge of one of ordinary skill in the art”).

II.    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).

III.    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).

2142    Legal Concept of Prima Facie Obviousness [R-11.2013]

The legal concept of prima facie obviousness is a procedural tool of examination which applies broadly to all arts. It allocates who has the burden of going forward with production of evidence in each step of the examination process. See In re Rinehart, 531 F.2d 1048, 189 USPQ 143 (CCPA 1976); In re Linter, 458 F.2d 1013, 173 USPQ 560 (CCPA 1972); In re Saunders, 444 F.2d 599, 170 USPQ 213 (CCPA 1971); In re Tiffin, 443 F.2d 394, 170 USPQ 88 (CCPA 1971),amended, 448 F.2d 791, 171 USPQ 294 (CCPA 1971); In re Warner, 379 F.2d 1011, 154 USPQ 173 (CCPA 1967), cert. denied, 389 U.S. 1057 (1968). The examiner bears the initial burden of factually supporting any prima facie conclusion of obviousness. If the examiner does not produce a prima facie case, the applicant is under no obligation to submit secondary evidence to show nonobviousness. If, however, the examiner does produce a prima facie case, the burden of coming forward with evidence or arguments shifts to the applicant who may submit additional evidence of nonobviousness, such as comparative test data showing that the claimed invention possesses improved properties not expected by the prior art. The decision of whether to submit evidence after a rejection should be influenced by the goals of compact prosecution, which encourages the early submission of such evidence. It is also noted that evidence submitted after final rejection may be denied entry into the record. The initial evaluation of prima facie obviousness thus relieves both the examiner and applicant from evaluating evidence beyond the prior art and the evidence in the specification as filed until the art has been shown to render obvious the claimed invention.

To reach a proper determination under 35 U.S.C. 103, the examiner must step backward in time and into the shoes worn by the hypothetical “person of ordinary skill in the art” when the invention was unknown and just before it was made. In view of all factual information, the examiner must then make a determination whether the claimed invention “as a whole” would have been obvious at that time to that person. Knowledge of applicant’s disclosure must be put aside in reaching this determination, yet kept in mind in order to determine the “differences,” conduct the search and evaluate the “subject matter as a whole” of the invention. The tendency to resort to “hindsight” based upon applicant's disclosure is often difficult to avoid due to the very nature of the examination process. However, impermissible hindsight must be avoided and the legal conclusion must be reached on the basis of the facts gleaned from the prior art.

  ESTABLISHING A PRIMA FACIE CASE OF OBVIOUSNESS

The key to supporting any rejection under 35 U.S.C. 103 is the clear articulation of the reason(s) why the claimed invention would have been obvious. The Supreme Court in KSR Int'l Co. v. Teleflex Inc., 550 U.S. 538, 418, 82 USPQ2d 1385, 1396 (2007) noted that the analysis supporting a rejection under 35 U.S.C. 103 should be made explicit. The Federal Circuit has stated that "rejections on obviousness cannot be sustained with mere conclusory statements; instead, there must be some articulated reasoning with some rational underpinning to support the legal conclusion of obviousness.” In re Kahn, 441 F.3d 977, 988, 78 USPQ2d 1329, 1336 (Fed. Cir. 2006); see also KSR, 550 U.S. at 418, 82 USPQ2d at 1396 (quoting Federal Circuit statement with approval).

It remains true that “[t]he determination of obviousness is dependent on the facts of each case.” Sanofi-Synthelabo v. Apotex, Inc., 550 F.3d 1075, 1089, 89 USPQ2d 1370, 1379 (Fed. Cir. 2008) (citing Graham, 383 U.S. at 17-18, 148 USPQ 459, 467 (1966)). If the examiner determines there is factual support for rejecting the claimed invention under 35 U.S.C. 103, the examiner must then consider any evidence supporting the patentability of the claimed invention, such as any evidence in the specification or any other evidence submitted by the applicant. The ultimate determination of patentability is based on the entire record, by a preponderance of evidence, with due consideration to the persuasiveness of any arguments and any secondary evidence. In re Oetiker, 977 F.2d 1443, 24 USPQ2d 1443 (Fed. Cir. 1992). The legal standard of “a preponderance of evidence” requires the evidence to be more convincing than the evidence which is offered in opposition to it. With regard to rejections under 35 U.S.C. 103, the examiner must provide evidence which as a whole shows that the legal determination sought to be proved (i.e., the reference teachings establish a prima facie case of obviousness) is more probable than not.

When an applicant submits evidence, whether in the specification as originally filed or in reply to a rejection, the examiner must reconsider the patentability of the claimed invention. The decision on patentability must be made based upon consideration of all the evidence, including the evidence submitted by the examiner and the evidence submitted by the applicant. A decision to make or maintain a rejection in the face of all the evidence must show that it was based on the totality of the evidence. Facts established by rebuttal evidence must be evaluated along with the facts on which the conclusion of obviousness was reached, not against the conclusion itself. In re Eli Lilly & Co., 902 F.2d 943, 14 USPQ2d 1741 (Fed. Cir. 1990).

See In re Piasecki, 745 F.2d 1468, 223 USPQ 785 (Fed. Cir. 1984) for a discussion of the proper roles of the examiner’s prima facie case and applicant’s rebuttal evidence in the final determination of obviousness. See MPEP § 706.02(j) for a discussion of the proper contents of a rejection under 35 U.S.C. 103.

2143    Examples of Basic Requirements of a Prima Facie Case of Obviousness [R-08.2012]

[Editor Note: This MPEP section is applicable to applications subject to the first inventor to file (FITF) provisions of the AIA except that the relevant date is the "effective filing date" of the claimed invention instead of the "time of the invention" or "time the invention was made," which are only applicable to applications subject to pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102. See 35 U.S.C. 100 (note) and MPEP § 2150 et seq.]

The Supreme Court in KSR Int'l Co. v. Teleflex Inc., 550 U.S. 398, 415-421, 82 USPQ2d 1385, 1395-97 (2007) identified a number of rationales to support a conclusion of obviousness which are consistent with the proper “functional approach” to the determination of obviousness as laid down in Graham. The key to supporting any rejection under 35 U.S.C. 103 is the clear articulation of the reason(s) why the claimed invention would have been obvious. The Supreme Court in KSR noted that the analysis supporting a rejection under 35 U.S.C. 103 should be made explicit. In Ball Aerosol v. Ltd. Brands, 555 F.3d 984, 89 USPQ2d 1870 (Fed. Cir. 2009), the Federal Circuit offered additional instruction as to the need for an explicit analysis. The Federal Circuit explained that the Supreme Court’s requirement for an explicit analysis does not require record evidence of an explicit teaching of a motivation to combine in the prior art.

"[T]he analysis that "should be made explicit" refers not to the teachings in the prior art of a motivation to combine, but to the court’s analysis. . . . Under the flexible inquiry set forth by the Supreme Court, the district court therefore erred by failing to take account of 'the inferences and creative steps,' or even routine steps, that an inventor would employ and by failing to find a motivation to combine related pieces from the prior art." Ball Aerosol, 555 F.3d at 993, 89 USPQ2d at 1877.

The Federal Circuit’s directive in Ball Aerosol was addressed to a lower court, but it applies to Office personnel as well. When setting forth a rejection, Office personnel are to continue to make appropriate findings of fact as explained in MPEP § 2141 and § 2143, and must provide a reasoned explanation as to why the invention as claimed would have been obvious to a person of ordinary skill in the art at the time of the invention. This requirement for explanation remains even in situations in which Office personnel may properly rely on intangible realities such as common sense and ordinary ingenuity.

I.   EXEMPLARY RATIONALES

Exemplary rationales that may support a conclusion of obviousness include:

  • (A) Combining prior art elements according to known methods to yield predictable results;
  • (B) Simple substitution of one known element for another to obtain predictable results;
  • (C) Use of known technique to improve similar devices (methods, or products) in the same way;
  • (D) Applying a known technique to a known device (method, or product) ready for improvement to yield predictable results;
  • (E) “Obvious to try” – choosing from a finite number of identified, predictable solutions, with a reasonable expectation of success;
  • (F) Known work in one field of endeavor may prompt variations of it for use in either the same field or a different one based on design incentives or other market forces if the variations are predictable to one of ordinary skill in the art;
  • (G) Some teaching, suggestion, or motivation in the prior art that would have led one of ordinary skill to modify the prior art reference or to combine prior art reference teachings to arrive at the claimed invention.

Note that the list of rationales provided is not intended to be an all-inclusive list. Other rationales to support a conclusion of obviousness may be relied upon by Office personnel. Any rationale employed must provide a link between the factual findings and the legal conclusion of obviousness.

It is important for Office personnel to recognize that when they do choose to formulate an obviousness rejection using one of the rationales suggested by the Supreme Court in KSR and discussed herein, they are to adhere to the guidance provided regarding the necessary factual findings. It remains Office policy that appropriate factual findings are required in order to apply the enumerated rationales properly.

The subsections below include discussions of each rationale along with examples illustrating how the cited rationales may be used to support a finding of obviousness. Some examples use the facts of pre-KSR cases to show how the rationales suggested by the Court in KSR may be used to support a finding of obviousness. The cases cited (from which the facts were derived) may not necessarily stand for the proposition that the particular rationale is the basis for the court’s holding of obviousness, but they do illustrate consistency of past decisions with the lines of reasoning laid out in KSR. Other examples are post-KSRdecisions that show how the Federal Circuit has applied the principles of KSR. Cases are included that illustrate findings of obviousness as well as nonobviousness. Note that, in some instances, a single case is used in different subsections to illustrate the use of more than one rationale to support a finding of obviousness. It will often be the case that, once the Graham inquiries have been satisfactorily resolved, a conclusion of obviousness may be supported by more than one line of reasoning.

A.   Combining Prior Art Elements According to Known Methods To Yield Predictable Results

To reject a claim based on this rationale, Office personnel must resolve the Graham factual inquiries. Then, Office personnel must articulate the following:

  • (1) a finding that the prior art included each element claimed, although not necessarily in a single prior art reference, with the only difference between the claimed invention and the prior art being the lack of actual combination of the elements in a single prior art reference;
  • (2) a finding that one of ordinary skill in the art could have combined the elements as claimed by known methods, and that in combination, each element merely performs the same function as it does separately;
  • (3) a finding that one of ordinary skill in the art would have recognized that the results of the combination were predictable; and
  • (4) whatever additional findings based on the Graham factual inquiries may be necessary, in view of the facts of the case under consideration, to explain a conclusion of obviousness.

The rationale to support a conclusion that the claim would have been obvious is that all the claimed elements were known in the prior art and one skilled in the art could have combined the elements as claimed by known methods with no change in their respective functions, and the combination yielded nothing more than predictable results to one of ordinary skill in the art. KSR, 550 U.S. at 416, 82 USPQ2d at 1395; Sakraida v. AG Pro, Inc., 425 U.S. 273, 282, 189 USPQ 449, 453 (1976); Anderson’s-Black Rock, Inc. v. Pavement Salvage Co., 396 U.S. 57, 62-63, 163 USPQ 673, 675 (1969); Great Atl. & P. Tea Co. v. Supermarket Equip. Corp., 340 U.S. 147, 152, 87 USPQ 303, 306 (1950). “[I]t can be important to identify a reason that would have prompted a person of ordinary skill in the relevant field to combine the elements in the way the claimed new invention does.” KSR, 550 U.S. at 418, 82 USPQ2d at 1396. If any of these findings cannot be made, then this rationale cannot be used to support a conclusion that the claim would have been obvious to one of ordinary skill in the art.

Example 1:

The claimed invention in Anderson’s-Black Rock, Inc. v. Pavement Salvage Co., 396 U.S. 57, 163 USPQ 673 (1969) was a paving machine which combined several well-known elements onto a single chassis. Standard prior art paving machines typically combined equipment for spreading and shaping asphalt onto a single chassis. The patent claim included the well-known element of a radiant-heat burner attached to the side of the paver for the purpose of preventing cold joints during continuous strip paving. The prior art used radiant heat for softening the asphalt to make patches, but did not use radiant heat burners to achieve continuous strip paving. All of the component parts were known in the prior art. The only difference was the combination of the “old elements” into a single device by mounting them on a single chassis. The Court found that the operation of the heater was in no way dependent on the operation of the other equipment, and that a separate heater could also be used in conjunction with a standard paving machine to achieve the same results. The Court concluded that “[t]he convenience of putting the burner together with the other elements in one machine, though perhaps a matter of great convenience, did not produce a ‘new’ or ‘different function’” and that to those skilled in the art the use of the old elements in combination would have been obvious. Id. at 60, 163 USPQ at 674.

Note that combining known prior art elements is not sufficient to render the claimed invention obvious if the results would not have been predictable to one of ordinary skill in the art. United States v. Adams, 383 U.S. 39, 51-52, 148 USPQ 479, 483-84 (1966). In Adams, the claimed invention was to a battery with one magnesium electrode and one cuprous chloride electrode that could be stored dry and activated by the addition of plain water or salt water. Although magnesium and cuprous chloride were individually known battery components, the Court concluded that the claimed battery was nonobvious. The Court stated that “[d]espite the fact that each of the elements of the Adams battery was well known in the prior art, to combine them as did Adams required that a person reasonably skilled in the prior art must ignore” the teaching away of the prior art that such batteries were impractical and that water-activated batteries were successful only when combined with electrolytes detrimental to the use of magnesium electrodes. Id. at 42-43, 50-52, 148 USPQ at 480, 483. “[w]hen the prior art teaches away from combining certain known elements, discovery of successful means of combining them is more likely to be nonobvious.”KSR, 550 U.S. at 416, 82 USPQ2d at 1395.

Example 2:

The claimed invention in Ruiz v. AB Chance Co., 357 F.3d 1270, 69 USPQ2d 1686 (Fed. Cir. 2004) was directed to a system which employs a screw anchor for underpinning existing foundations and a metal bracket to transfer the building load onto the screw anchor. The prior art (Fuller) used screw anchors for underpinning existing structural foundations. Fuller used a concrete haunch to transfer the load of the foundation to the screw anchor. The prior art (Gregory) used a push pier for underpinning existing structural foundations. Gregory taught a method of transferring load using a bracket, specifically: a metal bracket transfers the foundation load to the push pier. The pier is driven into the ground to support the load. Neither reference showed the two elements of the claimed invention – screw anchor and metal bracket – used together. The court found that “artisans knew that a foundation underpinning system requires a means of connecting the foundation to the load-bearing member.” Id. at 1276, 69 USPQ2d at 1691.

The nature of the problem to be solved – underpinning unstable foundations – as well as the need to connect the member to the foundation to accomplish this goal, would have led one of ordinary skill in the art to choose an appropriate load bearing member and a compatible attachment. Therefore, it would have been obvious to use a metal bracket (as shown in Gregory) in combination with the screw anchor (as shown in Fuller) to underpin unstable foundations.

Example 3:

The case of In re Omeprazole Patent Litigation, 536 F.3d 1361, 87 USPQ2d 1865 (Fed. Cir. 2008), is one in which the claims in question were found to be nonobvious in the context of an argument to combine prior art elements. The invention involved applying enteric coatings to a drug in pill form for the purpose of ensuring that the drug did not disintegrate before reaching its intended site of action. The drug at issue was omeprazole, the generic name for gastric acid inhibitor marketed as Prilosec®. The claimed formulation included two layers of coatings over the active ingredient.

The district court found that Astra’s patent in suit was infringed by defendants Apotex and Impax. The district court rejected Apotex’s defense that the patents were invalid for obviousness. Apotex had argued that the claimed invention was obvious because coated omeprazole tablets were known from a prior art reference, and because secondary subcoatings in pharmaceutical preparations generally were also known. There was no evidence of unpredictability associated with applying two different enteric coatings to omeprazole. However, Astra’s reason for applying an intervening subcoating between the prior art coating and omeprazole had been that the prior art coating was actually interacting with omeprazole, thereby contributing to undesirable degradation of the active ingredient. This degradation of omeprazole by interaction with the prior art coating had not been recognized in the prior art. Therefore, the district court reasoned that based on the evidence available, a person of ordinary skill in the art would have had no reason to include a subcoating in an omeprazole pill formulation.

The Federal Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision that the claimed invention was not obvious. Even though subcoatings for enteric drug formulation were known, and there was no evidence of undue technical hurdles or lack of a reasonable expectation of success, the formulation was nevertheless not obvious because the flaws in the prior art formulation that had prompted the modification had not been recognized. Thus there would have been no reason to modify the initial formulation, even though the modification could have been done. Moreover, a person of skill in the art likely would have chosen a different modification even if he or she had recognized the problem.

Office personnel should note that in this case the modification of the prior art that had been presented as an argument for obviousness was an extra process step that added an additional component to a known, successfully marketed formulation. The proposed modification thus amounted to extra work and greater expense for no apparent reason. This is not the same as combining known prior art elements A and B when each would have been expected to contribute its own known properties to the final product. In the Omeprazole case, in view of the expectations of those of ordinary skill in the art, adding the subcoating would not have been expected to confer any particular desirable property on the final product. Rather, the final product obtained according to the proposed modifications would merely have been expected to have the same functional properties as the prior art product.

The Omeprazole case can also be analyzed in view of the discovery of a previously unknown problem by the patentee. If the adverse interaction between active agent and coating had been known, it might well have been obvious to use a subcoating. However, since the problem had not been previously known, there would have been no reason to incur additional time and expense to add another layer, even though the addition would have been technologically possible. This is true because the prior art of record failed to mention any stability problem, despite the acknowledgment during testimony at trial that there was a known theoretical reason that omeprazole might be subject to degradation in the presence of the known coating material.

Example 4:

The case of Crocs, Inc. v. U.S. Int'l Trade Comm'n, 598 F.3d 1294, 93 USPQ 1777 (Fed. Cir. 2010), is a decision in which the claimed foam footwear was held by the Federal Circuit to be nonobvious over a combination of prior art references.

The claims involved in the obviousness issue were from Crocs’ U.S. Patent No. 6,993,858, and were drawn to footwear in which a one-piece molded foam base section formed the top of the shoe (the upper) and the sole. A strap also made of foam was attached to the foot opening of the upper, such that the strap could provide support to the Achilles portion of the wearer’s foot. The strap was attached via connectors that allowed it to be in contact with the base section, and to pivot relative to the base section. Because both the base portion and the strap were made of foam, friction between the strap and the base section allowed the strap to maintain its position after pivoting. In other words, the foam strap did not fall under the force of gravity to a position adjacent to the heel of the base section.

The International Trade Commission (ITC) determined that the claims were obvious over the combination of two pieces of prior art. The first was the Aqua Clog, which was a shoe that corresponded to the base section of the footwear of the ‘858 patent. The second was the Aguerre patent, which taught heel straps made of elastic or another flexible material. In the ITC’s view, the claimed invention was obvious because the prior art Aqua Clog differed from the claimed invention only as to the presence of the strap, and a suitable strap was taught by Aguerre.

The Federal Circuit disagreed. The Federal Circuit stated that the prior art did not teach foam heel straps, or that a foam heel strap should be placed in contact with a foam base. The Federal Circuit pointed out that the prior art actually counseled against using foam as a material for the heel strap of a shoe.

The record shows that the prior art would actually discourage and teach away from the use of foam straps. An ordinary artisan in this field would not add a foam strap to the foam Aqua Clog because foam was likely to stretch and deform, in addition to causing discomfort for a wearer. The prior art depicts foam as unsuitable for straps.

Id. at 1309, 93 USPQ2d at 1787-88.

The Federal Circuit continued, stating that even if – contrary to fact – the claimed invention had been a combination of elements that were known in the prior art, the claims still would have been nonobvious. There was testimony in the record that the loose fit of the heel strap made the shoe more comfortable for the wearer than prior art shoes in which the heel strap was constantly in contact with the wearer’s foot. In the claimed footwear, the foam heel strap contacted the wearer’s foot only when needed to help reposition the foot properly in the shoe, thus reducing wearer discomfort that could arise from constant contact. This desirable feature was a result of the friction between the base section and the strap that kept the strap in place behind the Achilles portion of the wearer’s foot. The Federal Circuit pointed out that this combination “yielded more than predictable results.” Id. at 1310, 93 USPQ2d at 1788. Aguerre had taught that friction between the base section and the strap was a problem rather than an advantage, and had suggested the use of nylon washers to reduce friction. Thus the Federal Circuit stated that even if all elements of the claimed invention had been taught by the prior art, the claims would not have been obvious because the combination yielded more than predictable results.

The Federal Circuit’s discussion in Crocs serves as a reminder to Office personnel that merely pointing to the presence of all claim elements in the prior art is not a complete statement of a rejection for obviousness. In accordance with MPEP § 2143, subsection I.A.(3), a proper rejection based on the rationale that the claimed invention is a combination of prior art elements also includes a finding that results flowing from the combination would have been predictable to a person of ordinary skill in the art. MPEP § 2143, subsection I.A.(3). If results would not have been predictable, Office personnel should not enter an obviousness rejection using the combination of prior art elements rationale, and should withdraw such a rejection if it has been made.

Example 5:

Sundance, Inc. v. DeMonte Fabricating Ltd., 550 F.3d 1356, 89 USPQ2d 1535 (Fed. Cir. 2008), involved a segmented and mechanized cover for trucks, swimming pools, or other structures. The claim was found to be obvious over the prior art applied.

A first prior art reference taught that a reason for making a segmented cover was ease of repair, in that a single damaged segment could be readily removed and replaced when necessary. A second prior art reference taught the advantages of a mechanized cover for ease of opening. The Federal Circuit noted that the segmentation aspect of the first reference and the mechanization function of the second perform in the same way after combination as they had before. The Federal Circuit further observed that a person of ordinary skill in the art would have expected that adding replaceable segments as taught by the first reference to the mechanized cover of the other would result in a cover that maintained the advantageous properties of both of the prior art covers.

Thus, the Sundance case points out that a hallmark of a proper obviousness rejection based on combining known prior art elements is that one of ordinary skill in the art would reasonably have expected the elements to maintain their respective properties or functions after they have been combined.

Example 6:

In the case of Ecolab, Inc. v. FMC Corp., 569 F.3d 1335, 91 USPQ2d 1225 (Fed Cir. 2009), an “apparent reason to combine” in conjunction with the technical ability to optimize led to the conclusion that the claimed invention would have been obvious.

The invention in question was a method of treating meat to reduce the incidence of pathogens, by spraying the meat with an antibacterial solution under specified conditions. The parties did not dispute that a single prior art reference had taught all of the elements of the claimed invention, except for the pressure limitation of “at least 50 psi.”

FMC had argued at the district court that the claimed invention would have been obvious in view of the first prior art reference mentioned above in view of a second reference that had taught the advantages of spray-treating at pressures of 20 to 150 psi when treating meat with a different antibacterial agent. The district court did not find FMC’s argument to be convincing, and denied the motion for judgment as a matter of law that the claim was obvious.

Disagreeing with the district court, the Federal Circuit stated that “there was an apparent reason to combine these known elements – namely to increase contact between the [antibacterial solution] and the bacteria on the meat surface and to use the pressure to wash additional bacteria off the meat surface.” Id. at 1350, 91 USPQ2d at 1234. The Federal Circuit explained that because the second reference had taught “using high pressure to improve the effectiveness of an antimicrobial solution when sprayed onto meat, and because an ordinarily skilled artisan would have recognized the reasons for applying [the claimed antibacterial solution] using high pressure and would have known how to do so, Ecolab’s claims combining high pressure with other limitations disclosed in FMC’s patent are invalid as obvious.” Id.

When considering the question of obviousness, Office personnel should keep in mind the capabilities of a person of ordinary skill. In Ecolab, the Federal Circuit stated:

Ecolab’s expert admitted that one skilled in the art would know how to adjust application parameters to determine the optimum parameters for a particular solution. The question then is whether it would have been obvious to combine the high pressure parameter disclosed in the Bender patent with the PAA methods disclosed in FMC’s ’676 patent. The answer is yes. Id.

If optimization of the application parameters had not been within the level of ordinary skill in the art, the outcome of the Ecolab case may well have been different.

Example 7:

In the case of Wyers v. Master Lock Co., 616 F.3d 1231, 95 USPQ2d 1525 (Fed. Cir. 2010), the Federal Circuit held that the claimed barbell-shaped hitch pin locks used to secure trailers to vehicles were obvious.

The court discussed two different sets of claims in Wyers, both drawn to improvements over the prior art hitch pin locks. The first improvement was a removable sleeve that could be placed over the shank of the hitch pin lock so that the same lock could be used with towing apertures of varying sizes. The second improvement was an external flat flange seal adapted to protect the internal lock mechanism from contaminants. Wyers had admitted that each of several prior art references taught every element of the claimed inventions except for the removable sleeve and the external covering. Master Lock had argued that these references, in combination with additional references teaching the missing elements, would have rendered the claims obvious. The court first addressed the question of whether the additional references relied on by Master Lock were analogous prior art. As to the reference teaching the sleeve improvement, the court concluded that it dealt specifically with using a vehicle to tow a trailer, and was therefore in the same field of endeavor as Wyers’ sleeve improvement. The reference teaching the sealing improvement dealt with a padlock rather than a lock for a tow hitch. The court noted that Wyers’ specification had characterized the claimed invention as being in the field of locking devices, thus at least suggesting that the sealed padlock reference was in the same field of endeavor. However, the court also observed that even if sealed padlocks were not in the same field of endeavor, they were nevertheless reasonably pertinent to the problem of avoiding contamination of a locking mechanism for tow hitches. The court explained that the Supreme Court’s decision in KSR “directs [it] to construe the scope of analogous art broadly.” Id. at 1238, 95 USPQ2d at 1530. For these reasons, the court found that Master Lock’s asserted references were analogous prior art, and therefore relevant to the obviousness inquiry.

The court then turned to the question of whether there would have been adequate motivation to combine the prior art elements as had been urged by Master Lock. The court recalled the Graham inquiries, and also emphasized the “expansive and flexible” post-KSR approach to obviousness that must not “deny factfinders recourse to common sense.” Id. at 1238, 95 USPQ2d at 1530-31. (quoting KSR,550 U.S. at 415, 421, 82 USPQ2d at 1395, 1397). The court stated:

KSR and our later cases establish that the legal determination of obviousness may include recourse to logic, judgment, and common sense, in lieu of expert testimony. . . . Thus, in appropriate cases, the ultimate inference as to the existence of a motivation to combine references may boil down to a question of “common sense,” appropriate for resolution on summary judgment or JMOL.

Id. at 1240, 82 USPQ2d at 1531 (citing Perfect Web Techs., Inc. v. InfoUSA, Inc., 587 F.3d 1324, 1330, 92 USPQ2d, 1849, 1854 (Fed. Cir. 2009); Ball Aerosol, 555 F.3d at 993, 89 USPQ2d 1870, 1875 (Fed. Cir. 2009)).

After reviewing these principles, the court proceeded to explain why adequate motivation to combine had been established in this case. With regard to the sleeve improvement, it pointed out that the need for different sizes of hitch pins was well known in the art, and that this was a known source of inconvenience and expense for users. The court also mentioned the marketplace aspect of the issue, noting that space on store shelves was at a premium, and that removable sleeves addressed this economic concern. As to the sealing improvement, the court pointed out that both internal and external seals were well-known means to protect locks from contaminants. The court concluded that the constituent elements were being employed in accordance with their recognized functions, and would have predictably retained their respective functions when combined as suggested by Master Lock. The court cited In re O’Farrell, 853 F.2d 894, 904 (Fed. Cir. 1988) for the proposition that a reasonable expectation of success is a requirement for a proper determination of obviousness.

Office personnel should note that although the Federal Circuit invoked the idea of common sense in support of a conclusion of obviousness, it did not end its explanation there. Rather, the court explained why a person of ordinary skill in the art at the time of the invention, in view of the facts relevant to the case, would have found the claimed inventions to have been obvious. The key to supporting any rejection under 35 U.S.C. 103 is the clear articulation of the reason(s) why the claimed invention would have been obvious. The Supreme Court in KSR noted that the analysis supporting a rejection under 35 U.S.C. 103 should be made explicit. The Court quoting In re Kahn, 441 F.3d 977, 988, 78 USPQ2d 1329, 1336 (Fed. Cir. 2006), stated that “[R]ejections on obviousness cannot be sustained by mere conclusory statements; instead, there must be some articulated reasoning with some rational underpinning to support the legal conclusion of obviousness.” See MPEP § 2141, subsection III. Office personnel should continue to provide a reasoned explanation for every obviousness rejection.

Example 8:

The claim in DePuy Spine, Inc. v. Medtronic Sofamor Danek, Inc., 567 F.3d 1314, 90 USPQ2d 1865 (Fed. Cir. 2009), was directed to a polyaxial pedicle screw used in spinal surgeries that included a compression member for pressing a screw head against a receiver member. A prior art reference (Puno) disclosed all of the elements of the claim except for the compression member. Instead, the screw head in Puno was separated from the receiver member to achieve a shock absorber effect, allowing some motion between receiver member and the vertebrae. The missing compression member was readily found in another prior art reference (Anderson), which disclosed an external fracture immobilization splint for immobilizing long bones with a swivel clamp capable of polyaxial movement until rigidly secured by a compression member. It was asserted during trial that a person of ordinary skill would have recognized that the addition of Anderson’s compression member to Puno’s device would have achieved a rigidly locked polyaxial pedicle screw covered by the claim.

In conducting its analysis, the Federal Circuit noted that the “predictable result” discussed in KSR refers not only to the expectation that prior art elements are capable of being physically combined, but also that the combination would have worked for its intended purpose. In this case, it was successfully argued that Puno “teaches away” from a rigid screw because Puno warned that rigidity increases the likelihood that the screw will fail within the human body, rendering the device inoperative for its intended purpose. In fact, the reference did not merely express a general preference for pedicle screws having a “shock absorber” effect, but rather expressed concern for failure and stated that the shock absorber feature “decrease[s] the chance of failure of the screw of the bone-screw interface” because “it prevent[s] direct transfer of load from the rod to the bone-screw interface.” Thus, the alleged reason to combine the prior art elements of Puno and Anderson—increasing the rigidity of the screw—ran contrary to the prior art that taught that increasing rigidity would result in a greater likelihood of failure. In view of this teaching and the backdrop of collective teachings of the prior art, the Federal Circuit determined that Puno teaches away from the proposed combination such that a person of ordinary skill would have been deterred from combining the references as proposed. Secondary considerations evaluated by the Federal Circuit relating to failure by others and copying also supported the view that the combination would not have been obvious at the time of the invention.

B.   Simple Substitution of One Known Element for Another To Obtain Predictable Results

To reject a claim based on this rationale, Office personnel must resolve the Graham factual inquiries. Then, Office personnel must articulate the following:

  • (1) a finding that the prior art contained a device (method, product, etc.) which differed from the claimed device by the substitution of some components (step, element, etc.) with other components;
  • (2) a finding that the substituted components and their functions were known in the art;
  • (3) a finding that one of ordinary skill in the art could have substituted one known element for another, and the results of the substitution would have been predictable; and
  • (4) whatever additional findings based on the Graham factual inquiries may be necessary, in view of the facts of the case under consideration, to explain a conclusion of obviousness.

The rationale to support a conclusion that the claim would have been obvious is that the substitution of one known element for another yields predictable results to one of ordinary skill in the art. If any of these findings cannot be made, then this rationale cannot be used to support a conclusion that the claim would have been obvious to one of ordinary skill in the art.

Example 1:

The claimed invention in In re Fout, 675 F.2d 297, 213 USPQ 532 (CCPA 1982) was directed to a method for decaffeinating coffee or tea. The prior art (Pagliaro) method produced a decaffeinated vegetable material and trapped the caffeine in a fatty material (such as oil). The caffeine was then removed from the fatty material by an aqueous extraction process. Applicant (Fout) substituted an evaporative distillation step for the aqueous extraction step. The prior art (Waterman) suspended coffee in oil and then directly distilled the caffeine through the oil. The court found that “[b]ecause both Pagliaro and Waterman teach a method for separating caffeine from oil, it would have been prima facie obvious to substitute one method for the other. Express suggestion to substitute one equivalent for another need not be present to render such substitution obvious.” Id. at 301, 213 USPQ at 536.

Example 2:

The claimed invention in In re O’Farrell, 853 F.2d 894, 7 USPQ2d 1673 (Fed. Cir. 1988) was directed to a method for synthesizing a protein in a transformed bacterial host species by substituting a heterologous gene for a gene native to the host species. Generally speaking, protein synthesis in vivo follows a path from DNA to mRNA. Although the prior art Polisky article (authored by two of the three inventors of the application) had explicitly suggested employing the method described for protein synthesis, the inserted heterologous gene exemplified in the article was one that normally did not proceed all the way to the protein production step, but instead terminated with the mRNA. A second reference to Bahl had described a general method of inserting chemically synthesized DNA into a plasmid. Thus, it would have been obvious to one of ordinary skill in the art to replace the prior art gene with another gene known to lead to protein production, because one of ordinary skill in the art would have been able to carry out such a substitution, and the results were reasonably predictable.

In response to applicant’s argument that there had been significant unpredictability in the field of molecular biology at the time of the invention, the court stated that the level of skill was quite high and that the teachings of Polisky, even taken alone, contained detailed enabling methodology and included the suggestion that the modification would be successful for synthesis of proteins.

This is not a situation where the rejection is a statement that it would have been “obvious to try” without more. Here there was a reasonable expectation of success. “Obviousness does not require absolute predictability of success.” Id. at 903, 7 USPQ2d at 1681.

Example 3:

The fact pattern in Ruiz v. AB Chance Co., 357 F.3d 1270, 69 USPQ2d 1686 (Fed. Cir. 2004) is set forth above in Example 2 in subsection I.A., above.

The prior art showed differing load-bearing members and differing means of attaching the foundation to the member. Therefore, it would have been obvious to one of ordinary skill in the art to substitute the metal bracket taught in Gregory for Fuller’s concrete haunch for the predictable result of transferring the load.

Example 4:

The claimed invention in Ex parte Smith, 83 USPQ2d 1509 (Bd. Pat. App. & Int. 2007), was a pocket insert for a bound book made by gluing a base sheet and a pocket sheet of paper together to form a continuous two-ply seam defining a closed pocket. The prior art (Wyant) disclosed at least one pocket formed by folding a single sheet and securing the folder portions along the inside margins using any convenient bonding method. The prior art (Wyant) did not disclose bonding the sheets to form a continuous two-ply seam. The prior art (Dick) disclosed a pocket that is made by stitching or otherwise securing two sheets along three of its four edges to define a closed pocket with an opening along its fourth edge.

In considering the teachings of Wyant and Dick, the Board “found that (1) each of the claimed elements is found within the scope and content of the prior art; (2) one of ordinary skill in the art could have combined the elements as claimed by methods known at the time the invention was made; and (3) one of ordinary skill in the art would have recognized at the time the invention was made that the capabilities or functions of the combination were predictable.” Citing KSR, the Board concluded that “[t]he substitution of the continuous, two-ply seam of Dick for the folded seam of Wyant thus is no more than the simple substitution of one known element for another or the mere application of a known technique to a piece of prior art ready for improvement.

Example 5:

The claimed invention in In re ICON Health & Fitness, Inc., 496 F.3d 1374, 83 USPQ2d 1746 (Fed. Cir. 2007), was directed to a treadmill with a folding tread base that swivels into an upright storage position, including a gas spring connected between the tread base and the upright structure to assist in stably retaining the tread base in the storage position. On reexamination, the examiner rejected the claims as obvious based on a combination of references including an advertisement (Damark) for a folding treadmill demonstrating all of the claim elements other than the gas spring, and a patent (Teague) with a gas spring. Teague was directed to a bed that folds into a cabinet using a novel dual-action spring that reverses force as the mechanism passes a neutral position, rather than a single-action spring that would provide a force pushing the bed closed at all times. The dual-action spring reduced the force required to open the bed from the closed position, while reducing the force required to lift the bed from the open position.

The Federal Circuit addressed the propriety of making the combination since Teague was in a different field than the application. Teague was found to be reasonably pertinent to the problem addressed in the application because the folding mechanism did not require any particular focus on treadmills, but rather generally addressed problems of supporting the weight of such a mechanism and providing a stable resting position.

The court also considered whether one skilled in the art would have been led to combine the teachings of Damark and Teague. Appellant argued that Teague teaches away from the invention because it directs one skilled in the art not to use single-action springs and does not satisfy the claim limitations as the dual-action springs would render the invention inoperable. The Federal Circuit considered these arguments and found that, while Teague at most teaches away from using single-action springs to decrease the opening force, it actually instructed that single-action springs provide the result desired by the inventors, which was to increase the opening force provided by gravity. As to inoperability, the claims were not limited to single-action springs and were so broad as to encompass anything that assists in stably retaining the tread base, which is the function that Teague accomplished. Additionally, the fact that the counterweight mechanism from Teague used a large spring, which appellant argued would overpower the treadmill mechanism, ignores the modifications that one skilled in the art would make to a device borrowed from the prior art. One skilled in the art would size the components from Teague appropriately for the application.

ICON is another useful example for understanding the scope of analogous art. The art applied concerned retaining mechanisms for folding beds, not treadmills. When determining whether a reference may properly be applied to an invention in a different field of endeavor, it is necessary to consider the problem to be solved. It is certainly possible that a reference may be drawn in such a way that its usefulness as a teaching is narrowly restricted. However, in ICON, the problem to be solved was not limited to the teaching of the “treadmill” concept. The Teague reference was analogous art because “Teague and the current application both address the need to stably retain a folding mechanism,” and because “nothing about ICON’s folding mechanism requires any particular focus on treadmills,” Id.at 1378, 1380, 83 USPQ2d at 1749-50.

ICON is also informative as to the relationship between the problem to be solved and existence of a reason to combine. “Indeed, while perhaps not dispositive of the issue, the finding that Teague, by addressing a similar problem, provides analogous art to ICON’s application goes a long way towards demonstrating a reason to combine the two references. Because ICON’s broad claims read on embodiments addressing that problem as described by Teague, the prior art here indicates a reason to incorporate its teachings.” Id. at 1380-81, 83 USPQ2d at 1751.

The Federal Circuit’s discussion in ICON also makes clear that if the reference does not teach that a combination is undesirable, then it cannot be said to teach away. An assessment of whether a combination would render the device inoperable must not “ignore the modifications that one skilled in the art would make to a device borrowed from the prior art.” Id. at 1382, 83 USPQ2d at 1752.

Example 6:

Agrizap, Inc. v. Woodstream Corp., 520 F.3d 1337, 86 USPQ2d 1110 (Fed. Cir. 2008), involved a stationary pest control device for electrocution of pests such as rats and gophers, in which the device is set in an area where the pest is likely to encounter it. The only difference between the claimed device and the prior art stationary pest control device was that the claimed device employed a resistive electrical switch, while the prior art device used a mechanical pressure switch. A resistive electrical switch was taught in two prior art patents, in the contexts of a hand-held pest control device and a cattle prod.

In determining that the claimed invention was obvious, the Federal Circuit noted that “[t]he asserted claims simply substitute a resistive electrical switch for the mechanical pressure switch” employed in the prior art device. Id. at 1344, 86 USPQ2d at 1115. In this case, the prior art concerning the hand-held devices revealed that the function of the substituted resistive electrical switch was well known and predictable, and that it could be used in a pest control device. According to the Federal Circuit, the references that taught the hand-held devices showed that “the use of an animal body as a resistive switch to complete a circuit for the generation of an electric charge was already well known in the prior art.” Id. Finally, the Federal Circuit noted that the problem solved by using the resistive electrical switch in the prior art hand-held devices – malfunction of mechanical switches due to dirt and dampness – also pertained to the prior art stationary pest control device.

The Federal Circuit recognized Agrizap as “a textbook case of when the asserted claims involve a combination of familiar elements according to known methods that does no more than yield predictable results.” Id. Agrizap exemplifies a strong case of obviousness based on simple substitution that was not overcome by the objective evidence of nonobviousness offered. It also demonstrates that analogous art is not limited to the field of applicant’s endeavor, in that one of the references that used an animal body as a resistive switch to complete a circuit for the generation of an electric charge was not in the field of pest control.

Example 7:

The invention at issue in Muniauction, Inc. v. Thomson Corp., 532 F.3d 1318, 87 USPQ2d1350 (Fed. Cir. 2008), was a method for auctioning municipal bonds over the Internet. A municipality could offer a package of bond instruments of varying principal amounts and maturity dates, and an interested buyer would then submit a bid comprising a price and interest rate for each maturity date. It was also possible for the interested buyer to bid on a portion of the offering. The claimed invention considered all of the noted parameters to determine the best bid. It operated on conventional Web browsers and allowed participants to monitor the course of the auction.

The only difference between the prior art bidding system and the claimed invention was the use of a conventional Web browser. At trial, the district court had determined that Muniauction’s claims were not obvious. Thomson argued that the claimed invention amounted to incorporating a Web browser into a prior art auction system, and was therefore obvious in light of KSR. Muniauction rebutted the argument by offering evidence of skepticism by experts, copying, praise, and commercial success. Although the district court found the evidence to be persuasive of nonobviousness, the Federal Circuit disagreed. It noted that a nexus between the claimed invention and the proffered evidence was lacking because the evidence was not coextensive with the claims at issue. For this reason, the Federal Circuit determined that Muniauction’s evidence of secondary considerations was not entitled to substantial weight.

The Federal Circuit analogized this case to Leapfrog Enters., Inc. v. Fisher-Price, Inc., 485 F.3d 1157, 82 USPQ2d 1687 (Fed. Cir. 2007). The Leapfrog case involved a determination of obviousness based on application of modern electronics to a prior art mechanical children’s learning device. In Leapfrog, the court noted that market pressures would have prompted a person of ordinary skill to use modern electronics in the prior art device. Similarly in Muniauction, market pressures would have prompted a person of ordinary skill to use a conventional Web browser in a method of auctioning municipal bonds.

Example 8:

In Aventis Pharma Deutschland v. Lupin Ltd., 499 F.3d 1293, 84 USPQ2d 1197 (Fed. Cir. 2007), the claims were drawn to the 5(S) stereoisomer of the blood pressure drug ramipril in stereochemically pure form, and to compositions and methods requiring 5(S) ramipril. The 5(S) stereoisomer is one in which all five stereocenters in the ramipril molecule are in the S rather than the R configuration. A mixture of various stereoisomers including 5(S) ramipril had been taught by the prior art. The question before the court was whether the purified single stereoisomer would have been obvious over the known mixture of stereoisomers.

The record showed that the presence of multiple S stereocenters in drugs similar to ramipril was known to be associated with enhanced therapeutic efficacy. For example, when all of the stereocenters were in the S form in the related drug enalapril (SSS enalapril) as compared with only two stereocenters in the S form (SSR enalapril), the therapeutic potency was 700 times as great. There was also evidence to indicate that conventional methods could be used to separate the various stereoisomers of ramipril.

The district court saw the issue as a close case, because, in its view, there was no clear motivation in the prior art to isolate 5(S) ramipril. However, the Federal Circuit disagreed, and found that the claims would have been obvious. The Federal Circuit cautioned that requiring such a clearly stated motivation in the prior art to isolate 5(S) ramipril ran counter to the Supreme Court’s decision in KSR, and the court stated:

Requiring an explicit teaching to purify the 5(S) stereoisomer from a mixture in which it is the active ingredient is precisely the sort of rigid application of the TSM test that was criticized in KSR.

Id. at 1301, 84 USPQ2d at 1204. The Aventis court also relied on the settled principle that in chemical cases, structural similarity can provide the necessary reason to modify prior art teachings. The Federal Circuit also addressed the kind of teaching that would be sufficient in the absence of an explicitly stated prior art-based motivation, explaining that an expectation of similar properties in light of the prior art can be sufficient, even without an explicit teaching that the compound will have a particular utility.

In the chemical arts, the cases involving so-called “lead compounds” form an important subgroup of the obviousness cases that are based on substitution. The Federal Circuit has had a number of opportunities since the KSR decision to discuss the circumstances under which it would have been obvious to modify a known compound to arrive at a claimed compound. The following cases explore the selection of a lead compound, the need to provide a reason for any proposed modification, and the predictability of the result.

Example 9:

Eisai Co. Ltd. v. Dr. Reddy’s Labs., Ltd., 533 F.3d 1353, 87 USPQ2d 1452 (Fed. Cir. 2008), concerns the pharmaceutical compound rabeprazole. Rabeprazole is a proton pump inhibitor for treating stomach ulcers and related disorders. The Federal Circuit affirmed the district court’s summary judgment of nonobviousness, stating that no reason had been advanced to modify the prior art compound in a way that would destroy an advantageous property.

Co-defendant Teva based its obviousness argument on the structural similarity between rabeprazole and lansoprazole. The compounds were recognized as sharing a common core, and the Federal Circuit characterized lansoprazole as a “lead compound.” The prior art compound lansoprazole was useful for the same indications as rabeprazole, and differed from rabeprazole only in that lansoprazole has a trifluoroethoxy substituent at the 4-position of the pyridine ring, while rabeprazole has a methoxypropoxy substituent. The trifluoro substituent of lansoprazole was known to be a beneficial feature because it conferred lipophilicity to the compound. The ability of a person of ordinary skill to carry out the modification to introduce the methoxypropoxy substituent, and the predictability of the result were not addressed.

Despite the significant similarity between the structures, the Federal Circuit did not find any reason to modify the lead compound. According to the Federal Circuit:

Obviousness based on structural similarity thus can be proved by identification of some motivation that would have led one of ordinary skill in the art to select and then modify a known compound (i.e. a lead compound) in a particular way to achieve the claimed compound. . . . In keeping with the flexible nature of the obviousness inquiry, the requisite motivation can come from any number of sources and need not necessarily be explicit in the art. Rather “it is sufficient to show that the claimed and prior art compounds possess a ‘sufficiently close relationship . . . to create an expectation,’ in light of the totality of the prior art, that the new compound will have ‘similar properties’ to the old.” Id. at 1357, 87 USPQ2d at 1455. (citations omitted)

The prior art taught that introducing a fluorinated substituent was known to increase lipophilicity, so a skilled artisan would have expected that replacing the trifluoroethoxy substituent with a methoxypropoxy substituent would have reduced the lipophilicity of the compound. Thus, the prior art created the expectation that rabeprazole would be less useful than lansoprazole as a drug for treating stomach ulcers and related disorders because the proposed modification would have destroyed an advantageous property of the prior art compound. The compound was not obvious as argued by Teva because, upon consideration of all of the facts of the case, a person of ordinary skill in the art at the time of the invention would not have had a reason to modify lansoprazole so as to form rabeprazole.

Office personnel are cautioned that the term “lead compound” in a particular opinion can have a contextual meaning that may vary from the way a pharmaceutical chemist might use the term. In the field of pharmaceutical chemistry, the term “lead compound” has been defined variously as “a chemical compound that has pharmacological or biological activity and whose chemical structure is used as a starting point for chemical modifications in order to improve potency, selectivity, or pharmacokinetic parameters;” “[a] compound that exhibits pharmacological properties which suggest its development;” and “a potential drug being tested for safety and efficacy.” See, e.g., http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lead_compound, accessed January 13, 2010; www.combichemistry.com/glossary_k.html, accessed January 13, 2010; and www.buildingbiotechnology.com/glossary4.php, accessed January 13, 2010.

The Federal Circuit in Eisai makes it clear that from the perspective of the law of obviousness, any known compound might possibly serve as a lead compound: “Obviousness based on structural similarity thus can be proved by identification of some motivation that would have led one of ordinary skill in the art to select and then modify a known compound (i.e. a lead compound) in a particular way to achieve the claimed compound.” Eisai, 533 F.3d at 1357, 87 USPQ2d at 1455. Thus, Office personnel should recognize that a proper obviousness rejection of a claimed compound that is useful as a drug might be made beginning with an inactive compound, if, for example, the reasons for modifying a prior art compound to arrive at the claimed compound have nothing to do with pharmaceutical activity. The inactive compound would not be considered to be a lead compound by pharmaceutical chemists, but could potentially be used as such when considering obviousness. Office personnel might also base an obviousness rejection on a known compound that pharmaceutical chemists would not select as a lead compound due to expense, handling issues, or other business considerations. However, there must be some reason for starting with that lead compound other than the mere fact that the “lead compound” merely exists. See Altana Pharma AG v. Teva Pharm. USA, Inc., 566 F.3d 999, 1007, 91 USPQ2d 1018, 1024 (Fed. Cir. 2009) (holding that there must be some reason “to select and modify a known compound”); Ortho-McNeil Pharm., Inc. v. Mylan Labs, Inc., 520 F.3d 1358, 1364, 86 USPQ2d 1196, 1201 (Fed. Cir. 2008).

Example 10:

The claimed chemical compound was also found to be nonobvious in Procter & Gamble Co. v. Teva Pharm. USA, Inc., 566 F.3d 989, 90 USPQ2d 1947 (Fed. Cir. 2009). The compound at issue was risedronate – the active ingredient of Procter & Gamble’s osteoporosis drug Actonel®. Risedronate is an example of a bisphosphonate, which is a class of compounds known to inhibit bone resorption.

When Procter & Gamble sued Teva for infringement, Teva defended by arguing invalidity for obviousness over one of Procter & Gamble’s earlier patents. The prior art patent did not teach risedronate, but instead taught thirty-six other similar compounds including 2-pyr EHDP that were potentially useful with regard to osteoporosis. Teva argued obviousness on the basis of structural similarity to 2-pyr EHDP, which is a positional isomer of risedronate.

The district court found no reason to select 2-pyr EHDP as a lead compound in light of the unpredictable nature of the art, and no reason to modify it so as to obtain risedronate. In addition, there were unexpected results as to potency and toxicity. Therefore the district court found that Teva had not made a prima facie case, and even if it had, it was rebutted by evidence of unexpected results.

The Federal Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision. The Federal Circuit did not deem it necessary in this case to consider the question of whether 2-pyr EHDP had been appropriately selected as a lead compound. Rather, the Federal Circuit reasoned that, if 2-pyr EHDP is presumed to be an appropriate lead compound, there must be both a reason to modify it so as to make risedronate and a reasonable expectation of success. Here, there was no evidence that the necessary modifications would have been routine, so there would have been no reasonable expectation of success.

Procter & Gamble is also informative in its discussion of the treatment of secondary considerations of non-obviousness. Although the court found that no prima facie case of obviousness had been presented, it proceeded to analyze Procter & Gamble’s proffered evidence countering the alleged prima facie case in some detail, thus shedding light on the proper treatment of such evidence.

The Federal Circuit noted in dicta that even if a prima facie case of obviousness had been established, sufficient evidence of unexpected results was introduced to rebut such a showing. At trial, the witnesses consistently testified that the properties of risedronate were not expected, offering evidence that researchers did not predict either the potency or the low dose at which the compound was effective. Tests comparing risedronate to a compound in the prior art reference showed that risedronate outperformed the other compound by a substantial margin, could be administered in a greater amount without an observable toxic effect, and was not lethal at the same levels as the other compound. The weight of the evidence and the credibility of the witnesses were sufficient to show unexpected results that would have rebutted an obviousness determination. Thus, nonobviousness can be shown when a claimed invention is shown to have unexpectedly superior properties when compared to the prior art.

The court then addressed the evidence of commercial success of risedronate and the evidence that risedronate met a long felt need. The court pointed out that little weight was to be afforded to the commercial success because the competing product was also assigned to Procter & Gamble. However, the Federal Circuit affirmed the district court’s conclusion that risedronate met a long-felt, but unsatisfied need. The court rejected Teva’s contention that because the competing drug was available before Actonel7, there was no unmet need that the invention satisfied. The court emphasized that whether there was a long-felt but unsatisfied need is to be evaluated based on the circumstances as of the filing date of the challenged invention – not as of the date that the invention is brought to market.

It should be noted that the lead compound cases do not stand for the proposition that identification of a single lead compound is necessary in every obviousness rejection of a chemical compound. For example, one might envision a suggestion in the prior art to formulate a compound having certain structurally defined moieties, or moieties with certain properties. If a person of ordinary skill would have known how to synthesize such a compound, and the structural and/or functional result could reasonably have been predicted, then aprima facie case of obviousness of the claimed chemical compound might exist even without identification a particular lead compound. As a second example, it could be possible to view a claimed compound as consisting of two known compounds attached via a chemical linker. The claimed compound might properly be found to have been obvious if there would have been a reason to link the two, if one of ordinary skill would have known how to do so, and if the resulting compound would have been the predictable result of the linkage procedure. Thus, Office personnel should recognize that in certain situations, it may be proper to reject a claimed chemical compound as obvious even without identifying a single lead compound.

Example 11:

The decision reached by the Federal Circuit in Altana Pharma AG v. Teva Pharm. USA, Inc., 566 F.3d 999, 91 USPQ2d 1018 (Fed. Cir. 2009), as discussed below, involved a motion for preliminary injunction and did not include a final determination of obviousness. However, the case is instructive as to the issue of selecting a lead compound.

The technology involved in Altana was the compound pantoprazole, which is the active ingredient in Altana’s antiulcer drug Protonix®. Pantoprazole belongs to a class of compounds known as proton pump inhibitors that are used to treat gastric acid disorders in the stomach.

Altana accused Teva of infringement. The district court denied Altana’s motion for preliminary injunction for failure to establish a likelihood of success on the merits, determining that Teva had demonstrated a substantial question of invalidity for obviousness in light of one of Altana’s prior patents. Altana’s patent discussed a compound referred to as compound 12, which was one of eighteen compounds disclosed. The claimed compound pantoprazole was structurally similar to compound 12. The district court found that one of ordinary skill in the art would have selected compound 12 as a lead compound for modification, and the Federal Circuit affirmed.

Obviousness of a chemical compound in view of its structural similarity to a prior art compound may be shown by identifying some line of reasoning that would have led one of ordinary skill in the art to select and modify the prior art compound in a particular way to produce the claimed compound. The necessary line of reasoning can be drawn from any number of sources and need not necessarily be explicitly found in the prior art of record. The Federal Circuit determined that ample evidence supported the district court’s finding that compound 12 was a natural choice for further development. For example, Altana’s prior art patent claimed that its compounds, including compound 12, were improvements over the prior art; compound 12 was disclosed as one of the more potent of the eighteen compounds disclosed; the patent examiner had considered the compounds of Altana’s prior art patent to be relevant during the prosecution of the patent in suit; and experts had opined that one of ordinary skill in the art would have selected the eighteen compounds to pursue further investigation into their potential as proton pump inhibitors.

In response to Altana’s argument that the prior art must point to only a single lead compound for further development, the Federal Circuit stated that a “restrictive view of the lead compound test would present a rigid test similar to the teaching-suggestion-motivation test that the Supreme Court explicitly rejected in KSR . . . . The district court in this case employed a flexible approach – one that was admittedly preliminary – and found that the defendants had raised a substantial question that one of skill in the art would have used the more potent compounds of [Altana’s prior art] patent, including compound 12, as a starting point from which to pursue further development efforts. That finding was not clearly erroneous.” Id. at 1008, 91 USPQ2d at 1025.

C.   Use of Known Technique To Improve Similar Devices (Methods, or Products) in the Same Way

To reject a claim based on this rationale, Office personnel must resolve the Graham factual inquiries. Then, Office personnel must articulate the following:

  • (1) a finding that the prior art contained a “base” device (method, or product) upon which the claimed invention can be seen as an “improvement;”
  • (2) a finding that the prior art contained a "comparable" device (method, or product that is not the same as the base device) that has been improved in the same way as the claimed invention;
  • (3) a finding that one of ordinary skill in the art could have applied the known “improvement” technique in the same way to the “base” device (method, or product) and the results would have been predictable to one of ordinary skill in the art; and
  • (4) whatever additional findings based on the Graham factual inquiries may be necessary, in view of the facts of the case under consideration, to explain a conclusion of obviousness.

The rationale to support a conclusion that the claim would have been obvious is that a method of enhancing a particular class of devices (methods, or products) has been made part of the ordinary capabilities of one skilled in the art based upon the teaching of such improvement in other situations. One of ordinary skill in the art would have been capable of applying this known method of enhancement to a “base” device (method, or product) in the prior art and the results would have been predictable to one of ordinary skill in the art. The Supreme Court in KSR noted that if the actual application of the technique would have been beyond the skill of one of ordinary skill in the art, then using the technique would not have been obvious. KSR, 550 U.S. at 417, 82 USPQ2d at 1396. If any of these findings cannot be made, then this rationale cannot be used to support a conclusion that the claim would have been obvious to one of ordinary skill in the art.

Example 1:

The claimed invention in In re Nilssen, 851 F.2d 1401, 7 USPQ2d 1500 (Fed. Cir. 1988) was directed to a “means by which the self-oscillating inverter in a power-line-operated inverter-type fluorescent lamp ballast is disabled in case the output current from the inverter exceeds some pre-established threshold level for more than a very brief period.” Id. at 1402, 7 USPQ2d at 1501 That is, the current output was monitored, and if the current output exceeded some threshold for a specified short time, an actuation signal was sent and the inverter was disabled to protect it from damage.

The prior art (a USSR certificate) described a device for protecting an inverter circuit in an undisclosed manner via a control means. The device indicated the high-load condition by way of the control means, but did not indicate the specific manner of overload protection. The prior art (Kammiller) disclosed disabling the inverter in the event of a high-load current condition in order to protect the inverter circuit. That is, the overload protection was achieved by disabling the inverter by means of a cutoff switch.

The court found “it would have been obvious to one of ordinary skill in the art to use the threshold signal produced in the USSR device to actuate a cutoff switch to render the inverter inoperative as taught by Kammiller.” Id. at 1403, 7 USPQ2d at 1502. That is, using the known technique of a cutoff switch for protecting a circuit to provide the protection desired in the inverter circuit of the USSR document would have been obvious to one of ordinary skill.

Example 2:

The fact pattern in Ruiz v. AB Chance Co., 357 F.3d 1270, 69 USPQ2d 1686 (Fed. Cir. 2004) is set forth above in Example 2 in subsection I.A.

The nature of the problem to be solved may lead inventors to look at references relating to possible solutions to that problem. Id. at 1277, 69 USPQ2d at 1691. Therefore, it would have been obvious to use a metal bracket (as shown in Gregory) with the screw anchor (as shown in Fuller) to underpin unstable foundations.

D.   Applying a Known Technique to a Known Device (Method, or Product) Ready for Improvement To Yield Predictable Results

To reject a claim based on this rationale, Office personnel must resolve the Graham factual inquiries. Then, Office personnel must articulate the following:

  • (1) a finding that the prior art contained a “base” device (method, or product) upon which the claimed invention can be seen as an “improvement;”
  • (2) a finding that the prior art contained a known technique that is applicable to the base device (method, or product);
  • (3) a finding that one of ordinary skill in the art would have recognized that applying the known technique would have yielded predictable results and resulted in an improved system; and
  • (4) whatever additional findings based on the Graham factual inquiries may be necessary, in view of the facts of the case under consideration, to explain a conclusion of obviousness.

The rationale to support a conclusion that the claim would have been obvious is that a particular known technique was recognized as part of the ordinary capabilities of one skilled in the art. One of ordinary skill in the art would have been capable of applying this known technique to a known device (method, or product) that was ready for improvement and the results would have been predictable to one of ordinary skill in the art. If any of these findings cannot be made, then this rationale cannot be used to support a conclusion that the claim would have been obvious to one of ordinary skill in the art.

Example 1:

The claimed invention in Dann v. Johnston, 425 U.S. 219, 189 USPQ 257 (1976) was directed towards a system (i.e., computer) for automatic record keeping of bank checks and deposits. In this system, a customer would put a numerical category code on each check or deposit slip. The check processing system would record these on the check in magnetic ink, just as it does for amount and account information. With this system in place, the bank can provide statements to customers that are broken down to give subtotals for each category. The claimed system also allowed the bank to print reports according to a style requested by the customer. As characterized by the Court, “[u]nder respondent’s invention, then, a general purpose computer is programmed to provide bank customers with an individualized and categorized breakdown of their transactions during the period in question.” Id. at 222, 189 USPQ at 259.

BASE SYSTEM - The nature of the use of data processing equipment and computer software in the banking industry was that banks routinely did much of the record-keeping automatically. In routine check processing, the system read any magnetic ink characters identifying the account and routing. The system also read the amount of the check and then printed that value in a designated area of the check. The check was then sent through a further data processing step which used the magnetic ink information to generate the appropriate records for transactions and for posting to the appropriate accounts. These systems included generating periodic statements for each account, such as the monthly statement sent to checking account customers.

IMPROVED SYSTEM - The claimed invention supplemented this system by recording a category code which could be used to track expenditures by category. Again, the category code will be a number recorded on the check (or deposit slip) which will be read, converted into a magnetic ink imprint, and then processed in the data system to include the category code. This enabled reporting of data by category as opposed to only allowing reporting by account number.

KNOWN TECHNIQUE - This is an application of a technique from the prior art – the use of account numbers (generally used to track an individual's total transactions) to solve the problem of how to track categories of expenditures to more finely account for a budget. That is, account numbers (identifying data capable of processing in the automatic data processing system) were used to distinguish between different customers. Furthermore, banks have long segregated debits attributable to service charges within any given separate account and have rendered their customers subtotals for those charges. Previously, one would have needed to set up separate accounts for each category and thus receive separate reports. Supplementing the account information with additional digits (the category codes) solved the problem by effectively creating a single account that can be treated as distinct accounts for tracking and reporting services. That is, the category code merely allowed what might previously have been separate accounts to be handled as a single account, but with a number of sub-accounts indicated in the report.

The basic technique of putting indicia on data to enable standard sorting, searching, and reporting yielded no more than the predictable outcome which one of ordinary skill would have expected to achieve with this common tool of the trade and was therefore an obvious expedient. The Court held that “[t]he gap between the prior art and respondent’s system is simply not so great as to render the system nonobvious to one reasonably skilled in the art.” Id. at 230, 189 USPQ at 261.

Example 2:

The fact pattern in In re Nilssen, 851 F.2d 1401, 7 USPQ2d 1500 (Fed. Cir. 1988) is set forth above in Example 1 in subsection C.

The court found “it would have been obvious to one of ordinary skill in the art to use the threshold signal produced in the USSR device to actuate a cutoff switch to render the inverter inoperative as taught by Kammiller.” Id. at 1403, 7 USPQ2d at 1502. The known technique of using a cutoff switch would have predictably resulted in protecting the inverter circuit. Therefore, it would have been within the skill of the ordinary artisan to use a cutoff switch in response to the actuation signal to protect the inverter.

E.   “Obvious To Try” – Choosing From a Finite Number of Identified, Predictable Solutions, With a Reasonable Expectation of Success

To reject a claim based on this rationale, Office personnel must resolve the Graham factual inquiries. Then, Office personnel must articulate the following:

  • (1) a finding that at the time of the invention, there had been a recognized problem or need in the art, which may include a design need or market pressure to solve a problem;
  • (2) a finding that there had been a finite number of identified, predictable potential solutions to the recognized need or problem;
  • (3) a finding that one of ordinary skill in the art could have pursued the known potential solutions with a reasonable expectation of success; and
  • (4) whatever additional findings based on the Graham factual inquiries may be necessary, in view of the facts of the case under consideration, to explain a conclusion of obviousness.

The rationale to support a conclusion that the claim would have been obvious is that “a person of ordinary skill has good reason to pursue the known options within his or her technical grasp. If this leads to the anticipated success, it is likely that product [was] not of innovation but of ordinary skill and common sense. In that instance the fact that a combination was obvious to try might show that it was obvious under § 103.”KSR, 550 U.S. at 421, 82 USPQ2d at 1397. If any of these findings cannot be made, then this rationale cannot be used to support a conclusion that the claim would have been obvious to one of ordinary skill in the art.

The question of whether a claimed invention can be shown to be obvious based on an “obvious to try” line of reasoning has been explored extensively by the Federal Cir