Süd-Chemie v. Multisorb Technologies (Fed. Cir. 2009)
Süd-Chemie holds a patent covering a desiccant container for keeping products dry in shipment. In an infringement action, the Kentucky district court found the patent invalid as obvious. On appeal, the Federal Circuit vacated – holding that the lower court had erred in its analysis of the scope and content of the prior art. There are two primary take-away points from Sud-Chemie. First, obviousness jurisprudence continues to require detailed analysis of the claims and the prior art. I.e., KSR did not suddenly allow handwaving as a substitute for evidence and clear argument. Second, well presented secondary indicia of nonobviousness continue to be important in rebutting obviousness allegations.
Here, the claimed patent required the use of “compatible polymeric materials” used in a laminate seal. The prior art disclosed the use of laminate materials taken from the same general class of materials. However, the Federal Circuit recognized that the prior art did not specify that the selected materials be “compatible” in a way to allow for a proper laminate seal.
This is a case where a definition of the claim term in the specification greatly aided the patentee. The specification defined “compatible” materials as those that “mix on a molecular scale and will crystallize homogeneously.” The prior art reference did not teach this form of compatibility. In fact, the prior art appeared to teach “incompatible” materials.
Multisorb ignores the fact that while the ’942 patent requires the inner surfaces of the laminate and microporous films to have similar softening points, Komatsu [the prior art] requires the films to have dissimilar softening points. Komatsu thus does not teach the use of a microporous film that is compatible with the inner surface of the laminate film.
Looking at secondary considerations, the Federal Circuit instructed district courts to “attend carefully to any evidence of … secondary considerations of nonobviousness.” Here, the focus is on the surprising and unexpected result that compatible materials formed stronger bonds even without adhesive.
The Federal Circuit did not apply these findings to form a conclusion on the issue of obviousness. Rather, the court remanded for further development of the facts.
[NOTE- This decision is from January 2009]