Pivonka v. Axelrod (Fed. Cir. 2009)(non-precedential)
In 2003, Axelrod asked the PTO to declare an interference against Pivonka’s patent which had issued the year prior. (Pat. No. 6,408,797). During the interference, the BPAI found Pivonka’s collapsible pet carrier claims to be unpatentable as obvious. [Link] On appeal, the Federal Circuit affirmed.
In reviewing a BPAI obviousness rejection, the Federal Circuit looks for “substantial evidence” to support any factual determinations, but reviews the ultimate question of obviousness de novo.
Here Pivonka pointed to three potential errors: (1) improperly saying that the invention has a “barn-like structure;” (2) failing to consider the patented claims individually; and (3) failing to appreciate the structural differences and functional benefits provided by the claimed invention as compared to the prior art.
The Federal Circuit dismissed these concerns in turn: (1) the reference to the barn was merely shorthand and not reversible error; (2) the applicant waived any right to have claims 2–9 considered separately by failing to make arguments on those claims earlier; and (3) the Board’s conclusion of obviousness was correct.
“Under KSR International Co. v. Teleflex, Inc. “[t]he combination of familiar elements according to known methods is likely to be obvious when it does no more than yield predictable results.” 550 U.S. 398, 1739 (2007). According to Dr. Shina’s unrebutted affidavit [Axelrod’s Expert], both the structural benefits and the way in which to build the container claimed by Pivonka were readily apparent to a person of ordinary skill in the art. Accordingly, we find no error in the Board’s conclusion that claims 1-9 are obvious.”
The Court also rejected an argument of improper procedure based on Pivonka’s waiver of the issue before the BPAI. One important take-away from this case is that the Federal Circuit generally treats the BPAI as it would a lower court in the sense that an issue must first be raised with the BPAI in order to be ripe for appeal to the Federal Circuit. If the issue is not raised at the lower level, then any appeal will be deemed waived.
Although not directly related, I enjoyed the following recent anonymous comment to another post:
Whoever said "necessity is the mother of invention" was wrong. According to KSR, "necessity is the mother of obviousness."
Underlying the interference is a patent infringement case between Pivonka and TFH Publications (Axelrod’s assignee). That case is also on appeal but will be heard by a different panel. Interestingly, after this favorable decision, TFH requested that the case be reassigned to the Axelrod panel. The Federal Circuit denied that motion. [Link]