By Dennis Crouch
Inventors Per Patent: The number of inventors per patent has risen fairly steadily for the past 40 years. Today, most patents are directed toward inventions created by teams of two or more inventors working in a collaborative environment. When done well, teamwork can add tremendous value to the creative process and can also provide a combined depth of knowledge beyond most individuals.
Individual PHOSITA: From its inception, the 1952 Patent Act allowed for joint inventors. However, the question of obviousness focuses on a single hypothetical individual: "a person having ordinary skill in the art to which said subject matter pertains." 35 U.S.C. § 103. The AIA slightly amends this portion of Section 103 to clarify that the "said subject matter" is "the claimed invention." This is a change made throughout the statute and puts-to-rest ongoing arguments for identification of a "core" invention for each patent.
PHOSITA as a Team: In its most recent decision, the UK Royal Court of Justice appellate panel took a different path – finding that question of obviousness should be judged from the viewpoint of a "skilled team." MedImmune v. Novartis,  EWCA Civ 1234 (Kitchen, LJ). For the case in question, the court found that the "patent is addressed to a team of scientists with differing backgrounds in areas such as immunology, in particular antibody structural biology, molecular biology and protein chemistry, but with a common interest in antibody engineering."
The skilled team construct is not entirely new to UK case law. See, for example, Schlumberger Holdings Ltd v Electromagnetic Geoservices AS,  EWCA Civ 819 (Jacob LJ), and Halliburton Energy Services, Inc. v. Smith International (North Sea) Limited,  EWCA Civ 1715 (Jacob LJ). The starting point for these UK courts is essentially identical to that of US courts. In particular, the UK Patents Act 1977 defines "inventive step" as being "not obvious to a person skilled in the art." The corresponding language is found in Article 56 of the European Patent Convention (defining inventive step with reference to being obvious to a person skilled in the art). In building the notional teams, the UK courts have been somewhat careful to avoid hindsight bias in the process. Dyson Appliances Ltd v Hoover Ltd  EWCA Civ 1440. Despite the progress, it is clear to me that the UK courts are still working out what it means to be obvious to a team as opposed to obvious to an individual person.
What is added by a Team Analysis?: In 2011, I questioned whether obviousness analysis should reflect some nuances of teamwork:
As compared to a solo worker, teams often have an overall broader depth of knowledge, but are often plagued by communication difficulties. In the obviousness analysis, this shift could be reflected in a broader scope of potential prior art but a more rigorous analysis of whether the ordinary team would make leaps of analysis necessary to combine disparate prior art.
Despite providing arguments on both-sides, I suspect that a notional team would tend to make an obviousness conclusion more likely. The knowledge of those of skill in the art is considered in other areas of patent law such as claim construction, enablement, and definiteness.
THOSITA under US Law: One statutory question moving forward is whether a section 103 "person" can be interpreted to encompass a team of persons. The answer is almost certainly yes. Perhaps the greatest driving factor for this conclusion is found in Section 102 that begins with the statement that "A person shall be entitled to a patent unless…" For that statute, the term person certainly apply to teams of joint inventors.
One major problem with my starting point of increased-team-size is the reality that the obviousness question is not designed around a "skilled inventor" threshold but that of a skilled craftsman of "ordinary skill." This means that there is not really any statutory hook for pushing the obviousness analysis to track the culture of innovation and creative experimentation. Rather, the focus is merely on ordinary craftsmen and what would have been common sense at the time. By design, this creates a low inventiveness threshold intentionally does not consider the particular inventive path taken. "Patentability shall not be negated by the manner in which the invention was made." 35 U.C.C. 103 (post-AIA).
- Dennis Crouch, Person(s) Skilled in the Art: Should the Now Established Model of Team-Based Inventing Impact the Obviousness Analysis?, Patently-O (2011)
- Jonathan J. Darrow, The Neglected Dimension of Patent Law's PHOSITA Standard, 23 Harvard JOLT 227 (2009)