UseNet is Prior Art

By Dennis Crouch

Suffolk Tech v. AOL and Google (Fed. Cir. 2014)

This is a prior art case. Suffolk’s patent application was filed back in 1996, but it turns out that the invention was described in a 1995 UseNet newsgroup post posted by a college student. The question on appeal is whether that posting counts as prior art under 35 U.S.C. 102(a) (pre-AIA).

Under the statute, a patent is invalid if “(a) the invention was … described in a printed publication … before the invention thereof by the applicant for a patent.” Courts have repeatedly found that online content fits within the definition of printed publication. Rather, the touchstone question is whether the material was sufficiently publicly accessible. Public accessibility looks to the ability of persons who would be interested or skilled in the subject matter to locate the reference using only reasonable diligence. If a reference is sufficiently disseminated at time of original publication then the ability to later locate the reference is irrelevant.

Today, UseNet materials are indexed by various search engines and would clearly be considered prior art. In 1995 the indexing was not so strong, but the appellate panel here affirmed that the postings clearly fall within the scope of printed publications. For that legal conclusion, the court relied upon a handful of facts:

  • The record indicated that those of ordinary skill in the art were using the UseNet newsgroups in 1995, including Suffolk’s own technical expert.
  • Although not fully indexed, the UseNet group was structured in a hierarchical manner that would have allowed someone interested in the topic to identify the particular group and read the posts.
  • The post in question resulted in at least six responses in the week following the publication – indicating that the post was likely sufficiently distributed at publication.

Invalidity affirmed.

The case was discussed in an earlier Patently-O Posting titled Structuring a Privateering Contract (2012).

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Note – although this case was decided under pre-AIA rules, its holding should apply equally to the restructured Section 102 that also identifies “printed publications” as a form of prior art.

Whither Obviousness: Narrow Range Anticipated by Broader Range in Disclosure

By Dennis Crouch

ClearValue v. Pearl River Polymers (Fed. Cir. 2012) (Opinion by Judge Moore, joined by Judges PROST and SCHALL)

This case presents a classic law school hypothetical of an invention that is anticipated but likely not obvious. According to the appellate panel, the prior art fully discloses and enables the invention but also teaches that the proposed invention is impractical and does not work well. As discussed below, however, the anticipation holding itself is somewhat controversial because it is based upon the conclusion that a broad range disclosure found in the prior art ("less than 150 ppm") anticipates the narrower range found in the claims ("less than 50 ppm").

A jury found ClearValue’s patent valid and infringed and the district court denied the defendants motions to set the patent verdict aside. On appeal the Federal Circuit reversed based upon the appellate court's own factual finding that a single prior art reference teaches and enables each element of the asserted patent claim.

Background: The patent at issue is directed to a process for clarifying water using a flocculated suspension of aluminum along with high molecular weight quarternized polymers. The listed inventor, Richard Haase continues to be an owner of the patent and also CEO of ClearValue. Haase has filed more than 50 water purification and energy related patents and is also a graduate of the University of Missouri (ChemE + Mathematics + Economics). The defendant, Pearl River was once ClearValue’s customer but later began making its own version of the patented process.  ClearValue and Haase sued for patent infringement and for trade secret violation (for using the process without authority even before he filed for patent protection).

Anticipation versus Obviousness: The appeal focused on anticipation. Pearl River argued that all of the elements of CV's asserted claim were previously disclosed in U.S. Patent No. 4,800,039 (Hassick). The jury found otherwise. As a matter of procedure, a jury's verdict must be supported by "substantial evidence." If not, it must be set aside either by the district court or on appeal. At trial, the defendants had presented their case that Hassick taught each element of the claimed invention while the plaintiffs pointed only to "teaching away" found in patent. Unfortunately for the plaintiffs, "teaching away" is legally irrelevant to the question of anticipation. See Celeritas Techs., Ltd. v. Rockwell Int'l Corp., 150 F.3d 1354, 1361 (Fed. Cir. 1998). Rather, under 35 U.S.C. § 102 a claim will be anticipated and therefore invalid if a single prior art reference describes "each and every claim limitation and enable[s] one of skill in the art to practice an embodiment of the claimed invention without undue experimentation." Quoting Am. Calcar, Inc. v. Am. Honda Motor Corp., 651 F.3d 1318, 1341 (Fed. Cir. 2011).

Genus Species Anticipation: The only gap in the prior art disclosure was that Hassick generally disclosed "low-alkalinity systems (i.e., 150 ppm or less)" and "alkalinity of between 60-70 ppm" while the asserted patent claimed "alkalinity less than or equal to 50 ppm." In its 2006 Atofina decision, the Federal Circuit addressed a similar genus-species situation involving a narrow claimed temperature range and a broader temperature range found in the prior art. Atofina v. Great Lakes Chem. Corp., 441 F.3d 991 (Fed. Cir. 2006). In Atofina, the court held that a broad genus range disclosure in the prior art did not anticipate the narrow species range claimed. There, both the hypothetical “person having skill in the art”  (PHOSITA) and the patentee agreed that there was something special or “critical” about the claimed temperature range. The court distinguished this case from Atofina based upon its factual conclusion that “there is no allegation of criticality or any evidence demonstrating any difference across the range.”  Based upon the logical analysis that the narrow range is not critically different from the broad range, the Federal Circuit held that the claimed narrow range was fully disclosed by the broad range and therefore is unpatentable.

Comment – Whither Obviousness: Interesting notion: The mechanism that the court used to distinguish this case from Atofina are very much akin to obviousness principles — looking essentially for synergy or unexpected results that make the narrow range qualitatively different from the broad range.  It seems to me, however, that if these obviousness principles can be used to extend the anticipatory scope of prior art, then other obviousness principles (such as teaching away) should also be relevant.

Trade Secret Negated by Prior Art?: The Texas jury found Pearl River liable for trade secret misappropriations. However, the district court rejected that conclusion based upon an implicit admission by ClearValue that all of the elements of the alleged trade secret were publicly known at the time and found in the Hassick reference.  On appeal, the Federal Circuit affirmed without further analyzing the extent that public availability of knowledge in the form of a third-party prior art document is sufficient to disqualify the knowledge as a trade secret. I am not an expert on Texas trade secret law, but the at least the Restatement of Torts is clear that a trade secret “may be a device or process which is clearly anticipated in the prior art.”



AstraZeneca v Apotex: Affirmance of a Preliminary Injunction

By Jason Rantanen

AstraZeneca LP v. Apotex, Inc. (Fed. Cir. 2010)
Panel: Rader, Bryson (dissenting in part), Linn (majority author),

Contrary to popular opinion, it's still possible to obtain a preliminary injunction in a patent case – it's just very difficult.  Astrazeneca v. Apotex provides an example of an affirmed preliminary injunction, and is significant for that reason alone.  It also raises some interesting inducement issues relating to intent that I'll discuss in a separate post.

This case revolved around AstraZeneca's budesonide inhalation suspension drug product, which consists of a vial containing a single dose of budesonide suspended in a sterile liquid.  The drug is administered by squeezing the entire contents of the vial into a jet neubulizer, then inhaling the resulting mist through a mask attached to the nebulizer.  Because budesonide is an inhaled corticosteroid, the FDA requires that the label include a warning instructing patients to "titrate down" to the lowest effective dose of the medication to avoid any adverse effects from excessive use of the medication. 

The two patents at issue, Nos. 6,598,603 and 6,899,099, both contain method claims covering the once-daily use of the nebulized dose of a budesonide composition and product claims covering AstraZeneca's drug product kit.

Apotex sought approval to market a generic version of AstraZeneca's drug product.  As an ANDA applicant, it was well aware of AstraZeneca's patents, and sought to avoid the once-daily method claims by removing any mention of once-daily dosing from its labels.  While it succeeded in part, the FDA nevertheless required Apotex to keep the titration warning language in the generic product's label.

During the preliminary injunction proceedings, Apotex raised two principal arguments in response to the method claims.  First, it contended that they were anticipated; second, it contended that its distribution of the generic version of the drug would not induce infringement of AstraZeneca's method claims.  The district court rejected Apotex's arguments, and granted a preliminary injunction enjoining Apotex from marketing its product.

Note: The district court agreed with Apotex that the kit claims were invalid.  On appeal, the panel affirmed that determination. 

Apotex's first anticipation argument, involving a prior art patent, turned on a question of claim construction: whether the term "budesonide composition" encompassed budesonide encapsulated in liposomes (the '603 patent teaches dispersing budesonide in a solvent, either as a solution or a suspension that may include liposomes as an excipient).  The majority agreed with AstraZeneca's position, focusing on the discussion contained within the specification and buttressing its conclusions with extrinsic evidence (in this case, expert testimony).  Judge Bryson, dissenting on this point, reached the opposite conclusion: the claim term is not limited to budesonide directly dispresed in solvent, and thus the method claims are anticipated.

Apotex's also argued that a prior art British advertisement for AstraZeneca's product describing it as a twice-daily product anticipated the patents.  The majority again agreed with AstraZeneca that this reference did not anticipate the once-daily method claims, both because it did not disclose once daily dosing and because it was not enabled with respect to that type of dosing.  (Obviousness was apparently not in dispute, as at the time of the earlier reference no one recognized that the product could be administered once per day and still be effective).  Judge Bryson again disagreed, reading the prior art advertisement to suggest the administration of the drug once a day.

Inducement of Infringement
In challenging the district court's finding of inducement of infringement, Apotex focused on the subject of intent, arguing that its instructions did not demonstrate intent to cause the users of its product to engage in once-daily dosing and that it lacked specific intent to cause infringement of Apotex's patent.  The Federal Circuit rejected these arguments, affirming the district court's conclusion that the downward-titration instructions would necessarily result in some users engaging in once-daily dosing and noting that Apotex was well aware of the infringement problems raised by once-daily dosing, yet chose to proceed nonetheless.

Preliminary Injunction "Substantial Question of Invalidity" Standard
Although not playing a major role in the ultimate outcome of this appeal, the court's articulation of the "likelihood of success" standard, along with the subsidiary "substantial question of invalidity" element, is noteworthy given the divergent views on this subject, such as those expressed by Judges Newman and Gajarsa in Abbott Laboratories v. Sandoz, 544 F.3d 1341 (Fed. Cir. 2008).  AstraZeneca v. Apotex follows the approach of requiring a seemingly high threshold for patentees/low threshold for defendants on this issue:

For a patentee to establish that it is likely to succeed on the merits, it “must demonstrate that it will likely prove infringement of one or more claims of the patents-in-suit, and that at least one of those same allegedly infringed claims will also likely withstand the validity challenges presented by the accused infringer.”, 239 F.3d at 1351. When reviewing the grant of a preliminary injunction, this court “views the matter in light of the burdens and presumptions that will inhere at trial.” Titan Tire Corp., 566 F.3d at 1376 (citation omitted). A preliminary injunction should not issue if an alleged infringer raises a substantial question regarding either infringement or validity, i.e., the alleged infringer asserts an infringement or invalidity defense that the patentee has not shown lacks substantial merit. Genentech, Inc. v. Novo Nordisk A/S, 108 F.3d 1361, 1364 (Fed. Cir. 1997).

US Patent Law Provides Prior-Inventor Rights, NOT Prior-User Rights

Solvay v. Honeywell (Fed. Cir. 2010)< ?xml:namespace prefix ="" o />

This case presents a nice fact pattern for a law school examination question on the operation of the novelty rules of 35 U.S.C. § 102.  Solvay’s patent covers a method for manufacturing a non-ozone-depleting form of penta-flouro-propane (HFC-245fa) that is primarily used in spray-foam insulation products. Honeywell manufactures and sells over 1,000,000 pounds of the compound each year.

Prior-User Facts: Honeywell (at that time, AlliedSignal), the accused infringer, was in possession of a working model of the invention in the United States (US) prior to Solvay’s invention date. However, Honeywell was not the original inventor. Rather, Honeywell had copied its working model from one created by a Russian agency (in Russia, but under contract with Honeywell).  Honeywell engineers continued to work on the project as they moved toward commercialization. However, by the time that Honeywell began to commercially use or publicize the invention, Solvay had already independently invented the method and filed for patent protection.

The question on appeal is whether any of the novelty provisions of Section 102 render Solvay’s patent claims invalid.  The two primary statutory candidates are 35 U.S.C. § 102(a) and § 102(g)(2). 

A patent claim is invalid under Section 102(a)  if the invention was “known or used by others” in the US prior to the patentee’s date of invention.  If the statute is construed according to the plain meaning of its terms, then Honeywell wins and the patent is invalid.  Several US-based individuals at Honeywell knew of the invention prior to Solvay’s invention date – seemingly satisfying the “known or used by others” in the US requirement of the statute. Unfortunately for Honeywell, courts require that the prior knowledge or use of the invention be somehow public.  In this case, Honeywell had kept its work in the US confidential.  Therefore, Honeywell’s prior knowledge and use of the invention is insufficient to invalidate the asserted claims under Section 102(a).  Many accused infringers (and others) have argued that the law should provide a prior-user defense for situations such as this one.  That defense does not exist except for the limited (now severely limited) case of business method patents.

Section 102(g)(2) creates a prior-inventor defense that can also render a patent claim invalid. However, that defense has a number of important limitations. Under Section 102(g)(2), a claim will be held invalid if, before the patentee’s invention date, the claimed invention “was made in [the US] by another inventor who had not abandoned, suppressed, or concealed it.”  Section 102(g) ends with the statement that the question of invention priority will consider “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.”

As I mentioned, Section 102(g)(2) creates a prior-inventor defense, not a prior-user defense.  The original inventor was the Russian agency operating in Russia.  That invention cannot satisfy the elements of the statute because Section 102(g)(2) requires that the prior invention be made in the US. For its part, Honeywell is not a prior inventor because it simply copied the work of the Russian agency. Thus, the patent skates-by Section 102(g)(2) as well.

* * * * *

More Information: The district court held the patent invalid based on Section 102(g)(2). In reaching that conclusion, the district court decided that the made by “another inventor” element of the provision did not actually require that the prior-user be an original-inventor.  Rather, the district court held that for the purposes of Section 102(g), all that is required is that the prior-user “appreciate” the invention.  In coming to that conclusion, the court distinguished the language of  Section 102(f), which does require that the applicant “he … himself invent.”  On appeal, the Federal Circuit rejected that argument — holding that “when the statute uses the words ‘the invention was made in this country,’ it is referring to the act of inventing in the United States” because “originality is . . .  inherent to the notion of conception.”  In its analysis, the Federal Circuit appears to have added some detail to the common definition of conception which should now read: “the formation in the mind of the inventor, of [the inventor’s own] definite and permanent idea of the complete and operative invention, as it is hereafter to be applied in practice.”

Not the First Inventor: Honeywell argued strongly that it does not make sense for Solvay to have a patent since it was clearly not the first inventor and, if you follow the chain of title, the prior invention had never been abandoned, suppressed, or concealed.  Although seemingly sympathetic to Honeywell’s policy argument, the appellate court decided that it was bound by the statute.

Whether this holding ignores the realities of globalization and outsourcing by modern-day research companies, as Honeywell contended at oral argument, is not the question before us. The question before us is whether, under the undisputed facts, Honeywell qualifies as “another inventor” under 35 U.S.C. § 102(g)(2). Because Honeywell did not itself conceive the RSCAC process of making HFC-245fa, under 35 U.S.C. § 102(g)(2), as this court has construed the statute, it is not “another inventor” of the subject matter claimed in the ‘817 patent.

Although perhaps only shorthand, it is interesting that the court focuses on the question of whether the corporate entity –  Honeywell –  was the inventor.  Although some proposed amendments to the Patent Act would lead toward corporate inventorship, the current law is that all inventors must be real persons.

Ignoring Non-Patentable Elements While Judging Novelty

PatentLawPic1046By Dennis Crouch

The Federal Circuit offers some clues to its post-Bilski patentable-subject-matter jurisprudence, but leaves that fight for another day.  Instead, the court held the claims anticipated by explicitly ignoring novel claim elements.

* * * * *

King Pharmaceuticals, Inc. v. Eon Labs, Inc. and Elan Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (Fed. Cir. 2010)

King’s patent claims a method of increasing oral bioavailability of the muscle relaxant metaxalone by putting metaxalone in food eaten by the patient. Claim 21 includes a step of “informing the patient that the administration [of the drug with food] results in an increase [in absorption].  This step likely has two benefits: (1) increasing patient compliance with the drug regimen and (2) taking advantage of any placebo effect that may exist.  The drug metaxalone itself was already a known muscle relaxant well prior to King’s 2001 application date.

Patenting Methods of Treatment: The district court held claim 21 invalid under 35 U.S.C. 101 based on the Federal Circuit’s machine-or-transformation test from Bilski. On appeal, the Federal Circuit rejected the lower court analysis — noting that when examined “as a whole”, the claim requires treatment and “methods of treatments ‘are always transformative when a defined group of drugs is administered to the body to ameliorate the effects of an undesired condition.’” (quoting Prometheus Labs., Inc. v. Mayo Collaborative Serv., 581 F.3d 1336, 1346 (Fed. Cir. 2009), cert. granted and vacated, 78 U.S.L.W. 3254 (U.S. June 29, 2010)).

Although the appellate panel rejected the lower court’s Section 101 analysis, it stopped short of providing any positive position on the patentability of medical treatment methods — presumably saving that battle for the pending remands of Prometheus and Classen

Instead, the appellate court held that a Section 101 decision was not necessary because the claims of interest are anticipated under Section 102.

Ignoring Non-Patentable Elements: Here, the novelty question is interesting because the “informing” step was not specifically identified in the prior art. On appeal, the Federal Circuit held that claiming a step of “informing someone about the existence of an inherent property” of a method cannot render the claim patentable. “[I]n light of our holding that the method of taking metaxalone with food to increase the drug’s bioavailability, as recited in claim 1, is not patentable, it readily follows that claim 21, which recites the same method with the sole additional step of informing the patient about this increase in bioavailability, is not patentable.” 

In its decision, the court ties its case to the precedential foundation of “printed matter” cases that have barred the patentability of known products by the inclusion of printed matter describing the product.

In some ways, this decision may be seen as reviving the suggestion found in the now vacated 2007 In re Comiskey decision. There, the court suggested that, during nonobviousness analysis, any portion of an invention that constitutes nonstatutory subject matter will be considered de facto obvious.

Panel: Judges Bryson, Gajarsa, and Prost. Authored by Judge Gajarsa. 



Federal Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment of Obviousness for Bulk EMail Patent

Perfect Web Technologies v. InfoUSApic-79.jpg (Fed. Cir. 2009)

Perfect Web’s asserted patent covers a method of managing bulk e-mail distribution. Claim 1 of the application (filed in 2000) reads as follows:

1. A method for managing bulk e-mail distribution comprising the steps:

(A) matching a target recipient profile with a group of target recipients;

(B) transmitting a set of bulk e-mails to said target recipients in said matched group;

(C) calculating a quantity of e-mails in said set of bulk e-mails which have been successfully received by said target recipients; and,

(D) if said calculated quantity does not exceed a prescribed minimum quantity of successfully received e-mails, repeating steps (A)-(C) until said calculated quantity exceeds said prescribed minimum quantity. (Pat. No. 6,431,400).

The district court held the claims invalid as anticipated and obvious as well as for failing to claim statutory subject matter under Section 101. On appeal, the Federal Circuit upheld the obviousness finding and left the alternative reasons undecided.

Of course, in 2000, targeted bulk e-mail was already around, and the defendants provided prior art evidence of steps (A)-(C). That is, marketers were already identifying target recipients, sending out e-mails, and calculating the percent received. Missing from the prior art was step (D) – iteratively repeating steps (A)-(C) until the number of recipients reaches the a prescribed quantity.

Evidence of Common Sense: The district court held on summary judgment that KSR style “common sense” would lead one of ordinary skill in the art to perform the iterative step (D). On appeal, the Federal Circuit affirmed that finding – holding particularly that the finding of common sense does not require “explication in any reference or expert opinion.”

Although a court need not have documentary support of its common sense analysis, a court (or patent examiner) must at least clearly explain its reasoning.

We reiterate that, on summary judgment, to invoke “common sense” or any other basis for extrapolating from prior art to a conclusion of obviousness, a district court must articulate its reasoning with sufficient clarity for review.

In this case, the appellate panel agreed that the idea of repeating already known steps until a threshold is met was simply a common sense extension:

Thus, this last step, and the claim as a whole, simply recites repetition of a known procedure until success is achieved. Recognizing this, the district court explained: “If 100 e-mail deliveries were ordered, and the first transmission delivered only 95, common sense dictates that one should try again. One could do little else.”

The court added an interesting caveat regarding expert testimony and the level of one of skill in the art — noting that expert testimony may well be necessary for “complex” technology.

If the relevant technology were complex, the court might require expert opinions. Here, however, the parties agreed that ordinary skill in the relevant art required only a high school education and limited marketing and computer experience. No expert opinion is required to appreciate the potential value to persons of such skill in this art of repeating steps (A)-(C).

Obvious to Try: As a corollary to its common sense holding, the appellate court also held that the additional step (D) would have been “obvious to try” under KSR. “[S]imple logic suggests that sending messages to new addresses is more likely to produce successful deliveries than re-sending messages to addresses that have already failed. . . . [I]ndeed, the predictable and actual result of performing step (D) is that more e-mail messages reach more recipients.”

Long-felt Need: The patentee argued that a nonobviousness conclusion was supported by evidence of the secondary consideration of long-felt need. Particularly, the method helps solve the recognized competing problems of reaching customers without “burning up” the mailing list by oversending.

The Federal Circuit rejected these arguments because the patentee had failed to provide any evidence of improved efficiency beyond “bare assertion.” In addition, the court suggested that any proof of long-felt need would be insufficient to “overcome [the] strong prima facie showing of obviousness.” (quoting Asyst Techs (2008))

Claim Construction: Interestingly, the court issued its summary judgment order prior to claim construction. The Federal Circuit found no error because construction of the disputed claim terms would not have changed the obviousness outcome.

Notes: The patent was originally titled “Statement regarding federally sponsored research or development.” That is apparently a typographical error fixed in a subsequent certificate of correction.   

In re Nature’s Remedies: Foreign Regulatory Submission Invalidates Patent Under 102(b)

In re Natures Remediesssp_temp_capture.jpg (Fed. Cir. 2009) (nonprecedential)

In October of 2005, a third party (Jemo-Pharm) submitted a request for ex parte re-examination of Natures Remedies patented claim covering an herbal composition of guarana, damiana, and yerbe-mate claimed to cause weight loss. More than one year before Remedies’ filing date, an anticipating composition had been submitted to a Danish regulatory organization as part of a request for approval for clinical testing. (The decision is unclear, but implies that the submission was done by Remedies).

A Danish official provided testimony that the submission was a public record and was open for inspection since its date of submission. Remedies’ expert, however, argued that a Danish trade-secrecy law would have prevented such inspection. The BPAI accepted the open-access line of argument and found the submission invalidating prior art under 35 USC 102(b). The patentee appealed – arguing that the official submission was not sufficiently publicly accessible to be considered 102(b) prior art.

On appeal, the Federal Circuit affirmed – finding that the regulatory submission was publicly available more than one year before Remedies filed its application. The court began by recognizing that the official’s testimony created a prima facie case that the submission was publicly accessible – shifting the burden to the patentee. Of course, BPAI factual findings such as this will be affirmed with a finding of “substantial evidence.”

Because [the Danish Official’s] declaration established a prima facie case of public availability, the onus was on Remedies to demonstrate that the [regulatory submission] was not accessible to interested members of the public. Remedies, however, failed to carry its burden.

Under the Danish trade-secrecy law, the regulatory submissions are kept secret when they are of “material importance” to a company’s “economy.” It appears that Remedies could have proven its case but failed to provide evidence to the Board.

Attorney argument, however, cannot take the place of record evidence. See In re Geisler, 116 F.3d 1465, 1470 (Fed. Cir. 1997); Johnston v. IVAC Corp., 885 F.2d 1574, 1581 (Fed. Cir. 1989). Here, the evidence of record does not establish that Remedies intended to keep the formulation of the Medi-Tab capsule confidential until after the study had been completed and a patent application had been filed.

Rejection affirmed


  • 102(b) looks at prior art that was “described in a printed publication” more than one year prior to the date of application for the US patent. Implicit within ‘publication’ is a notion that the material is publicly accessible. Notably, however, there is generally no need to prove that the material was actually accessed. Thus, in this case, there is no discussion of whether the regulatory submission was ever seen by anyone.
  • Read the case
  • Reexam No. 90/007,785 (look it up in PAIR).
  • In some ways, this case is simply an extension of the Pivonka v. Axelrod case where the Federal Circuit held that the applicant has waived arguments by failing to present them at the Board of Patent Appeals.

Bilski: Adding Obvious but Meaningful Limitations

Paul Gardner is PRG’s Academic Director. In an e-mail, I asked him whether claim drafting techniques and strategies can be effectively tailored to satisfy Bilski’s requirements without sacrificing valuable claim scope. Mr. Gardner says yes it can be done most of the time (and PRG is developing the CLE to tell you how). For Gardner, an important consideration in Bilski is between “meaningful limits” versus “nonobvious limits.”

While Bilski requires that process claims recite machine or transformation limitations that “impose meaningful limits on the claim’s scope,” such limitations need not themselves be new or nonobvious. In other words, “meaningful limits” is not to be equated with “nonobvious limits,” and the “meaningful limits” requirement may be satisfied – insofar as Section 101 patent-eligibility is concerned – by machine or transformation limitations which, standing alone, are old or obvious. Once Section 101 patent-eligibility is found to be present, novelty and nonobviousness of the claim as a whole may be satisfied by a novel and nonobvious algorithm in combination with the structural machine or transformation recitations.

This difference is seen in the Federal Circuit’s discussion of Abele.

As Chief Judge Michel points out in Bilski, in Abele the CCPA found a broad method claim reciting only data manipulation steps (calculating the difference between two values and displaying the value of the difference) to be patent-ineligible, but found a dependent claim adding only that the data is “X-ray attenuation data produced in a two dimensional field by a computed tomography scanner” to be patent-eligible, because the data represented physical and tangible objects.

My own caution comes from the CAFC’s nonobviousness analysis in the 2007 Comiskey decision. In describing that case, I led with the headline “35 USC 101 Finds its Teeth (Biting into Nonobviousness)” because Comiskey could be read to indicate that any portion of an invention that constitutes nonstatutory subject matter will be considered de facto obvious. Under this reading of Comiskey, obvious but meaningful limitations may overcome §101, but leave the claim extremely vulnerable under §103(a). The Supreme Court’s 1978 Parker v. Flook decision follows this same line of thinking – treating a non-statutory (but previously unknown) algorithm “as though it were a familiar part of the prior art.”





BPAI: Under §102(e), Provisional Application Considered Prior Art as of its Filing Date.

Ex parte Yamaguchi (BPAI 2008)(Precedential Opinion)

In prosecution, the Examiner cited the Narayanan reference against a Texas Instruments patent application filed by Yamaguchi. The rejection identified Narayanan as prior art under 35 U.S.C. § 102(e). The issue on appeal to the BPAI was whether the Narayanan reference can be considered 102(e) prior art as of the filing date of its provisional application.

Section 102(e) allows for submarine prior art – these are typically pending US patent applications that, when published or patented, suddenly become prior art as of their filing date. The statute allows that “[a] person shall be entitled to a patent unless . . .the invention was described in . . .a patent granted on an application for patent by another filed in the United States before the invention by the applicant for patent.. . .” 35 U.S.C. § 102(e).

102(e) Provisional: The issue here is whether Narayanan’s provisional application can be used in 102(e) analysis. The expanded BPAI panel agreed with the examiner that the 102(e) prior art date does reach-back to the date of provisional filing. This result is based on their analysis of 35 U.S.C. § 111(b). Section 111(b) requires that “provisions of this title relating to applications for patent shall apply to provisional applications for patent.”

“Based on this express intent to apply the provisions of Title 35 relating to “applications for patent” to provisional applications (except for four enumerated sections noted in §111(b)(8)), a provisional application can therefore be reasonably considered an “application for patent” within the meaning of §102(e). The plain meaning of these provisions of Title 35 as noted above is outlined in MPEP 2136.03(111) for establishing the critical reference date under §102(e) of a U.S. patent or U.S. application publication that is entitled to the benefit of the filing date of a provisional application under §119(e). Based on the statutory scheme of Title 35, we hold that Appellants have not shown harmful error in the rejections on appeal.”

This holding is in tension with the controlling precedent of In re Wertheim, 646 F.2d 527 (CCPA 1981). In Wertheim, the CCPA held that for a continuation-in-part application, the parent’s filing date may serve as a §102(e) date, but only if the parent contains full §§120 and 112 support for the disclosure.

In this case the Examiner found that the Narayanan provisional application fully supported the eventual publication – and thus that the 102(e) date for narayanan was the filing date of the provisional. The applicant was unable to disprove these findings and the BPAI affirmed the rejection.

Anticipation Requires More Than Disclosing All the Elements

Net MoneyIn v. Verisign (Fed. Cir. 2008)

NMI sued Verisign and others for infringing its credit card processing patent. One of NMI’s claims was found anticipated by a single prior art reference. That reference taught each element in the invalidated claim. However, there was no single example that taught all the elements together.

On appeal, the Federal Circuit reversed – holding that anticipation takes more than simply locating each element within the four corners of a single document.

In its rebuttal, the appellate panel focused on the concept anticipating the invention. To anticipate, the prior art must teach all the claim elements and the claimed arrangement.

Section 102 embodies the concept of novelty—if a device or process has been previously invented (and disclosed to the public), then it is not new, and therefore the claimed invention is “anticipated” by the prior invention. . . . Because the hallmark of anticipation is prior invention, the prior art reference—in order to anticipate under 35 U.S.C. § 102—must not only disclose all elements of the claim within the four corners of the document, but must also disclose those elements “arranged as in the claim.”

Focusing for a moment on arrangement – to anticipate, the reference must teach “all of the limitations arranged or combined in the same way as recited in the claim.”

Applying the rule to this case, the appellate panel found that the prior art reference was not anticipating. The reference disclosed two transaction protocols, but neither protocol contained all of the elements combined in the manner claimed. “Thus, although the iKP reference might anticipate a claim directed to either of the two protocols disclosed, it cannot anticipate the system of claim 23. The district court was wrong to conclude otherwise.”

Means Plus Function: After claim construction, the district court also found NMI’s means-plus-function claims invalid because they lacked any corresponding structure in the specification. On appeal, the Federal Circuit affirmed.

The patent statute allows patentees to draft claims in more generic ‘means plus function’ language. That language allows a patentee claim various elements based on their function. However, means plus function claims are only valid if the specification describes some structure to carry out the proposed function. According to the courts, this structure requirement is separate from any enablement requirement. Thus, some structure must be provided in the specification even if one skilled in the art would not need that disclosure to make the invention.

Here, NMI claimed a “[a bank computer including] means for generating an authorization indicia” but did not provide any corresponding structure in the specification to perform that structure.

On appeal, NMI incredibly argued that the claim was not a means-plus-function claim. The Federal Circuit disagreed – finding that the claim lacks structure.

Searching for structure in the specification, NMI pointed to its recitation of a “bank computer.” Of course that recitation is insufficient.

‘To avoid purely functional claiming in cases involving computer-implemented inventions, we have “consistently required that the structure disclosed in the specification be more than simply a general purpose computer or microprocessor.” Quoting Aristocrat

Consequently, a means-plus-function claim element for which the only disclosed structure is a general purpose computer is invalid if the specification fails to disclose an algorithm for performing the claimed function.

Holding of MPF claim invalidity affirmed.

Anticipated yet Nonobvious

Patent.Law159Cohesive Tech v. Water Corp (Fed. Cir. 2008)

Perhaps the most important portion of this case relates to the notion that novelty and nonobviousness are separate and distinct inquiries. And, that a patent may be found anticipated yet nonobvious.

On summary judgment, the district court Cohesive’s HPLC patent might be obvious, but certainly was not anticipated.  Water appealed — arguing that the judgment was logically incorrect if anticipation truly is the “epitome of obviousness.”  On appeal, however, the Federal Circuit confirmed that novelty and obviousness are separate and distinct — one does not necessarily follow the other.

While it is commonly understood that prior art references that anticipate a claim will usually render that claim obvious, it is not necessarily true that a verdict of nonobviousness forecloses anticipation. The tests for anticipation and obviousness are different.

The court suggested two circumstances where an anticipated claim might still be nonobvious.  First, secondary considerations of nonobviousness may exist that are not relevant in an anticipation claim. Second, although inherent elements apply in an anticipation, inherency is generally not applicable to nonobviousness. 

“[O]bviousness requires analysis of secondary considerations of nonobviousness, while secondary considerations are not an element of a claim of anticipation. And although anticipation can be proven inherently, proof of inherent anticipation is not the same as proof of obviousness.”

The court also gives an example —

“Consider, for example, a claim directed toward a particular alloy of metal. The claimed metal alloy may have all the hallmarks of a nonobvious invention—there was a long felt but resolved need for an alloy with the properties of the claimed alloy, others may have tried and failed to produce such an alloy, and, once disclosed, the claimed alloy may have received high praise and seen commercial success. Nevertheless, there may be a centuries-old alchemy textbook that, while not describing any metal alloys, describes a method that, if practiced precisely, actually produces the claimed alloy. While the prior art alchemy textbook inherently anticipates the claim under § 102, the claim may not be said to be obvious under § 103.”

Patent.Law160Judge Mayer dissented — arguing that anticipation is a subset of nonobviousness. “Although a claimed invention can be obvious but not anticipated, it ‘cannot have been anticipated and not have been obvious.’ In re Fracalossi, 681 F.2d 792, 794 (CCPA 1982).”

“The majority’s assertion that a claim can be anticipated but not obvious, flies in the face of a long line of precedent to the contrary. Not surprisingly, it is unable to cite a case remanding to the district court for consideration of anticipation, while at the same time sustaining a determination that claims at issue are not obvious.”

The practical impact of this case:

  1. Anticipation still gets to a jury even when the defense has a credible obviousness argument.
  2. The Majority’s example might be seen to narrow the scope of documents available for obviousness arguments along a temporal axis. (References from a long time ago shouldn’t be combined with more recent references.)
  3. In some ways, the ‘common sense’ approach of KSR encourages this decision. While anticipation may still be a formal construct, obviousness should focus on what really would have been obvious at the time of the invention.
  4. Professor Ochoa (Santa Clara) reminded me about the European rule that does not allow “secret” prior art to be used in obviousness (inventive step) analysis.  If the US so modified its rules, perhaps the distinction between obviousness and anticipation would begin to ring true.

Combining References in Novelty; Slack in New Matter; No Decision on Injunction for NPE

CSIRO v. Buffalo Technology (Fed. Cir. 2008)

CSIRO is a nonpractising patent holder. It is also an arm of the Australian government. After winning an infringement suit against Buffalo Tech, CSIRO was awarded permanent injunctive relief to protect its spread spectrum WLAN technology.

On appeal, more than a half-dozen amici filed briefs arguing for and against injunctive relief in this situation. On appeal, however, the Federal Circuit vacated the infringement holding – leaving the discussion of injunctive relief for another day. The vacatur came from the district court’s pre-KSR strict requirement for a motivation to combine references.

Combining References For Novelty: On novelty, Buffalo asked the court to combine two references in its analysis because one of the reference cites the other in a footnote. The Federal Circuit rejected that argument — finding that the footnote discussion was insufficient to concatenate the two references. “In particular, the reference to Bingham does not ‘identify with detailed particularity what specific material it incorporates and clearly indicate where that material is found in the various documents.’ Advanced Display Systems, (Fed. Cir. 2000).”

New Matter: 35 USC 132 bars an applicant from presenting new matter once a patent application has been filed.  In litigation, the written description requirement of Section 112 serves as the basis for invalidating patents with added new matter.  The new matter limitation is not strict. Rather, when the claims are amended, the patent will only be invalidated if the original specification is not “sufficient to allow persons of ordinary skill in the art to recognize that the inventor invented the subject matter that is claimed in the asserted claims.”  Further, the PTO’s decision to allow an amendment provides a patent with “an especially weighty presumption of correctness.”

Here, CSIRO changed its claim limitation from “frequencies in excess of 10 GHz” to simply “radio frequencies.”  On appeal, the Federal Circuit affirmed the lower court’s factual finding that the amendment did not impermissibly add new matter. (No clear error). In particular, neither party suggested a technical distinction between handling lower frequencies. Further, the court found that the original specification was not limited to frequencies in excess of 10 GHz.

On remand, the lower court will reevaluate obviousness.

Zyprexa Patent Upheld on Appeal

OlanzapineEli Lilly v. Zenith Goldline (Fed. Cir. 2006)

Lilly’s patent covers olanzapine (Zyprexa®) and its use for the treatment of schizophrenia. Three generic manufacturers (Zenith (IVAX), Dr. Reddy’s, and Teva) filed an ANDA and Lilly responded with a complaint in the Southern District of Indiana.  After a bench trial, the district court agreed with Lilly that the patent was valid, infringed, and enforceable.  The defendants appealed to the Court of Appeals of the Federal Circuit.

Anticipation: To anticipate the invention, a prior art reference “must disclose each and every feature of the claimed invention, either explicitly or inherently.”  However, in both Petering and Schaumann, prior art references that disclosed the family of the claimed compound were found to anticipate the claimed compound — even though the claimed compounds were not specifically discussed.

Here, the CAFC found that those cases were not applicable because the closest reference to olanzapine did not spell out “a definite and limited class of compounds that enabled a person of ordinary skill in the art to at once envisage each member in this limited class.”

Obviousness: The CAFC agreed that the prior art references did not suggest a the compound. In addition, Lilly provided strong evidence of secondary considerations, including: “(1) a long-felt and unmet need; (2) failure of others; (3) industry acclaim; and (4) unexpected results.”

The record shows a long-felt need for a safer, less toxic, and more effective clozapine-like drug; a decade (or more) of failure to find a replacement for clozapine; a reasonable amount of commercial success for olanzapine; and a number of awards for olanzapine as indicators of industry acclaim.

Public Use: Prior to filing the patent application, Lilly conducted Phase I clinical safety trials. The court found, however, that the trials were well within the experimental use exception:

In this case, Lilly tailored its tests to their experimental drug safety and efficacy purpose, adequately monitored for results, and maintained confidentiality throughout the duration of the study. The trial court did not err in finding no public use.