2112 Requirements of Rejection Based on Inherency; Burden of Proof [R-07.2022]
[Editor Note: This MPEP section is applicable to all applications. For applications subject to the first inventor to file (FITF) provisions of the AIA, the relevant time is "before the effective filing date of the claimed invention". For applications subject to pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102, the relevant time is "at the time of the invention". Phillips v. AWH Corp., 415 F.3d 1303, 1313, 75 USPQ2d 1321, 1326 (Fed. Cir. 2005). See alsoMPEP § 2150 et seq. Many of the court decisions discussed in this section involved applications or patents subject to pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102. These court decisions may be applicable to applications and patents subject to AIA 35 U.S.C. 102 but the relevant time is before the effective filing date of the claimed invention and not at the time of the invention.]
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 oligonucleotides. The 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 RELEVANT TIME
There is no requirement that a person of ordinary skill in the art would have recognized the inherent disclosure at the relevant time, 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); In re Omeprazole Patent Litigation, 483 F.3d 1364, 1373, 82 USPQ2d 1643, 1650 (Fed. Cir. 2007) (The court noted that although the inventors may not have recognized that a characteristic of the ingredients in the prior art method resulted in an in situ formation of a separating layer, the in situ formation was nevertheless inherent. "The record shows formation of the in situ separating layer in the prior art even though that process was not recognized at the time. The new realization alone does not render that necessary [sic] prior art patentable.").
III. A REJECTION UNDER 35 U.S.C. 102 AND 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. "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 and 103 rejection is appropriate for these types of claims as well as for composition claims.
IV. EXAMINER MUST PROVIDE RATIONALE OR EVIDENCE 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). 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). In PAR Pharmaceutical, Inc. v. TWI Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 773 F.3d 1186, 112 USPQ2d 1945 (Fed. Cir. 2014), the Federal Circuit remanded a decision to the district court because the record did not present sufficient evidence to prove inherency in the context of obviousness. The district court concluded the pharmacokinetic parameters of a claim are inherent properties of the obvious formulation. The Federal Circuit stated that while "inherency may support a missing claim limitation in an obviousness analysis", "the use of inherency, a doctrine originally rooted in anticipation, must be carefully circumscribed in the context of obviousness." Id. at 1194-95, 112 USPQ2d at 1952. "[I]n order to rely on inherency to establish the existence of a claim limitation in the prior art in an obviousness analysis – the limitation at issue necessarily must be present, or the natural result of the combination of elements explicitly disclosed by the prior art." Id. at 1195-96, 112 USPQ2d at 1952. But see, Persion Pharms. LLC v. Alvogen Malta Operations LTD., 945 F.3d 1184, 1191, 2019 USPQ2d 494084 (Fed. Cir. 2019), where the court stated that a proper finding of inherency does not require that all limitations are taught in a single reference, and that inherency may meet a missing claim limitation when the limitation is "the natural result of the combination of prior art elements." (emphasis in original). The court found that pharmacokinetic limitations of the asserted claims were inherently met by combining prior art references because the limitations were necessarily present in the prior art combination. Id. See also Hospira, Inc. v. Fresenius Kabi USA, LLC, 946 F.3d 1322, 1329-32, 2020 USPQ2d 6227 (Fed. Cir. 2020).
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 figure 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.
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 TO SHOW INHERENCY, THE BURDEN OF PRODUCTION SHIFTS TO THE APPLICANT
"[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." In re Best, 562 F.2d 1252, 1255, 195 USPQ 430, 433-34 (CCPA 1977) (footnote and citation 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) (citing Best, 562 F.2d at 1255).
In 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.1. 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 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 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.