2143.01 Suggestion or Motivation To Modify the References [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.]
Obviousness can be established by combining or modifying the teachings of the prior art to produce the claimed invention where there is some teaching, suggestion, or motivation to do so. In re Kahn, 441 F.3d 977, 986, 78 USPQ2d 1329, 1335 (Fed. Cir. 2006) (discussing rationale underlying the motivation-suggestion-teaching test as a guard against using hindsight in an obviousness analysis). A "motivation to combine may be found explicitly or implicitly in market forces; design incentives; the ‘interrelated teachings of multiple patents’; ‘any need or problem known in the field of endeavor at the time of invention and addressed by the patent’; and the background knowledge, creativity, and common sense of the person of ordinary skill." Zup v. Nash Mfg., 896 F.3d 1365, 1371, 127 USPQ2d 1423, 1427 (Fed. Cir. 2018) (quoting Plantronics, Inc. v. Aliph, Inc., 724 F.3d 1343, 1354 [107 USPQ2d 1706] (Fed. Cir. 2013) (citing Perfect Web Techs., Inc. v. InfoUSA, Inc., 587 F.3d 1324, 1328 [92 USPQ2d 1849] (Fed. Cir. 2009) (quoting KSR, 550 U.S. at 418-21)). See MPEP § 2143 regarding the need to provide a reasoned explanation even in situations involving common sense or ordinary ingenuity. See also MPEP § 2144.05, subsection II, B.
I. PRIOR ART SUGGESTION OF THE CLAIMED INVENTION NOT NECESSARILY NEGATED BY DESIRABLE ALTERNATIVES
The disclosure of desirable alternatives does not necessarily negate a suggestion for modifying the prior art to arrive at the claimed invention. In In re Fulton, 391 F.3d 1195, 73 USPQ2d 1141 (Fed. Cir. 2004), the claims of a utility patent application were directed to a shoe sole with increased traction having hexagonal projections in a "facing orientation." 391 F.3d at 1196-97, 73 USPQ2d at 1142. The Board combined a design patent having hexagonal projections in a facing orientation with a utility patent having other limitations of the independent claim. 391 F.3d at 1199, 73 USPQ2d at 1144. Applicant argued that the combination was improper because (1) the prior art did not suggest having the hexagonal projections in a facing (as opposed to a "pointing") orientation was the "most desirable" configuration for the projections, and (2) the prior art "taught away" by showing desirability of the "pointing orientation." 391 F.3d at 1200-01, 73 USPQ2d at 1145-46. The court stated that "the prior art’s mere disclosure of more than one alternative does not constitute a teaching away from any of these alternatives because such disclosure does not criticize, discredit, or otherwise discourage the solution claimed…." Id. In affirming the Board’s obviousness rejection, the court held that the prior art as a whole suggested the desirability of the combination of shoe sole limitations claimed, thus providing a motivation to combine, which need not be supported by a finding that the prior art suggested that the combination claimed by the applicant was the preferred, or most desirable combination over the other alternatives. Id. See also In re Urbanski, 809 F.3d 1237, 1244, 117 USPQ2d 1499, 1504 (Fed. Cir. 2016).
In Ruiz v. A.B. Chance Co., 357 F.3d 1270, 69 USPQ2d 1686 (Fed. Cir. 2004), the patent claimed underpinning a slumping building foundation using a screw anchor attached to the foundation by a metal bracket. One prior art reference taught a screw anchor with a concrete bracket, and a second prior art reference disclosed a pier anchor with a metal bracket. The court found motivation to combine the references to arrive at the claimed invention in the "nature of the problem to be solved" because each reference was directed "to precisely the same problem of underpinning slumping foundations." Id. at 1276, 69 USPQ2d at 1690. The court also rejected the notion that "an express written motivation to combine must appear in prior art references…." Id. at 1276, 69 USPQ2d at 1690.
II. WHERE THE TEACHINGS OF THE PRIOR ART CONFLICT, THE EXAMINER MUST WEIGH THE SUGGESTIVE POWER OF EACH REFERENCE
The test for obviousness is what the combined teachings of the references would have suggested to one of ordinary skill in the art, and all teachings in the prior art must be considered to the extent that they are in analogous arts. Where the teachings of two or more prior art references conflict, the examiner must weigh the power of each reference to suggest solutions to one of ordinary skill in the art, considering the degree to which one reference might accurately discredit another. In re Young, 927 F.2d 588, 18 USPQ2d 1089 (Fed. Cir. 1991) (Prior art patent to Carlisle disclosed controlling and minimizing bubble oscillation for chemical explosives used in marine seismic exploration by spacing seismic sources close enough to allow the bubbles to intersect before reaching their maximum radius so the secondary pressure pulse was reduced. An article published several years later by Knudsen opined that the Carlisle technique did not yield appreciable improvement in bubble oscillation suppression. However, the article did not test the Carlisle technique under comparable conditions because Knudsen did not use Carlisle’s spacing or seismic source. Furthermore, where the Knudsen model most closely approximated the patent technique there was a 30% reduction of the secondary pressure pulse. On these facts, the court found that the Knudsen article would not have deterred one of ordinary skill in the art from using the Carlisle patent teachings.).
III. FACT THAT REFERENCES CAN BE COMBINED OR MODIFIED MAY NOT BE SUFFICIENT TO ESTABLISH PRIMA FACIE OBVIOUSNESS
The mere fact that references can be combined or modified does not render the resultant combination obvious unless the results would have been predictable to one of ordinary skill in the art. KSR Int'l Co. v. Teleflex Inc., 550 U.S. 398, 417, 82 USPQ2d 1385, 1396 (2007) ("If a person of ordinary skill can implement a predictable variation, § 103 likely bars its patentability. For the same reason, if a technique has been used to improve one device, and a person of ordinary skill in the art would recognize that it would improve similar devices in the same way, using the technique is obvious unless its actual application is beyond his or her skill.").
IV. MERE STATEMENT THAT THE CLAIMED INVENTION IS WITHIN THE CAPABILITIES OF ONE OF ORDINARY SKILL IN THE ART IS NOT SUFFICIENT BY ITSELF TO ESTABLISH PRIMA FACIE OBVIOUSNESS
A statement that modifications of the prior art to meet the claimed invention would have been "‘well within the ordinary skill of the art at the time the claimed invention was made’" because the references relied upon teach that all aspects of the claimed invention were individually known in the art is not sufficient to establish a prima facie case of obviousness without some objective reason to combine the teachings of the references. Ex parte Levengood, 28 USPQ2d 1300 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1993). ‘‘‘[R]ejections on obviousness cannot be sustained by mere conclusory statements; instead, there must be some articulated reasoning with some rational underpinning to support the legal conclusion of obviousness.’" KSR, 550 U.S. at 418, 82 USPQ2d at 1396 (quoting In re Kahn, 441 F.3d 977, 988, 78 USPQ2d 1329, 1336 (Fed. Cir. 2006)).
V. THE PROPOSED MODIFICATION CANNOT RENDER THE PRIOR ART UNSATISFACTORY FOR ITS INTENDED PURPOSE
If a proposed modification would render the prior art invention being modified unsatisfactory for its intended purpose, then there is no suggestion or motivation to make the proposed modification. In re Gordon, 733 F.2d 900, 221 USPQ 1125 (Fed. Cir. 1984) (Claimed device was a blood filter assembly for use during medical procedures wherein both the inlet and outlet for the blood were located at the bottom end of the filter assembly, and wherein a gas vent was present at the top of the filter assembly. The prior art reference taught a liquid strainer for removing dirt and water from gasoline and other light oils wherein the inlet and outlet were at the top of the device, and wherein a pet-cock (stopcock) was located at the bottom of the device for periodically removing the collected dirt and water. The reference further taught that the separation is assisted by gravity. The Board concluded the claims were prima facie obvious, reasoning that it would have been obvious to turn the reference device upside down. The court reversed, finding that if the prior art device were turned upside down it would be inoperable for its intended purpose because the gasoline to be filtered would be trapped at the top, the water and heavier oils sought to be separated would flow out of the outlet instead of the purified gasoline, and the screen would become clogged.). But see In re Urbanski, 809 F.3d 1237, 1244, 117 USPQ2d 1499, 1504 (Fed. Cir. 2016) (The patent claims were directed to a method of enzymatic hydrolysis of soy fiber to reduce water holding capacity, requiring reacting the soy fiber and enzyme in water for about 60-120 minutes. The claims were rejected over two prior art references, wherein the primary reference taught using a longer reaction time of 5 to 72 hours and the secondary taught using a reaction time of 100 to 240 minutes, preferably 120 minutes. The applicant argued that modifying the primary reference in the manner suggested by the secondary reference would forego the benefits taught by the primary reference, thereby teaching away from the combination. The court held that both prior art references "suggest[ed] that hydrolysis time may be adjusted to achieve different fiber properties. Nothing in the prior art teaches that the proposed modification would have resulted in an ‘inoperable’ process or a dietary fiber product with undesirable properties." (emphasis in original)).
"Although statements limiting the function or capability of a prior art device require fair consideration, simplicity of the prior art is rarely a characteristic that weighs against obviousness of a more complicated device with added function." In re Dance, 160 F.3d 1339, 1344, 48 USPQ2d 1635, 1638 (Fed. Cir. 1998) (Court held that claimed catheter for removing obstruction in blood vessels would have been obvious in view of a first reference which taught all of the claimed elements except for a "means for recovering fluid and debris" in combination with a second reference describing a catheter including that means. The court agreed that the first reference, which stressed simplicity of structure and taught emulsification of the debris, did not teach away from the addition of a channel for the recovery of the debris.). Similarly, in Allied Erecting v. Genesis Attachments, 825 F.3d 1373, 1381, 119 USPQ2d 1132, 1138 (Fed. Cir. 2016), the court stated "[a]lthough modification of the movable blades may impede the quick change functionality disclosed by Caterpillar, ‘[a] given course of action often has simultaneous advantages and disadvantages, and this does not necessarily obviate motivation to combine’" (quoting Medichem, S.A. v. Rolabo, S.L., 437 F.3d 1157, 1165, 77 USPQ2d 1865, 1870 (Fed Cir. 2006) (citation omitted)).
VI. THE PROPOSED MODIFICATION CANNOT CHANGE THE PRINCIPLE OF OPERATION OF A REFERENCE
If the proposed modification or combination of the prior art would change the principle of operation of the prior art invention being modified, then the teachings of the references are not sufficient to render the claims prima facie obvious. In re Ratti, 270 F.2d 810, 813, 123 USPQ 349, 352 (CCPA 1959) (Claims were directed to an oil seal comprising a bore engaging portion with outwardly biased resilient spring fingers inserted in a resilient sealing member. The primary reference relied upon in a rejection based on a combination of references disclosed an oil seal wherein the bore engaging portion was reinforced by a cylindrical sheet metal casing. The seal construction taught in the primary reference required rigidity for operation, whereas the seal in the claimed invention required resiliency. The court reversed the rejection holding the "suggested combination of references would require a substantial reconstruction and redesign of the elements shown in [the primary reference] as well as a change in the basic principle under which the [primary reference] construction was designed to operate.").