MPEP 2173.05(j)
Old Combination

Ninth Edition of the MPEP, Revision 07.2022, Last Revised in February 2023

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2173.05(j)    Old Combination [R-11.2013]


With the passage of the 1952 Patent Act, the courts and the Board have taken the view that a rejection based on the principle of old combination is NO LONGER VALID. Claims should be considered proper so long as they comply with the provisions of 35 U.S.C. 112(b) or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 112, second paragraph.

A rejection on the basis of old combination was based on the principle applied in Lincoln Engineering Co. v. Stewart-Warner Corp., 303 U.S. 545, 37 USPQ 1 (1938). The principle was that an inventor who made an improvement or contribution to but one element of a generally old combination, should not be able to obtain a patent on the entire combination including the new and improved element. A rejection required the citation of a single reference which broadly disclosed a combination of the claimed elements functionally cooperating in substantially the same manner to produce substantially the same results as that of the claimed combination. The case of In re Hall, 208 F.2d 370, 100 USPQ 46 (CCPA 1953) illustrates an application of this principle.

The court pointed out in In re Bernhart, 417 F.2d 1395, 163 USPQ 611 (CCPA 1969) that the statutory language (particularly point out and distinctly claim) is the only proper basis for an old combination rejection, and in applying the rejection, that language determines what an applicant has a right and obligation to do. A majority opinion of the Board of Appeals held that Congress removed the underlying rationale of Lincoln Engineering in the 1952 Patent Act, and thereby effectively legislated that decision out of existence. Ex parte Barber, 187 USPQ 244 (Bd. App. 1974). Finally, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, in Radio Steel and Mfg. Co. v. MTD Products, Inc., 731 F.2d 840, 221 USPQ 657 (Fed. Cir. 1984), followed the Bernhart case, and ruled that a claim was not invalid under Lincoln Engineering because the claim complied with the requirements of 35 U.S.C. 112, second paragraph. Accordingly, a claim should not be rejected on the ground of old combination.