Probative Value of Objective Evidence
Ninth Edition of the MPEP, Revision 10.2019, Last Revised in June 2020
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716.01(c) Probative Value of Objective Evidence [R-10.2019]
I. TO BE OF PROBATIVE VALUE, ANY OBJECTIVE EVIDENCE SHOULD BE SUPPORTED BY ACTUAL PROOF
Objective evidence which must be factually supported by an appropriate affidavit or declaration to be of probative value includes evidence of unexpected results, commercial success, solution of a long-felt need, inoperability of the prior art, invention before the date of the reference, and allegations that the author(s) of the prior art derived the disclosed subject matter from the inventor or at least one joint inventor. See, for example, In re De Blauwe, 736 F.2d 699, 705, 222 USPQ 191, 196 (Fed. Cir. 1984) ("It is well settled that unexpected results must be established by factual evidence." "[A]ppellants have not presented any experimental data showing that prior heat-shrinkable articles split. Due to the absence of tests comparing appellant’s heat shrinkable articles with those of the closest prior art, we conclude that appellant’s assertions of unexpected results constitute mere argument."). See also In re Lindner, 457 F.2d 506, 508, 173 USPQ 356, 358 (CCPA 1972); Ex parte George, 21 USPQ2d 1058 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1991).
II. ATTORNEY ARGUMENTS CANNOT TAKE THE PLACE OF EVIDENCE
The arguments of counsel cannot take the place of evidence in the record. In re Schulze, 346 F.2d 600, 602, 145 USPQ 716, 718 (CCPA 1965). Examples of attorney statements which are not evidence and which must be supported by an appropriate affidavit or declaration include statements regarding unexpected results, commercial success, solution of a long-felt need, inoperability of the prior art, invention before the date of the reference, and allegations that the author(s) of the prior art derived the disclosed subject matter from the inventor or at least one joint inventor.
See MPEP § 2145 generally for case law pertinent to the consideration of applicant’s rebuttal arguments.
III. OPINION EVIDENCE
Although factual evidence is preferable to opinion testimony, such testimony is entitled to consideration and some weight so long as the opinion is not on the ultimate legal conclusion at issue. While an opinion as to a legal conclusion is not entitled to any weight, the underlying basis for the opinion may be persuasive. In re Chilowsky, 306 F.2d 908, 134 USPQ 515 (CCPA 1962) (expert opinion that an application meets the requirements of 35 U.S.C. 112 is not entitled to any weight; however, facts supporting a basis for deciding that the specification complies with 35 U.S.C. 112 are entitled to some weight); In re Lindell, 385 F.2d 453, 155 USPQ 521 (CCPA 1967) (Although an affiant’s or declarant’s opinion on the ultimate legal issue is not evidence in the case, "some weight ought to be given to a persuasively supported statement of one skilled in the art on what was not obvious to him." 385 F.2d at 456, 155 USPQ at 524 (emphasis in original)).
In assessing the probative value of an expert opinion, the examiner must consider the nature of the matter sought to be established, the strength of any opposing evidence, the interest of the expert in the outcome of the case, and the presence or absence of factual support for the expert’s opinion. Ashland Oil, Inc. v. Delta Resins & Refractories, Inc., 776 F.2d 281, 227 USPQ 657 (Fed. Cir. 1985), cert. denied, 475 U.S. 1017 (1986). See also In re Oelrich, 579 F.2d 86, 198 USPQ 210 (CCPA 1978) (factually based expert opinions on the level of ordinary skill in the art were sufficient to rebut the prima facie case of obviousness); Ex parte Gray, 10 USPQ2d 1922 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1989) (statement in publication dismissing the "preliminary identification of a human b-NGF-like molecule" in the prior art, even if considered to be an expert opinion, was inadequate to overcome the rejection based on that prior art because there was no factual evidence supporting the statement); In re Carroll, 601 F.2d 1184, 202 USPQ 571 (CCPA 1979) (expert opinion on what the prior art taught, supported by documentary evidence and formulated prior to the making of the claimed invention, received considerable deference); In re Beattie, 974 F.2d 1309, 24 USPQ2d 1040 (Fed. Cir. 1992) (declarations of seven persons skilled in the art offering opinion evidence praising the merits of the claimed invention were found to have little value because of a lack of factual support); Ex parte George, 21 USPQ2d 1058 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1991) (conclusory statements that results were "unexpected," unsupported by objective factual evidence, were considered but were not found to be of substantial evidentiary value).
Although an affidavit or declaration which states only conclusions may have some probative value, such an affidavit or declaration may have little weight when considered in light of all the evidence of record in the application. In re Brandstadter, 484 F.2d 1395, 179 USPQ 286 (CCPA 1973).
An affidavit of an applicant as to the advantages of his or her claimed invention, while less persuasive than that of a disinterested person, cannot be disregarded for this reason alone. Ex parte Keyes, 214 USPQ 579 (Bd. App. 1982); In re McKenna, 203 F.2d 717, 97 USPQ 348 (CCPA 1953).
IV. PROBATIVE VALUE OF COMMERCIAL SUCCESS OR LONG FELT NEED EVIDENCE
Objective evidence of commercial success or long felt need and failure of others may be given less weight if the record shows that the applicant or patent owner has a strong market power or blocking patent depending on the facts of record. "A patent has been called a 'blocking patent' where practice of a later invention would infringe the earlier patent. The existence of such a blocking patent may deter non-owners and non-licensees from investing the resources needed to make, develop, and market such a later, 'blocked' invention, because of the risk of infringement liability and associated monetary or injunctive remedies. If the later invention is eventually patented by an owner or licensee of the blocking patent, that potential deterrent effect is relevant to understanding why others had not made, developed, or marketed that 'blocked' invention and, hence, to evaluating objective indicia of the obviousness of the later patent." Acorda Therapeutics, Inc. v. Roxane Lab., Inc., 903 F.3d 1310, 1337, 128 USPQ2d 1001, 1021(Fed. Cir. 2018). "Such a blocking patent therefore can be evidence that can discount the significance of evidence that nobody but the blocking patent’s owners or licensees arrived at, developed, and marketed the invention covered by the later patent at issue in litigation. But the magnitude of the diminution in incentive in any context—in particular, whether it was great enough to have actually deterred activity that otherwise would have occurred—is 'a fact-specific inquiry.'" Id. at 1339, 128 USPQ2d at 1022. While having record evidence of such a blocking patent may not be common, examiners should be aware of its potential impact in evaluating secondary evidence of nonobviousness. In any Office action, examiners should articulate why there is any discounting of the weight of the secondary consideration evidence when addressing the evidence.