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INTERPRETATION OF OBVIOUSNESS IN EUROPE

The expression “inventive step” is predominantly used for instance in European Union while the expression “non- obviousness” is predominantly used in United States of America. The assessment of the inventive step and non-obviousness varies from one country to another while the underlying basic principal remains the same. Therefore the practice of the different patent office differs from each other.


Under Article 52(1) in conjunction with Article 56 of the European Patent Convention, European patents shall be granted for inventions which inter alia involve an inventive step, that is, the invention, having regard to the state of the art, must not be obvious to a person skilled in the art. For assessment of the inventive step the European Patents Office follows the “Problem solution approach”.

Problem-solution approach:


In order to assess whether an invention involves an inventive step the Examining Divisions, the Opposition Divisions, and even the Boards of Appeal of the European Patents office apply the "problem-solution approach". The various steps included in this approach are:-


Identifying the closest prior art, i.e., the most relevant prior art;


Determining the objective technical problem, i.e., determining, in view of the closest prior art, the technical problem which the claimed invention addresses and successfully solves; and


Examining whether or not the claimed solution to the objective technical problem is obvious for the skilled person in view of the state of the art in general.


This step is conducted according to the "could-would approach". Under this approach, “the question to address” in order to assess whether the invention involves an inventive step is as follows:


Is there any teaching in the prior art, as a whole, that would (not simply could) have prompted the skilled person, faced with the objective technical problem formulated when considering the technical features not disclosed by the closest prior art, to modify or adapt said closest prior art while taking account of that teaching [the teaching of the prior art, not just the teaching of the closest prior art], thereby arriving at something falling within the terms of the claims, and thus achieving what the invention achieves?


If the skilled person would have been prompted to modify the closest prior art in such a way as to arrive at something falling within the terms of the claims, then the invention does not involve an inventive step.


The point is not whether the skilled person could have arrived at the invention by adapting or modifying the closest prior art, but whether he would have done so because the prior art incited him to do so in the hope of solving the objective technical problem or in expectation of some improvement or advantage. This must have been the case for the skilled person before the filing or priority date valid for the claim under examination.

A set of rules regarding the approach taken by the United Kingdom courts was laid out by the Court of Appeal in Windsurfing International Inc. v Tabur Marine (GB) Ltd. [1985] RPC 59, in determining the requirements for inventive step:


Identifying the inventive concept embodied in the patent;
Imputing to a normally skilled but unimaginative addressee what was common general knowledge in the art at the priority date;
Identifying the differences if any between the matter cited and the alleged invention; and


Deciding whether those differences, viewed without any knowledge of the alleged invention, constituted steps which would have been obvious to the skilled man or whether they required any degree of invention.

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