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INTERPRETATION OF OBVIOUSNESS IN UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

"Non-obviousness" is the term for “inventive step” used in US patent law and codified under 35 U.S.C. §103. Thereby implying that a "person having ordinary skill in the art" would not know how to solve the problem at which the invention is directed by using exactly the same mechanism.


Flash of genius


The Flash of Genius Doctrine or Test was a test for patentability used by the United States Federal Courts for over a decade. The doctrine was formalized in Cuno Engineering Corp. v. Automatic Devices Corp. (314 U.S. 84 (1941)) which held that the inventive act had to come into the mind of an inventor in a "flash of genius" and not as a result of tinkering. "The new device, however useful it may be, must reveal the flash of creative genius, not merely the skill of the calling. If it fails, it has not established its right to a private grant on the public domain." (Id. at 91). This test, which lasted little more than a decade, was most likely an appealing and easy standard for judges and unsophisticated jurors to apply to any given patent dispute when the technology being disputed was beyond their non-scientific acumen.



The flash of genius test was eventually rejected by the 1952 patent statute's section 103 standard of non-obviousness: "Patentability shall not be negatived by the manner in which the invention was made." Many decades later, the Federal Circuit stated that this portion of section 103 was enacted expressly to overrule the flash of genius test from Cuno (Ryko Manufacturing v. Nu-Star, Inc., 950 F.2d 714, 718 (Fed. Cir. 1991)).

 

 

GRAHAM FACTORS


The factors a court will look at when determining obviousness and non-obviousness in the United States were outlined by the Supreme Court in Graham et al. v. John Deere Co. of Kansas City et al., 383 U.S. 1 (1966) and are commonly referred to as the "Graham factors". The court held that obviousness should be determined by looking at


the scope and content of the prior art;

the level of ordinary skill in the art;

the differences between the claimed invention and the prior art; and

objective evidence of nonobviousness.


In addition, the court outlined examples of factors that show "objective evidence of nonobviousness". They are:


commercial success;

long-felt but unsolved needs; and

failure of others.



Teaching-suggestion-motivation (TSM) test:


In Winner Int'l Royalty Corp. v. Wang, 202 F.3d. 1340, 1348 (Fed. Cir., 2000), it was held that there must be a suggestion or teaching in the prior art to combine elements shown in the prior art in order to find a patent obvious. Thus, in general the critical inquiry is whether there is something in the prior art to suggest the desirability, and thus the obvious nature, of the combination of previously known elements.


This requirement is generally referred to as the "teaching-suggestion-motivation" (TSM) test and serves to prevent against hindsight bias (In re Kahn, Fed. Cir. 2006). As almost all inventions are some combination of known elements, the TSM test requires that some suggestion or motivation exists to combine known elements to form a claimed invention. The Federal circuit has made clear that the motivation may be implicit, and may be provided for example by an advantage resulting from the modification. In other words, an explicit prior art teaching or suggestion to make a particular modification is sufficient, but not required for a finding of obviousness.


The U.S. Supreme Court addressed the issue in KSR v. Teleflex (2006). The unanimous decision, rendered on April 30, 2007, overturned a decision of the Federal Circuit and held that it "analyzed the issue in a narrow, rigid manner inconsistent with §103 and our precedents," referring to the Federal Circuit's application of the TSM test.[2] The court held that, while the ideas behind the TSM test and the Graham analysis were not necessarily inconsistent, the true test of non-obviousness is the Graham analysis.


In one case, Applicant attempted to patent peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with crimped edges instead of crusts. The invention was challenged in the court that ruled that crimping method, which was essentially known was an obvious means of protecting the contents of the sandwich. The patent was therefore rejected for failing the non-obviousness test.


The list of non exhaustive rationales that may be used to find an invention obvious are as follows:


Combining prior art elements according to known methods to yield predictable results;


Simple substitution of one known element for another to obtain predictable results;


Use of known technique to improve similar devices (methods or products) in the same way;


Applying a known technique to a known device (method or product) ready for improvement to yield predictable results;


“Obvious to try” – choosing from a finite number of identified, predictable solutions, with a reasonable expectation of success;


Known work in one field of endeavour may prompt variations of it for use in either the same field or a different one based on design incentives or other market forces if variations would have been predictable to one of the ordinary skill in the art;


Some teaching, suggestion or motivation in the prior art would have led one of the ordinary skill to modify the prior art reference or to combine prior art reference teachings to arrive at the claimed invention.

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