In Chemours Company FC, LLC v. Daikin Industries, LTD., [2020-1289, 2020-1290] (July 22, 2021), the Federal Circuit concluded that the Board’s decision on obviousness is not supported by substantial evidence and that the Board erred in its analysis of objective indicia of nonobviousness, and reversed.
U.S. Patent No. 7,122,609 relates to a unique polymer for insulating communication cables formed by pulling wires through melted polymer to coat and insulate the wires, a process
known as “extrusion.”
Chemours argues that the Board’s final written decision on obviousness is erroneous because its factual findings on motivation to combine were unsupported by substantial evidence, and specifically that Daikin did not meet its burden of proof because it failed to show that a person of ordinary skill in the art would modify the polymer of the prior art reference to achieve the claimed invention. However the reference also taught that a narrow distribution of molecular weights was important, while the claimed invention did not use the narrow distribution of molecular weights.
The Federal CIrcuit found that Board’s obviousness findings are not supported by substantial evidence. The Federal Circuit said the Board appears to have ignored the express disclosure in the reference that teaches away from the claimed invention and relied on teachings from other references that were not concerned with the particular problems the reference sought to solve. More specifically, the Board did not explain why one would be motivated to increase the melt flow rate to the claimed range, when doing so would necessarily involve altering the inventive concept of a narrow molecular weight distribution polymer. The Federal Circuit cited Trivascular, Inc. v. Samuels, 812 F.3d 1056, 1068 (Fed. Cir. 2016) where it found no motivation to modify the prior art where doing so “would destroy the basic objective” of the prior art).
The Federal Circuit found that this was particularly true in light of the fact that the reference appears to teach away from broadening molecular weight distribution and the known methods for increasing melt flow rate. The Federal Circuit said that the Board relied on an inadequate evidentiary basis and failed to articulate a satisfactory explanation that is based on substantial evidence for why one would have been motivated to modify the reference.
The Federal Circuit also agreed that the Board erred in its analysis of objective indicia. The Board found no nexus between the claimed invention and the alleged commercial success because all the features were disclosed in the prior art. The Federal Circuit instructed that contrary to the Board’s decision, the separate disclosure of individual limitations, where the invention is a unique combination of three interdependent properties, does not negate a nexus, explaining that concluding otherwise would mean that nexus could never exist where the claimed invention is a unique combination of known elements from the prior art.
The Federal Circuit also agreed that the Board erred in its demand that market share evidence is necessary to sustain a finding of commercial success. Chemours contended that sales data
alone should be enough for commercial success, and the Federal Circuit agreed. The Federal Circuit said that market share data, though potentially useful, is not required to show commercial success. While the Board was entitled to weigh evidence and find, if appropriate, that Chemours’s gross sales data were insufficient to show commercial success without market
share data, the Board, erred in its analysis that gross sales figures, absent market share data, “are inadequate to establish commercial success.”
Lastly, the Federal Circuit agreed that the Board erred when it found that the patents in suit were blocking patents. A blocking patent is an earlier patent that prevents practice of a later invention—the invention of the patent-in-dispute. The Board concluded that the evidence proffered to establish commercial success was weak because the patent-in-suit blocked others
from entering the market. The Federal Circuit said that the challenged patent, which covers the claimed invention at issue, cannot act as a blocking patent.