It is not Obvious to Ignore the Teachings of the Prior Art

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.

Prior Art Preference for an Alternative is Not Enough to Teach Away

In Meirsonne v. Google, Inc., [2016-1755] (March 7, 2017), the Federal Circuit affirmed the PTAB determination that claims 16, 17, 19 and 20 of U.S. Patent No. 8,156,096 on a system whereby a
user can identify a supplier of goods or services over the
Internet, were invalid for obviousness.

The Federal Circuit began with the observation that a combination of known elements is likely to be obvious when it yields predictable results. The Federal Circuit observed that obviousness may
be defeated if the prior art indicates that the invention
would not have worked for its intended purpose or otherwise
teaches away from the invention. The Federal Circuit explained that a reference teaches away “when a person of ordinary skill, upon reading the reference, would be discouraged from following the path set out in the reference, or would be led in a direction divergent from the path that was taken” in the claim. However  a reference that “merely expresses a general preference for an alternative invention but does not criticize, discredit, or otherwise discourage investigation into” the claimed invention does not teach away.

Although Meiresonne argued that the references taught away from the combination of descriptive text and a rollover viewing area because both prior art references disparage and criticize the use of descriptive text.  The Federal Circuit concluded upon reviewing the references, substantial evidence supported the Board’s fact finding that the prior art does not teach away from the claimed combination, and therfore affirmed.  The Federal Circuit disinguished cases like Depuy Spine, where the prior art taught that the combination would be inoperative for its intended purpose.