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April 23, 2021by Matthew Barnet

In an anticipation rejection, every element and limitation of the claimed invention must be found in a single prior art reference, arranged as in the claim. However, “it is not enough that the prior art reference . . . includes multiple, distinct teachings that [an ordinary] artisan might somehow combine to achieve the claimed invention.” Net MoneyIN, Inc. v. VeriSign, Inc., 545 F.3d 1359, 1371 (Fed. Cir. 2008). Instead, the reference must “clearly and unequivocally disclose the claimed [invention] or direct those skilled in the art to the [invention] without any need for picking, choosing, and combining various disclosures not directly related to each other by the teachings of the cited reference.” Id. (quoting In re Arkley, 455 F.2d 586, 587 (C.C.P.A. 1972)). Although “[s]uch picking and choosing may be entirely proper in the making of a 103, obviousness rejection . . . it has no place in the making of a 102, anticipation rejection.” Arkley, 455 F.2d at 587-88.

This issue is illustrated in the recent Patent Trial and Appeal Board (“Board”) case of Ex parte Eckhardt.

Independent claim 16 recited a multilayer pressure-sensitive adhesive assembly comprising a propylheptyl acrylate adhesive copolymer layer and a second acrylate pressure-sensitive adhesive foam layer. The propylheptyl acrylate adhesive copolymer layer comprised (a) 50 to 99.5 weight percent of 2-propylheptyl acrylate as a first monomer, (b) 1.0 to 50 weight percent of a second non-polar monomer, (c) 0.1 to 15 weight percent of a third polar acrylate monomer, and (d) a tackifying resin in an amount of 3 to 100 parts per 100 parts of the copolymer. Independent claims 37 and 38 recited similar multilayer pressure-sensitive assemblies, but with somewhat different components (d), and different scope of components (a), (b) and (c).

The examiner rejected independent claims 16, 37 and 38 as anticipated by a single reference, Bartholomew. In response, the applicant argued that “[t]he cited reference provides a great multiplicity of possible combinations and no direction that would lead one of skill in the art to the claimed invention.” For component (a), the applicant explained that Bartholomew listed “2-propylheptyl acrylate as one of 10 options.” For the specific components (b) and (c) recited in claims 37 and 38, the applicant explained that component (b) was one of eight options listed in Bartholomew, and component (c) was one of ten listed options. For component (d), Bartholomew described a tackifying resin as optional. Based on this, the applicant argued that “the number of possible combinations presented by these passages in Bartholomew is 10 x 8 x 10 x 2 = 1600.” The applicant argued against anticipation because “one of ordinary skill in the art would be required to pick items from at least 1600 types of polymer to arrive at the claimed invention.”

The Board agreed with the applicant, finding that the anticipation rejections “rely upon picking and choosing from various lists in Bartholomew,” and that “[a] preponderance of the evidence supports Appellant’s position that Bartholomew’s disclosure is insufficient to establish anticipation of the compositional components of independent claims 16, 37, and 38.”

Additionally, the Board noted that although the ranges of amounts of components (a), (b) and (c) in Bartholomew overlapped the claimed ranges, “the Examiner has not adequately explained how Bartholomew anticipates the claims” in view of Titanium Metals Corp. v. Banner, 778 F.2d 775 (Fed. Cir. 1985).

Accordingly, the Board reversed the anticipation rejections. However, the Board entered a new ground of rejection, finding the claims obvious over Bartholomew. Specifically, the Board found that the selection of the claimed components, in the claimed amounts, would have been obvious from Bartholomew. The Board was not persuaded by the applicant’s argument of unexpected results, particularly with respect to a showing of criticality and whether the unexpected results were commensurate in scope with the claims.

Takeaway: When an examiner rejects a claim as anticipated based on several selections from lists disclosed in a prior art reference, a strong case can be made against anticipation. After overcoming the anticipation rejection, however, the question of obviousness usually remains. To rebut the case of obviousness, strong evidence of unexpected results often is necessary.

Judges: Gaudette, Hastings, Ren


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April 16, 2021by Jacob Doughty1

Ex parte Yim, is a recent decision of the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) addressing whether claimed properties were inherent in prior art compositions.

In Ex parte Yim, the claim at issue was directed to a resin. However, the resin was not defined by structure or composition. Instead, only properties of the resin were recited in the claim: (a) content of water-soluble fraction, (b) absorbency against pressure property, and (c) water-soluble fraction shear index property. Independent claim 16 is reproduced in part below:

16. A water-absorbing resin, in which

[a] a content of a water-soluble fraction is 15 wt% or less based on the total weight of the resin,

[b] an absorbency against pressure at 0.3 psi with respect to a saline solution including sodium chloride at 0.9 wt% is 25 g/g or more, and

[c] a water-soluble fraction shear index A/B represented by the following Expression 1 is in a range of 0.1 x 10-5 (s) to 10 x 10-5 (s)….

In rejecting the claim, the examiner relied on a single prior art reference that disclosed a water-absorbing resin but did not disclose the properties recited in the claim. Both the prior art reference and the application on appeal disclosed forming water-absorbing polymers by polymerizing and crosslinking an acrylic acid monomer. The examiner asserted that, in view of the similarities in starting materials and processing steps used in the prior art reference and the application on appeal, the properties in the claim were inherent in the water-soluble resins of the prior art reference.

The examiner further asserted that, even if applicant could demonstrate that none of the water-soluble resins exemplified in the prior art reference had the claimed properties, it would have been obvious to tune the reactions in the prior art references to optimize absorbance/solubility characteristics.

The examiner’s inherency arguments turned, particularly, on the examiner’s determination that the prior art reference used two internal crosslinkers to crosslink an acrylic acid, which was the same or similar to the method disclosed in the application on appeal. Applicant countered by arguing, inter alia, that the steps of the prior art method were different such that the two internal crosslinkers were reacted together before being added to acrylic acid, which could not be said to necessarily result in the claimed properties.

The PTAB found that the examiner had made a good argument that the processes of the prior art reference would result in the claimed properties, such that it became applicant’s burden to show that the exemplified resins did not possess the claimed properties. The PTAB also noted that applicant failed to present arguments rebutting the examiner’s fallback assertion that optimizing the properties of the prior art resin would have been a mere matter of routine experimentation to a skilled artisan. Thus, the examiner’s rejection was affirmed.

Takeaway: Parameter or property claims can be valuable in a patent directed to a material or chemical composition. By keeping strict compositional or structural limitations out of a claim, materials or compositions not contemplated at the time of filing may be encompassed by the claim. Further, if claimed parameters/properties are not explicitly disclosed in the prior art, it can be difficult for a third party to confidently analyze the validity of the claim. However, these advantages in a patent claim can be challenges during examination. While some parameter/property claims “sail through” examination, Ex parte Yim shows that an applicant should be prepared to reproduce prior art examples and provide evidence to rebut assertions of routine optimization to obtain allowance.

Judges: Timm, Smith, Range


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February 3, 2021by Jacob Doughty

Ex parte Whalen, is a 2008 decision of the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences (BPAI) that is listed among the Patent Trial and Appeal Board’s (PTAB) precedential decisions. Ex parte Whalen, is indicated by the PTAB to be precedential as to “Anticipation – 35 U.S.C. § 102… Inherency… evidence and reasoning” and “Obviousness – 35 U.S.C. § 103… Rationales… optimizing a variable.”

According to the PTAB’s Standard Operating Procedure, “[a] precedential decision is binding Board authority in subsequent matter involving similar facts or issues.”

In Ex parte Whalen, the BPAI considered whether an examiner met his burden in asserting inherency, or alternatively routine optimization, of a claimed viscosity that was not explicitly disclosed in the prior art.

Independent claim 1 was identified as a representative claim:

A composition capable of embolizing an aneurysm at a vascular site comprising:

(a) a biocompatible polymer;

(b) a biocompatible contrast agent wherein a sufficient amount of said contrast agent is employed in said composition to effect visualization in vivo; and

(c) a biocompatible solvent which solubilizes said biocompatible polymer

wherein a sufficient amount of said polymer are [sic] employed in said composition such that, upon delivery to a vascular site, a polymer precipitate forms which embolizes said vascular site; and

further wherein the biocompatible polymer has a molecular weight sufficient to impart to the composition a viscosity of at least about 150 cSt at 40° C.

The claim was rejected as anticipated or obvious over several prior art references. All of the cited prior art references disclosed combinations of components (a), (b), and (c) in compositions for embolizing an aneurysm at a vascular site, but none explicitly disclosed a composition having “a molecular weight sufficient to impart to the composition a viscosity of at least about 150 cSt at 40° C.” The examiner argued that the prior art compositions inherently possessed the claimed viscosity or, alternatively, it would have been obvious to a skilled artisan to “optimize” the prior art compositions by increasing their viscosity to the level recited in the claims.

It was undisputed that the prior art disclosed compositions including components (a), (b), and (c) in amounts overlapping those in the specification and claims of the application on appeal. However, the only disclosure in the prior art of viscosity was of a preferred composition having a viscosity much lower than the viscosity specified in claim 1. The BPAI found that the examiner had not met his burden in establishing inherency. The BPAI stated that, even if some of the compositions encompassed by the prior art’s broad disclosure might have the claimed viscosity, “that possibility is not adequate to support a finding of inherent anticipation.” The BPAI noted that the examiner did not provide evidence or scientific reasoning to show that any specific composition disclosed in the prior art was within the scope of claim 1.

The examiner’s obviousness position rested on the assertion that a skilled artisan would have been motivated to optimize the viscosity of the prior art composition to achieve “the safest clinical outcome and avoiding transvenous passage.” The BPAI noted that the prior art disclosed “adjustment of the viscosity of the composition as necessary for catheter delivery can be readily achieved by mere adjustment of the molecular weight of the copolymer composition.” However, the prior art also disclosed that low viscosity was a desired property in embolic compositions and, as noted above, the only disclosed viscosity in the prior art was much lower than that of claim 1.

Taking the foregoing facts into consideration, and mindful of the Supreme Court’s (then) recent command of “flexibility” in the obviousness inquiry (KSR Int’l Co. v. Teleflex Inc., 550 U.S. 398 (2007)), the BPAI nonetheless concluded that the examiner had not met his burden. Particularly:

… when the prior art teaches away from the claimed solution as presented here… obviousness cannot be proven merely by showing that a known composition could have been modified by routine experimentation or solely on the expectation of success; it must be shown that those of ordinary skill in the art would have had some apparent reason to modify the known composition in a way that would result in the claimed composition.

That is, the examiner was required but failed to provide an “explanation based on scientific reasoning” that would support the conclusion that a skilled artisan would have considered it obvious to optimize the prior art compositions by increasing their viscosity to the level recited in the claims.

Ex parte Whalen was decided by an expanded five-judge panel, instead of the usual three-judge panel. The Chief Administrative Patent Judge was one of the deciding judges. According to the PTAB’s Standard Operating Procedure, “[a]n expanded panel is not favored and ordinarily will not be used… [a]n expanded panel may be used, where appropriate, to secure and maintain uniformity of the Board’s decisions…”

Takeaway: One of the challenges of prosecuting composition claims (combinations of known components) is the seeming ease with which an examiner can assert that a property not explicitly disclosed in the prior art is inherent and/or would have been readily achieved by a skilled artisan as a matter of routine optimization. Of course, the burden-shifting framework for examination of claims reciting properties is reasonable; however, there remains some burden on the examiner. Rejections based on inherency or routine optimization require that the examiner provide “scientific reasoning” consistent with the overall teaching of the prior art. Conclusory or thinly reasoned assertions of inherency or routine optimization thus provide an avenue for challenge.

Judges: Fleming, Lane, Grimes, Lebovitz, Prats


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October 27, 2020by Jacob Doughty

Ex parte Chuang is a 2008 decision of the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences (BPAI) that is listed among the Patent Trial and Appeal Board’s (PTAB) informative decisions. Ex parte Chuang is indicated by the PTAB to be informative as to “Anticipation – 35 U.S.C. § 102… cDNA.”

According to the PTAB’s Standard Operating Procedure, “[i]nformative decisions set forth Board norms that should be followed in most cases, absent justification, although an informative decision is not binding authority on the Board.”

In Ex parte Chuang, the BPAI considered whether a claim reciting an isolated polypeptide was properly rejected as anticipated by prior art disclosing a cDNA encoding the recited polypeptide.

Independent claim 4 was at issue:

An isolated polypeptide, comprising the amino acid sequence of SEQ ID NO: 1.

In rejecting the claim, the examiner relied on prior art that disclosed isolation of a polynucleotide that encoded a polypeptide having 100% homology to SEQ ID NO: 1. While applicant conceded that, in the prior art, “[o]ne of the myriad cDNAs encodes an amino acid sequence identical to SEQ ID NO: 1,” it was undisputed that the claimed proteins were not physically created in the prior art. Relying on a prior BPAI decision (Lee v. Dryja, 79 U.S.P.Q.2d 1614 (B.P.A.I. 2005)), applicant asserted that disclosure of the cDNA at best rendered its encoded protein obvious – “the fact that a novel product can be readily made does not render the product not novel.”

The BPAI disagreed, stating that an invention need not have been actually made in the prior art for disclosure of such invention to be enabling. The BPAI noted that applicant did not dispute that the prior art was enabling for expression of the claimed polypeptide, and further distinguished over its prior decision in Lee v. Dryja. The BPAI pointed out that, in Lee v. Dryja, the issue was whether a party was in possession of a single enabled embodiment and, further, there was evidence in Lee v. Dryja that the disclosed nucleotide sequence did not, in fact, express the protein at issue.

The BPAI affirmed the examiner’s anticipation rejections and noted that there is no “generic rule that cDNAs cannot anticipate proteins.”

Takeaway: This case provides insight into how the USPTO has viewed the relationship between nucleotide sequences and the polypeptides they encode in the context of identifying enabling prior art. It is apparent that the BPAI would have required some evidence of obstacles preventing a skilled artisan from navigating from the disclosed cDNA to the claimed isolated polypeptide to reverse the examiner’s rejections. Of course, this case predates the Supreme Court’s recent eligibility jurisprudence, including Ass’n for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc., 569 U.S. 576 (2013), which likely would have even further complicated applicant’s quest for enforceable patent rights.

Judges: Grimes, Lebovitz, Fredman


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June 9, 2020by Richard Treanor

On March 20, 2020, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (“Board”) issued a decision in Ex parte Ferreyro reversinginter alia, an Examiner’s rejection of a claim directed to a device comprising an injection part “having a chamber loaded with viscous bone cement” over a prior art device containing no viscous bone cement. No. 2018-006313 (P.T.A.B. Mar. 20, 2020) (non-precedential).