August 26, 2022by Beau Burton

Ex parte Bhatnagar is a recent decision in which the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) reversed an obviousness rejection because the Examiner’s reason for modifying the prior art was not commensurate with the underlying disclosure.

The claims in Bhatnagar were directed to a system that included a maintenance pet food having a density from 400 g/l to 600 g/l and a reduced caloric pet food having a density from 300 g/l to 450 g/l.

The primary reference, Pan, disclosed a system with a maintenance pet food and a reduced caloric pet food, but did not mention densities. To remedy this deficiency, the Examiner relied on a secondary reference, Mao, and argued it would have been obvious to have a “density in the range of 200–600 g/l because the pet food has significantly improved palatability.” The PTAB disagreed.

The Board rejected the Examiner’s position because the improved palatability described by Mao was expressly tied to another feature. Specifically, Mao taught:

It is well-known in the art to incorporate palatability enhancing ingredients in dry pet food [products] to increase the palatability thereof and to make them more appealing to pets…. palatability of certain dry pet food products can be improved significantly by coating the food product with a covering layer that contains dry yeast extract, edible phosphate salt[,] and optionally other edible components.

According to the PTAB, the Examiner improperly associated the improvement in palatability, which was expressly tied to the presence of a covering layer, with the density.

Thus, while Mao broadly disclosed a pet food having a bulk density of 200–600 g/l (overlapping with each of the claimed ranges), the PTAB found the Examiner failed explain why, given the teachings of Mao, one of ordinary skill in the art would have been prompted to make the proposed modification to Pan’s food composition density. With no other reason for the modification evident from the record, the PTAB reversed the obviousness rejection.

Takeaway: Ex parte Bhatnagar embodies the recognition from KSR that “a patent composed of several elements is not proved obvious merely by demonstrating that each of its elements was, independently, known in the prior art.” Beyond that, Bhatnagar shows that an Examiner cannot arbitrarily associate benefits and features in the prior art to arrive at a motivation to modify. Here, the density of the pet food had nothing to do with the benefit cited by the Examiner. This is why it is important to verify and, when appropriate, challenge the accuracy of an Examiner’s characterization of the prior art.

Judges: J. Bahr, P. Kauffman, S. O’Hanlon


August 13, 2021by Beau Burton

In Google LLC v. NavBlazer, LLC, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (“Board”) declined to institute inter partes review of U.S. Patent No 9,075,136 (“the ’136 patent”). IPR2021-00502, Paper 6 (mailed Aug. 5, 2021).

The ’136 patent is directed to an apparatus that provides a vehicle user with information such as road and traffic conditions. Each of the independent claims of the ’136 patent required an apparatus that “automatically detects a departure of the vehicle from the first travel route, and … identifies a second travel route on which the vehicle can travel to the destination in response to the detected departure of the vehicle from the first travel route.”

The petitioner argued that the claimed dynamic rerouting functionality would have been obvious over the combination of: a primary reference (Behr) that disclosed a base unit that calculated route guidance in response to a query using an up-to-date database located in the base unit and then transmitted the response to a display unit; and a secondary reference (Schreder) that disclosed an automobile equipped with an RF GPS navigation system and RF receivers that monitored updated traffic condition information for dynamic rerouting guidance.

According to the Petitioner, it would have been obvious to include Schreder’s dynamic rerouting functionality within the base unit of Behr so that when the base unit detected a deviation from a specified route, it would identify a new route. The Petitioner further argued that an artisan would have been motivated to make this modification because Behr teaches that guidance systems that are self-contained within a vehicle, such as the system disclosed in Schreder, suffered from many drawbacks, including the need for large data storage capabilities onboard the vehicle.

The Board was not persuaded, stating:

We disagree with Petitioner that reducing vehicle-side processing and data storage justifies modifying Behr’s navigation system to include Schreder’s dynamic rerouting feature. Petitioner’s proffered rationale justifies where a skilled artisan would have located Schreder’s rerouting functionality—in Behr’s central system—but does not address why a skilled artisan would have added that functionality to Behr in the first place. Given this deficiency, we find that Petitioner has not produced the required ‘articulated reasoning with some rational underpinning to support the legal conclusion of obviousness.’

Absent an articulated reason for “why” an artisan would have made the modification, the Board found that the Petitioner failed to carry its burden to show a reasonable likelihood of prevailing on any claim, and thus declined to institute inter partes review of the ’136 patent.

Takeaway: In Google v. NavBlazer, the Petitioner arrived at the claimed subject matter but neglected to explain why the modification would have been obvious in the first place. Unlike anticipation, obviousness requires a story, and the most important part of that story is why a skilled artisan would have been motivated to modify the primary reference to arrive at the claimed subject matter. Without “the why” (i.e., a reason), the obviousness rationale collapses into a hindsight-guided combination of elements. Therefore, when challenging the claims of patent for obviousness it is critical to supply the Board with “the why” of the story you are telling.

Judges: K. Turner, G. Baer, A. Moore