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May 21, 2021by Jacob Doughty

Ex parte Ha, is a recent decision of the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) addressing the sufficiency of an examiner’s rationale for combining references and the sufficiency of an applicant’s evidence of unexpected results.

In Ex parte Ha, the claim at issue was directed to a thermoplastic resin composition for electronic device housing. The claims required, inter alia, five known components in specific amounts and a specific weight ratio between two of the components – a very typical composition claim. Independent claim 1 is reproduced in part below:

1. A thermoplastic resin composition comprising:

about 100 parts by weight of a polycarbonate resin;

about 1 to about 30 parts by weight of a rubber-modified aromatic vinyl graft copolymer;

about 1 to about 30 parts by weight of a polyester resin;

about 1 to about 20 parts by weight of a glycol-modified polyester resin having about 10 mol% to about 60 mol% of a cyclohexanedimethanol (CHDM) content based on a total amount of a diol component; and

about 0.5 to about 15 parts by weight of a vinyl copolymer comprising an epoxy group,

wherein a weight ratio of the polyester resin to the glycol-modified polyester resin

ranges from about 1:0.1 to about 1:1.

The examiner rejected the claim as obvious, citing a primary reference that disclosed a resin composition having each of the above recited features except for the glycol-modified polyester resin and the claimed weight ratio. For this, the examiner relied on the resin composition in a secondary reference.

Applicant noted that the resin composition of the primary reference was developed to solve the problem of achieving flame retardancy in a rubber-modified aromatic vinyl copolymer resin without using harmful compounds and without deteriorating impact strength. Applicant asserted that the secondary reference did not recognize or address issues relating to the use of flame retardants and, thus, a skilled artisan would not look to the secondary reference to improve the resin compositions of the primary reference.

The PTAB found applicant’s reasoning unpersuasive, noting that the secondary reference employed the claimed glycol-modified polyester resin in a resin composition that solved the different problem of achieving improved dimensional stability, heat resistance, and weld line strength. The PTAB stated that a skilled artisan would have found the improved dimensional stability, heat resistance, and weld line strength achieved in the secondary reference to be desirable attributes in the resin compositions of the primary reference and, thus, would have been led to incorporate the glycol-modified polyester resin.

Perhaps recognizing the challenges of arguing over the examiner’s prima facie case of obviousness, applicant relied heavily on rebuttal evidence of unexpected results. Applicant presented supplemental experimental evidence during prosecution showing that excluding the glycol-modified polyester resin of secondary reference from the claimed resin composition and/or including the glycol-modified polyester resin in amounts outside of claimed weight ratio resulted in inferior impact resistance and processibility.

The examiner did not appear to contest that applicant’s results demonstrated that the claimed composition exhibited an improvement over the primary reference or that such improvement would have been unexpected. Instead, the examiner argued that applicant simply did not provide a sufficient number of inventive examples to demonstrate that the improvement would occur over the entire scope of the claims (noting the generic components and wide ranges of amounts recited in the claims).

Applicant affirmatively argued during the appeal that a “skilled artisan… can clearly and reasonably extrapolate or extend the probative value of the data to other compositions within the scope of the claims.” However, the PTAB found applicant’s argument to be merely conclusory, noting applicant’s burden to provide “an adequate basis to support the conclusion that other embodiments falling within the claim will behave in the same manner… as the exemplary embodiment.”

Takeaways: Demonstrating obviousness in the US can be a bit different than in other jurisdictions. Applicant, in this case, presented arguments akin to the “problem-solution approach” used to argue inventive step in EP practice. However, US examiners and the PTAB often find motivation to combine references far afield from the specific problem addressed by the closest prior art. It is important to bring US obviousness arguments to bear against US obviousness rejections.

Because of the ease with which an examiner can make a prima facie case of obviousness as to composition claims, the patentability of such claims often turns on evidence of unexpected results. The sufficiency of such results often turns on whether the results are “commensurate in scope” with the claims. Arguments of unexpected results should be accompanied with at least a technical explanation – preferably from a skilled artisan – of why results for inventive examples would be expected for all compositions within the scope of a claim.

Judges: Gaudette, Cashion, McGee


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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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December 1, 2020by Beau Burton

Applicants are not always required to present evidence of unexpected results in a § 1.132 declaration. If the specification identifies a result as unexpected or surprising, this evidence may be sufficient to rebut a prima facie case of obviousness. Ex parte Bergman is illustrative. Appeal No. 2019-007011 (PTAB Nov. 2, 2020) (non-precedential).

In Bergman, the claims were directed to a cosmetic composition containing a water-insoluble UV-screening agent (A) and a functionalized oil compound (B) in a cosmetically acceptable medium. The Examiner required the Applicant to elect a single species of (A) and (B) for examination. In response to the election requirement and for purposes of appeal, the claims were limited to butylmethoxydibenzoylmethane as the UV-screening agent (A) and a functionalized 2-decyltetradecanol as compound (B).

The Examiner rejected the claims over a primary reference that disclosed cosmetic compositions containing the elected compound (B) and the cosmetically acceptable medium. While the primary reference did not include specific UV-screening compounds (A), it taught that its compositions could be in the form of sunscreens. In view of this, the Examiner relied on a secondary reference to show that dibenzoylmethane derivatives (i.e., the genus of the elected water-insoluble UV-screening agents) were “well known per se as screening agents.” Accordingly, the Examiner found–and the Board agreed–that it would have been prima facie obvious to add the elected UV-screening agent (A) to the cosmetic composition of the primary reference, which expressly suggested the inclusion of a UV-screening agent.

The Applicant countered the prima facie case of obviousness by arguing “the present application already includes comparative examples that illustrate unexpected results obtained from the present invention.” Specifically, the Applicant cited a solubility test that showed that using compounds (B), including the elected compound (B1), increased the solubility of several UV-screening agents, including the elected UV-screening agent (A1), whereas the solubility of a UV-screening agent outside the scope of the invention (A7) was not improved when combined with the elected compound (B1).

The specification further showed that the maximum solubility of the elected UV-screening agent (A1) increased from 1% w/w in isododecane to 15% w/w in a mixture of isododecane and the elected compound (B1). And critically, the specification taught that “[t]he aim of . . . find[ing] efficient solvents for water-insoluble solid organic UV-screening agents” that have desirable properties “surprisingly . . . can be achieved by combining particular water-insoluble solid organic UV-screening agents defined below with particular compounds that are capable of establishing hydrogen bonds with particular partner junction groups.” That is, the specification concluded that the results were unexpected.

The Board agreed with the Applicant and found the fifteen-fold increase in the maximum solubility of the UV-screening agent (A) to be a substantial and unexpected improvement. In addition, the Board found that the cited references did not provide a basis for doubting the specification’s statement that the improvement solubility was unexpected. Therefore, the Board concluded that the evidence of nonobviousness outweighed the evidence of obviousness and reversed the obviousness rejection.

Of note is that one APJ did not agree that the evidence in the specification supported a conclusion of nonobviousness because the showing of unexpected results was based on a 50/50% mixture of the elected compound (B1) and isododecane as compared to isododecane alone and the claims did not require any particular amounts of the elected compound (B1) to isododecane. However, this conclusion overlooks the unexpected result being associated with hydrogen bonding that occurs between the compounds (B) and the UV-screening agents (A). Such an effect should occur any time the compounds (B) and the UV-screening agents (A) are combined. See, e.g., In re Kollman, 595 F.2d 48, 56 (C.C.P.A. 1979) (“Often, one having ordinary skill in the art may be able to ascertain a trend in the exemplified data which would allow him to reasonably extend the probative value thereof.”).

Takeaway: “When an applicant demonstrates substantially improved results . . . and states that the results were unexpected, this should suffice to establish unexpected results in the absence of evidence to the contrary.” See In re Soni, 54 F.3d 746, 751 (Fed. Cir. 1995). As shown by Bergman, a showing of unexpected results may be part of the original specification. Therefore, it is important to review the specification for an express recognition of surprising or unexpected results, particularly when dealing with compositions based on known components. Also, when the evidence of unexpected results in the specification is limited in scope, it is beneficial to draft dependent claims that are closer in scope to the examples and to ascertain whether there is a trend that can be gleaned from the limited showing because, as the dissent suggests, some APJs take a very rigid approach when assessing whether a showing of unexpected results is commensurate in scope with the claims.

Judges: E. Grimes, U. Jenks, R. Townsend (dissenting)


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October 2, 2020by Richard Treanor

On September 15, 2020, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) issued a decision in Ex parte Lebovich reversing the Examiner’s rejection of claims directed to a packaged food assembly that allows the consumer to see the package contents from all angles while still permitting substantial labeling of the package. While the Board found that the Examiner’s rejection did present a prima facie case of obviousness, it further determined that Appellant’s objective evidence of nonobviousness was sufficient to rebut the Examiner’s prima facie case.

Perhaps the most interesting aspects of the Lebovich case are Appellant’s successful presentation of several types of secondary considerations not often encountered in typical prosecution (i.e., commercial success, industry praise and recognition, and solving a long-felt, unmet need), and their successful assertion that the development of brand loyalty beyond what is typical for a staple food, and particularly for meat, attributable to their food assembly qualified as an “unexpected result.”

Takeaway: This “out of the box” thinking in Lebovich serves to remind us of the essentially limitless contours of the unexpected results analysis, and should encourage us to consider all aspects of a claimed invention – how it is used, stored, transported, etc. – during prosecution in order to increase our level of advocacy.

Judges: J. Smith, G. Best, J. Snay