KSR Day at the NAPP Conference in San Diego

By Gene Quinn
July 21, 2009

I am still in San Diego, California at the Annual Conference of the National Association of Patent Practitioners, which is being held at the Embassy Suites Hotel, which is roughly across the street from the U.S.S. Midway.  The conference has been a good one with some excellent presentations.  This morning there was a Bilski presentation, and since then we have been talking about KSR v. Teleflex.  Right now Bruce Stoner, the former Chief Judge of the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences, is talking about Reexamination generally, and discussing the impact KSR has had on Reexamination decisions.  As it turns out, very few inter partes Reexaminations have reached the BPAI to date, with only 11 decisions having been reached by the Board relating to inter partes Reexaminations, with 10 cases still pending.  With a limited data set it is hard to make broad generalizations, but it seems that in about half of the cases where the examiner has rejected claims during inter partes Reexaminations those rejections have been reversed by the Board.  In a handful of other case the examiner has been affirmed, and in a few cases the examiner was reversed but the claims were rejected on other grounds.  Perhaps this is a self selecting sample, or perhaps the sample is just too small.  It is a little surprising to see the Board reversing examiner rejections in inter partes Reexamination at such a high rate.

One particularly interesting thing that came up during the last presentation was discussion of the nearly ubiquitous language often found in patent applications relating to what one of skill in the art would know or understand in terms of the invention, which is frequently used to try and capture variations of the invention or aspects of the invention that may not be explicitly disclosed or disclosed inherently. Under KSR this is probably not the most appropriate language to continue to use. Because KSR can be applied much more liberally than the previous suggestion, motivation and teaching test, and because KRS is based on “common sense” you really want to be careful what you do say in the application that could give the examiner an opportunity to use your own application against you.

Given that so many of the specific KSR tests relate to the “skill in the art” and if the examiner wants to crucify you using KSR they could conceivably use your own language discussing what those of skill in the art would appreciate.  This and other things you say could potentially serve for the examiner on a silver platter the ability to use your application against you.  The thinking is that characterizing what others would know could be admitting the invention is obvious or components are within the skill of the art and, thereby, “common sense” under KSR.

To address this a suggestion was offered from the audience that it would be better to say:

One of ordinary skill in the art should appreciate after learning the teachings related to the present invention contained in this application that…

To some extent, this language still allows you to try and bootstrap into your application that which is implicitly or inherently disclosed based on what would be understood by those of skill in the art, while at the same time giving you a way to explain what you are saying is not an admission of any kind.  This language may give some leeway to argue that  you are stating that it would be obvious to those of skill in the art only after having read the brilliance and genius of the invention described.

As I have written in the past, it is no stretch to say that under a strict interpretation of KSR if an inventor follows a path that they thought would work there could be no patent because that would be obvious, so under a strict reading of KSR only those invention paths that were believed to be a complete waste of time but result in something that works can be patented.  Obviously (pun intended) that cannot be the law because that would mean virtually nothing can be patented ever again, save those situations where you have an “accidental inventor.” But that is what the Supreme Court said, in their infinite and unending wisdom as it applies to patent matters.

Luckily, the Patent Office has not really been interpreting KSR to its most far reaches, although there are at least some decisions from the Board that suggest the long irrelevant test – “obvious to try” – may be used to show that an invention is obvious.  But as has been suggested by many of the speakers today, KSR is a relatively young case and there will certainly be many years of development of obviousness law in its wake.  In the meantime we are all tasked with trying to figure out how to make sure we both get patents today and those patents have the potential of surviving whatever changes will occur.  Increasingly the job of a patent attorney or patent agent requires a crystal ball, which necessarily requires us to try and figure out how the Supreme Court will undoubtedly screw up patent law in the years to come.  God I hope the they get Bilski right! (see US Supreme Court Grants Cert. in Bilski)

For those interested in the presentation I gave yesterday relating to Patent Office Rule Changes, my powerpoint presentation can be found below.

Patent Office Rule Changes 7-20-2009

The Author

Gene Quinn

Gene Quinn is a Patent Attorney and Editor and President & CEO ofIPWatchdog, Inc.. Gene founded IPWatchdog.com in 1999. Gene is also a principal lecturer in the PLI Patent Bar Review Course and Of Counsel to the law firm of Berenato & White, LLC. Gene’s specialty is in the area of strategic patent consulting, patent application drafting and patent prosecution. He consults with attorneys facing peculiar procedural issues at the Patent Office, advises investors and executives on patent law changes and pending litigation matters, and works with start-up businesses throughout the United States and around the world, primarily dealing with software and computer related innovations. is admitted to practice law in New Hampshire, is a Registered Patent Attorney and is also admitted to practice before the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. CLICK HERE to send Gene a message.

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Discuss this

There are currently 3 Comments comments.

  1. Paul F. Morgan July 22, 2009 2:07 pm

    Re: “It is a little surprising to see the Board reversing examiner rejections in inter partes Reexamination at such a high rate.”
    I believe this is explainable to a considerable extent by the fact that normal non-attorney examiners are simply not qualified to decide inter partes (disputed) cases and disputed declarations testimony. That plus years of delay by the Examining Corps is precisely why the pending [and widely supported elsewhere] legislation to have inter partes reexaminations taken away from them to be promptly and professionally handled by experienced APJ Trial Team attorneys is so important.

  2. ODP July 23, 2009 9:32 am

    Interested to hear your take on Aharonian’s commentary on your post above.

    From Aharonian regarding this post:

    DOES GENE QUINN UNDERSTAND THAT KSR IS THE SON OF CUNO?

    Patent attorney and PLI lecturer Gene Quinn, on his IPWatchdog blog,
    recently made the following comment about KSR:

    As I have written in the past, it is no stretch to say that under
    a strict interpretation of KSR if an inventor follows a path that
    they thought would work there could be no patent because that would
    be obvious, so under a strict reading of KSR only those invention
    paths that were believed to be a complete waste of time but result
    in something that works can be patented. Obviously (pun intended)
    that cannot be the law because that would mean virtually nothing
    can be patented ever again,

    So far, I agree – KSR is a subconscious attempt by the Supreme Court to get
    rid of patents. None of the Supreme Courts no anything about the practice
    of engineering and invention to apply the undefined “predictable” to such
    processes. But then he goes on:

    save those situations where you have an “accidental inventor”. But
    that is what the Supreme Court said, in their infinite and unending
    wisdom as it applies to patent matters.

    Gene is missing an “or” clause. What he should have written for a complete
    thought is:

    save those situations where you have an “accidental inventor”
    OR A UNPLANNED FLASH OF GENIUS.

    A flash of genius is by nature something that happens unpredictably. You
    can neither predict an accident, nor an unplanned flash of genius. Had
    Gene said this, WHICH HE SHOULD HAVE, he could then argue that the judicial
    reasoning in KSR is little more than semantic word games by the Supreme
    Court to reintroduce its Cuno “flash of genius” decision into patent
    caselaw (especially since Adams, which the Supreme Court cited to justify
    “predictable” in KSR, not only doesn’t use the word “predictable”, but also
    uses language similar to that of Cuno).

    Which makes KSR an unconstitutional decision, since Congress in 1952 felt
    that the Cuno decision was so horrible, so disconnected to the process of
    invention, that in response to numerous industry complaints about the
    nonsense of Cuno, that it added language to 35 USC 103 nullifying the Cuno
    decision. Which means, if the Supreme Court pays any attention, that the
    Supreme Court can’t ever never ever never ever use “flash of genius”
    reasoning with regards to 35 USC 103, or its semantic equivalent, KSR’s
    “predictable”. So with the end of 35 USC 103 saying that patentability
    is not to be:

    “negativated by the manner in which the invention was made”

    with one manner in which to invent being predicting the outcome of the
    experiment or design process that leads to the invention, KSR contradicts
    the federal statute, and is thus unconstitutional.

    But the will of Congress is irrelevant to the judicial activists on the
    Supreme Court when it comes to patent law. Thus their attempt in KSR to
    reintroduce the flash of genius test into patent law, as part of the
    conservative wing’s attempt to weaken the patent system.

    Not that the patent bar cares. The patent bar will swallow any IP idiocy
    (starting with the “monstrously bad logic [Chisum]” of Benson) that oozes
    out of the Supreme Court.

  3. Gene Quinn July 23, 2009 7:52 pm

    I think Greg needs to read all my writing on KSR. I have ever since the beginning said that KSR practically returns us to the “flash of creative genius” test. I have also even suggested that the way to overrule KSR is to simply underline the last sentence of 103(a), followed by something like “We REALLY mean it!”