Obviousness in Patent Law and the Motivation to Combine: A Presumption-Based Approach

9 Pages Posted: 30 Mar 2007


In KSR International v. Teleflex, Inc., the U.S. Supreme Court is currently considering the appropriate standard for determining whether the invention claimed in a patent is obvious. Particularly, the Court is evaluating the Federal Circuit's requirement for a teaching, suggetion, or motivation to combine the prior art. This requirement stems from the Federal Circuit's attempts to create formalistic, bright-line rules in patent law.

At oral argument, the Supreme Court was quite critical of this standard. The Court is faced, however, with answering the question of what is the appropriate standard. A review of recent Supreme Court precedent provides an answer - the use of rebuttable presumptions. In other areas where the Supreme Court has expressed concern with balancing certainty with fairness, the Court has eschewed the Federal Circuit's formalism and has offered presumptions instead. This trend can be seen in both Warner-Jenkinson and Festo.

In the obviousness context, a presumption-based approach would serve to enhance certainty in the area of obviousness. The presence of a motivation to combine, along with the presence of each claim limitation in the prior art, would create a presumption of obviousness. This presumption could be rebutted by a number of factors, including relevant secondary considerations that suggest the patent is non-obvious. Similarly, if there is a teaching away in the prior art, in other words some reason not to make the combination, then there should be presumption that the claimed invention is not obvious. This presumption could also be rebutted by the use of secondary considerations. In the absence of either a motivation to combine or a teaching away, no presumption arises and the courts would resort to the familiar Graham framework.

Keywords: KSR, obvious, patent, valdidity, presumption, graham, motivation to combine, suggestion to combine, teaching away

Suggested Citation

Holbrook, Timothy Richard, Obviousness in Patent Law and the Motivation to Combine: A Presumption-Based Approach. Washington University Law Review, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=976695

Timothy Richard Holbrook (Contact Author)

Emory University ( email )

1301 Clifton Road
Atlanta, GA 30322
United States
404-712-0353 (Phone)

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