The Department of Commerce's United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has published Examination Guidelines (Guidelines) to help USPTO examiners make appropriate decisions regarding the obviousness of claimed inventions in light of the Supreme Court's decision in KSR International Co. v. Teleflex Inc., 550 U.S. __, 82 USPQ2d 1385 (2007) (KSR).
The Guidelines stress that the familiar factual inquiries announced by the Supreme Court in its much earlier decision, Graham v. John Deere Co., 383 U.S. 1, 148 USPQ 459 (1966), remain the basis for every decision regarding obviousness, noted Commissioner for Patents John Doll. That is, patent examiners will continue to consider (1) the scope and content of the prior art, (2) the differences between the claimed invention and the prior art, (3) the level of ordinary skill in the pertinent art, and (4) objective evidence relevant to the issue of obviousness.
The Guidelines also note that patent examiners must continue to explain the reasoning that leads to a legal conclusion of obviousness when rejecting claims on that ground. The reasoning may still include the established Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit standard that a claimed invention may be obvious if the examiner identifies a prior art teaching, suggestion, or motivation (TSM) to make it. However, in keeping with the KSR decision, the Guidelines explain that there is no requirement that patent examiners use the TSM approach in order to make a proper obviousness rejection. Furthermore, the Guidelines point out that even if the TSM approach cannot be applied to a claimed invention, that invention may still be found obvious.
To help patent examiners make obviousness rejections that are supported by appropriate facts and reasoning, the Guidelines identify a number of rationales suggested by the Supreme Court in the KSR decision. For each rationale, the Guidelines explain the underlying factual findings, and provide guidance about how to reason from the facts to the legal conclusion of obviousness. The Guidelines emphasize, however, that the identified rationales are only examples, and that any explanation of facts and reasoning based on the Graham inquiries may be used to support a rejection for obviousness.
The Examination Guidelines can be found at http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/com/sol/notices/72fr57526.pdf