In re Kubin (Fed. Cir. 2008)
Immunex (a subsidiary of Amgen) is hoping to patent its a DNA sequence coding for a NK (Natural Killer) cell regulator protein. The BPAI rejected the “nucleic acid molecule” claim — finding it obvious over the prior art. [BPAI Decision]. This decision is one of only three precedential BPAI decisions in 2007.
Just looking at the claimed sequence, it would not seem obvious — its structure is not overly similar to other regulator proteins, and the unpredictable nature of protein folding makes it virtually impossible to predict whether a particular sequence would code for an appropriate protein.
Despite the structural uniqueness, the BPAI found the claim obvious because it could have been isolated and verified simply by following conventional laboratory techniques — thus, making it obvious to try.
Although the CAFC has previously warned the BPAI away from using “obvious to try” analysis in its 1995 In re Deuel case. There, the appellate court held that obviousness analysis of a structure should focus on the structure itself as compared to prior art structures.
In Kubin, the BPAI rejected Deuel as limited by the Supreme Court’s KSR decision. That case focused on combination claims, but included the stray quote that “the fact that a combination was obvious to try might show that it was obvious under Section 103.”
Here, the BPAI argued, the inventor wanted to isolate the NK Regulator and simply used known methods to do so. “Thus, isolating NAIL cDNA was ‘the product not of innovation but of ordinary skill and common sense.’” (again quoting KSR).
The case is now on appeal at the the CAFC. On June 10, the Biotechnology Industry Organization filed an amicus brief asking the court to cabin in the scope of KSR and hold that its obvious to try dicta does not abrogate the Deuel standard. Briefing is ongoing and a decision is not expected until the end of the year.
- Download kubin.amicus.pdf
- The PTO's Obviousness Guidelines have the following rules for making an obviousness rejection based on the obvious to try reasoning:
- (1) a finding that at the time of the invention, there had been a recognized problem or need in the art, which may include a design need or market pressure to solve a problem;
- (2) a finding that there had been a finite number of identified, predictable potential solutions to the recognized need or problem;
- (3) a finding that one of ordinary skill in the art could have pursued the known potential solutions with a reasonable expectation of success; and
- (4) whatever additional findings based on the Graham factual inquiries may be necessary, in view of the facts of the case under consideration, to explain a conclusion of obviousness.The BPAI decision is notable for a few reasons, including the following two: (1) It was written by Nancy Linck, former PTO Solicitor, Newman law clerk, & PhD Chemist. Soon after authoring the decision, Linck left the firm to join the Rothwell Figg firm. (2) It is a unanimous opinion.
- Thanks to Hal Wegner for providing a copy of the brief which his firm filed on behalf of BIO.