In Cohesive Technologies, the Federal Circuit issued a reminder that the novelty analysis of 35 U.S.C. §102 is separate and distinct from the nonobviousness analysis of 35 U.S.C. §103(a). The court notes that some prior art evidence – such as inherent elements of a disclosure – used for anticipation argument may not be used in obviousness analyses. That result is in tension with the traditional understanding that § 102 material may be used for §103(a) analysis.
In a recent e-mail, Professor Isaacs (NKU) saw that tension as a reason to for courts to take a fresh look at the text of §103(a). This is especially timely in light of the recent cases such as eBay, KSR, and MedImmune where the Supreme Court had no trouble altering longstanding precedent.
The most glaring problem with the current interpretation of § 103(a) involves post-invention art and secret prior art that are available as §102(b)/§103(a) and §102(e)/ §103(a) references respectively. These two allowances are contrary to the plain language of §103(a) because the statute focuses on what "would have been obvious at the time the invention was made."
35 U.S.C. 103(a) A patent may not be obtained though the invention is not identically disclosed or described as set forth in §102 of this title, if the differences between the subject matter sought to be patented and the prior art are such that the subject matter as a whole would have been obvious at the time the invention was made to a person having ordinary skill in the art to which said subject matter pertains. …
Under a plain reading of §103(a), post-invention references cannot negate patentability because they were not available "at the time the invention was made." Similarly, secret prior art – almost by definition – could not be known by one of ordinary skill in the art – especially under the Supreme Court's new "common sense" approach to obviousness.
Of course, these arguments have been tried before – and failed.
- In re Foster, 343 F.2d 980 (C.C.P.A. 1965) (cert denied) (creating §102(b)/§103(a) prior art)
- Hazeltine Research, Inc. v. Brenner, 382 U.S. 252 (1965) (creating §102(e)/ §103(a) prior art)
Perhaps the time is right for a challenge.