By Jason Rantanen
In re Glatt Air Techniques, Inc. (Fed. Cir. 2011)
Panel: Newman, Prost (author), Moore
Glatt Air Techniques involves the reexamination of Patent No. 5,236,503, relating to an improvement to an apparatus known as a Wurster coater used to coat particles such as pharmaceutical ingredients. The improvement comprises a shield means, such as a physical shield or air wall, positioned adjacent the spray nozzle that prevents particles from prematurely entering the stream of the coating spray before the spray pattern has fully developed, thus causing blockages in the apparatus. During reexamination, the examiner rejected the claim at issue as obvious in light of the prior art, a determination that was upheld by the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences. In reaching its conclusion, the Board also rejected Glatt's commercial success evidence because it related only to a single embodiment - a physical shield - and the claim also covered the use of an air wall. Thus, the Board concluded, the evidence was not commensurate in scope with the claim.
On appeal, the CAFC first found that the Board had failed to establish a prima facie case of obviousness. It also disagreed with the Board's rejection of Glatt's evidence of commercial success, expanding on its past holding that "commensurate" does not mean "every" embodiment. "The fact that Glatt’s commercial products only contain one type of shielding means does not make its commercial success evidence irrelevant. Under the PTO’s logic, there would never be commercial success evidence for a claim that covers more than one embodiment." Slip Op. at 10. Citing past precedent, the CAFC went on to state that "we have consistently held that a patent applicant “need not sell every conceivable embodiment of the claims in order to rely upon evidence of commercial success.” Id. (quoting In re DBC, 545 F.3d 1373, 1384 (Fed. Cir. 2008). Thus, "commercial success evidence should be considered should be considered 'so long as what was sold was within the scope of the claims.'” Id.
Comment: Note that simply being commensurate with the scope of the claim does not necessarily satisfy the nexus requirement, as illustrated by the outcome of In re DBC.
Update: PharmaPatents Blog provides a detailed discussion of the CAFC's reversal of the Board's prima facie case of obviusness, asking whether there was anything else the applicant could have done to avoid a rejection by the examiner and Board.