By Masahito Yokoyama & Scott Daniels

Most Office Actions in prosecution of patent applications include a rejection that Applicant’s claim is obvious over a primary reference in combination with a secondary reference. Essentially, the Examiner admits that the structure disclosed in the primary reference does not include at least one feature recited in the claim, but he or she also asserts (i) that the secondary reference discloses the missing feature, and (ii) that one skilled in the art would be motivated to include, in the structure of the primary reference, the feature disclosed in the secondary reference rather than other similar features disclosed in the art.

Too often, however, Examiners merely note that the structural feature in question is disclosed in the art and concludes, without more, that one skilled in the art would be “motivated” to combine the references in a manner that would satisfy all the limitations of Applicant’s claim. Such an improper obviousness rejection was the subject of the Federal Circuit’s precedential decision last week in Virtek Vision Int’l. v. Assembly Guidance Sys.

The patent claim recited

[a] method for aligning a laser projector for projecting a laser image onto a work surface, comprising the steps of:

transmitting light from the secondary light source toward the work surface and reflecting light toward the photogrammetry device from the reflective targets thereby identifying a pattern of the reflective targets on the work surface in a three dimensional coordinate system; and

after identifying the pattern of the reflective targets on the work surface in the three dimensional coordinate system, scanning the targets with a laser beam ….

All the primary references, cited by the party challenging the validity of the patent, disclosed an “angular direction” rather than the “3D coordinate” system recited in the claim. The challenger therefore cited a secondary reference that disclosed both “angular direction” and “3D coordinate” systems and argued that one skilled in the art would therefore be motivated to replace the “angular direction” system in the primary references with the the “three dimensional coordinate” system of the secondary reference, thereby satisfying all the limitations of the claim.

The Patent Trial and Appeal Board agreed and found that a skilled artisan would have been motivated to use the 3D coordinate system disclosed in the secondary reference instead of the angular direction systems of the primary references, because the secondary reference disclosed both 3D coordinates and angular directions, making it obvious to try the 3D coordinate system.

The Federal Circuit, however, disagreed and reversed the Board’s invalidity determination. The CAFC began its analysis by citing Belden Inc. v. Berk-Tek LLC, 805 F.3d 1064, 1073 (Fed. Cir. 2015) for the principle that “obviousness concerns whether a skilled artisan not only could have made but would have been motivated to make the combinations or modifications of prior art to arrive at the claimed invention” (emphasis in original). The court continued:

[i]t does not suffice to meet the motivation to combine requirement to recognize that two alternative arrangements such as an angular direction system using a single camera and a 3D coordinate system using two cameras were both known in the art. [The secondary reference] discloses a laser projector system with different embodiments of laser tracker systems—one that uses two cameras to determine the 3D coordinates of a target … and another that uses one camera to determine angular measurements of a target …. [The secondary reference] discloses these two measurement options “may be applied to any computer controlled aiming system.” … These disclosures, however, do not provide any reason why a skilled artisan would use 3D coordinates instead of angular directions in a system.

The appellate court found that there was nothing more than “an assertion that because two coordinate systems were disclosed in a prior art reference and were therefore ‘known.’” The appellate court concluded that this was insufficient to provide motivation to combine—“it does not suffice to simply be known.”

Two Takeaways:

1. Most simply, the Federal Circuit’s precedential decision last week in Virtek Vision Int’l. v. Assembly Guidance Sys. applies to the case in which (i) Applicant’s claim recites A+B+C. (ii) the primary reference discloses A+B+C’, and (iii) the secondary reference discloses C and C’. May the Examiner combine the primary and secondary references to make an obviousness rejection?

The Examiner must show that there is motivation to combine the references. But it is not enough to show that there is a reason to use C when practicing the primary reference. The   Examiner must show that there is a reason to use C, rather than C’, when practicing the   primary reference. Many secondary references show only that C and C’ are “similar” or     “equivalent.” That is not enough.

2. It is often helpful to interview the Examiner to discuss complex technical issues. In cases such as Virtek, Examiner interviews are also helpful in discussing legal issues.

「組み合わせの動機」には、クレーム限定事項の単なる開示以上のものが必要である Virtek Vision Int’l. v. Assembly Guidance Sys.判決
横山昌史&スコット・ダニエルズ 著


しかしながら、審査官は、争点となっている構造的特徴が当該二次文献で開示されていることを単に指摘するだけで、それ以上の考察、つまり、当業者であれば出願人のクレームの全ての要件を満たすような方法で、それらの文献を組み合わせる「動機付け」があるとの考察をせずに結論付けることがあまりにも多い。このような不適切な自明性拒絶は、先週のVirtek Vision Int’l. v. Assembly Guidance Sys.判決の争点となった。








しかし、CAFCはこれに同意せず、PTABの無効判断を覆した。CAFCはまず、Belden Inc. v. Berk-Tek LLC, 805 F.3d 1064, 1073 (Fed. Cir. 2015) を引用し、「自明性は、当業者がクレームされた発明に到達するために先行技術の組み合わせや変更を行うことができたか (could have made)どうかだけでなく、行う気になったか (would have been motivated to make)どうかにも関係する」(強調追加)という原則から分析を開始した。裁判所は次のように続けた:

1台のカメラを使用する角度方向システムと2台のカメラを使用する3D座標システムのような2つの代替的な配置がともに当該技術分野で知られていたことを認識するだけでは、組み合わせる動機付けの要件を満たすには十分ではない。二次文献は、異なる実施形態のレーザートラッカーシステムを備えたレーザープロジェクターシステムを開示しており、2台のカメラを使用してターゲットの3D座標を決定するもの…と、1台のカメラを使用してターゲットの角度測定値を決定するもの…を開示している。二次文献は、これら2つの測定オプションは、”任意のコンピュータ制御照準システムに適用することができる “と開示している。しかし、これらの開示は、当業者がシステムにおいて、なぜ角度方向の代わりに3D座標を使用する理由を示していない。



(1) 最も端的に言えば、CAFCが先週下したVirtek Vision Int’l. v. Assembly Guidance Sys.の判例は、(i)出願人のクレームがA+B+Cを記載しており、(ii) 一次文献がA+B+C’を開示し、(iii) 二次文献がC及びC’を開示している、というケースに適用できる。審査官は一次文献と二次文献を組み合わせて自明性拒絶を行うことができるか?

審査官は、引用文献を組み合わせる動機があることを示さなければならない。    しかし、主引用文献を実施する際に、Cを使用する理由があることを示すだけでは不十分である。審査官は、一次文献を実施する際にCではなくCを使用する   理由があることを示さなければならない。多くの二次文献は、CとC’が『類似』または『同等』であることを示すだけであるが、それだけでは不十分である。

(2) 複雑な技術的問題を議論するために、審査官インタビューをすることはしばしば有用である。Virtekようなケースでは、審査官とのインタビューは、法的問題を議論する際にも役立つ。