United States: Non-Analogous Art Is Not Prior Art For Purposes Of Obviousness

Circuit Check Inc. v. QXQ Inc.

Addressing the issue of obviousness, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed the district court and restored the jury's verdict finding the patents-at-issue not invalid, because the prior art in dispute was not analogous and therefore could not be used for purposes of an obviousness. Circuit Check Inc. v. QXQ Inc., Case No. 15-1155 (Fed. Cir., Jul. 28, 2015) (Moore, J.).

Circuit Check sued QXQ alleging infringement of its patents for marking interface plates used on circuit board testers. In the prior art, the surface of the interface plate is painted and marked with shallow drill holes. By contrast, Circuit Check's patents described using a second removable marked layer overlaying the first marked layer of the interface plate. QXQ argued that the second removable marked layer was obvious, citing references having no relation to circuit board testers (for example, references directed to rock carvings and engraved signage). In response, Circuit Check introduced evidence that a skilled artisan at the time of invention would not have considered art outside the field relevant to solving the marking problem addressed in its patents, as well as evidence that art outside the field could not be used to make the claimed invention.

The jury sided with Circuit Check, finding that the asserted claims were valid and that QXQ willfully infringed the patents. But, the district court granted QXQ's motion for judgment as a matter of law (JMOL), finding the asserted claims invalid as obvious. In granting the QXQ's motion, the district court acknowledged that QXQ's obviousness argument was not premised on specific examples of prior art in the applicable field, nor relied on a nuanced discussion about the proper level of skill in the art. According to the district court, a lay person would have understood that interface plates could be marked using the techniques described in art outside the field circuit board testers. The district court noted, for example, that "any vandal who has 'keyed' a car knows that stripping the paint with a key will result in the underlying metal color showing through." The district court further concluded that the additional limitations of certain dependent claims were too trivial to support a finding of non-obviousness, despite the fact that QXQ presented no evidence with respect to these additional limitations. Circuit Check appealed.

The Federal Circuit determined that three of the four Graham factors supported the jury's validity finding, including the scope and content of the prior, the differences between the prior art and the claims at issue, and objective indicia of non-obviousness. The fourth factor, the level of ordinary skill in the art at the time invention, was not substantially in dispute.
To be considered prior art for obviousness purposes "a reference must be analogous." As the Federal Circuit explained, prior art is only analogous "if it is from the same field of endeavor or if it is reasonably pertinent to the particular the problem the inventor is trying to solve." This, the Court clarified, is a question of fact. Because the references QXQ cited as supplying the missing claim limitations were outside the field of circuit board testers, those references were not analogous and could not be considered in the obviousness analysis. Squaring this finding with its opinion in KSR ( IP Update, Vol. 9, No. 12) which stated that "familiar items may have obvious uses beyond their primary purposes," the Court further clarified that "a reference is only reasonably pertinent when it logically would have commended itself to an inventor's attention in considering his problem."

The Court also noted that the record contained evidence that a person of ordinary skill in the art would not have considered rock carvings or engraved signage when considering how to mark interface plates for circuit board testers. As such, the jury was entitled to find that a skilled artisan would not have looked to these references to solve the problem addressed by Circuit Check's patents and therefore conclude the references were not analogous.

With respect to the dependent claims, the Federal Circuit found that the district court erred by shifting the burden to patent owner to disprove invalidity. Because the patent claims are presumed valid, and defendant QXQ produced no evidence that these claims were obvious, it was improper for the district court to find the claims invalid for a lack of evidence supporting non-obviousness.

Practice Note: Although a teaching, suggestion or motivation to combine the prior art (i.e., the TSM test) is not required to support an obviousness argument, prudence dictates that it is nevertheless good practice to do so. Had defendant presented evidence of some teaching, suggestion or motivation to combine the art in the field with art outside the field, the Federal Circuit may have been less likely to find the art outside field non-analogous and improper to the obviousness analysis.

Non-Analogous Art Is Not Prior Art For Purposes Of Obviousness

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
 
In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of www.mondaq.com

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about Mondaq.com’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.

Disclaimer

Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.

Registration

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to unsubscribe@mondaq.com with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.

Cookies

A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.

Links

This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.

Mail-A-Friend

If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.

Security

This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to webmaster@mondaq.com.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to EditorialAdvisor@mondaq.com.

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at enquiries@mondaq.com.

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at problems@mondaq.com and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.