SCOTUS rules on patent obviousness

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2007
Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share
The Supreme Court of the United States today ruled that an invention can be too obvious for a patent.

Taking up the patent issue and question of "How obvious is too obvious?" for the first time in 20 years, the court ruled unanimously in KSR International v. Teleflex that a gas pedal design was too obvious.

Engineering company Teleflex sued KSR International, a Canadian maker of gas pedals, for alleged infringement of a patent it owned on an adjustable gas pedal assembly (which includes an accelerator, brake or clutch) combined with an electronic control that can be adjusted by the driver to move the pedal closer to or farther from the driver – much like an adjustable seat in position to the steering wheel.

The case was dismissed at the District Court level on summary judgment based on obviousness, with a finding that anyone with an undergraduate degree or modest industry experience "would have found it obvious" to connect the two parts to provide the claimed assembly. But the Federal Circuit that hears all patent cases reversed that judgment.

"The Federal Circuit addressed the obviousness question in a narrow, rigid manner that is inconsistent with §103 and this Court ;s precedents," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for a unanimous court. "KSR provided convincing evidence that mounting an available sensor on a fixed pivot point of the Asano pedal was a design step well within the grasp of a person of ordinary skill in the relevant art and that the benefit of doing so would be obvious."

Further in the opinion, Justice Kennedy wrote, "We build and create by bringing to the tangible and palpable reality around us new works based on instinct, simple logic, ordinary inferences, extraordinary ideas, and sometimes even genius. These advances, once part of our shared knowledge, define a new threshold from which innovation starts once more. And as progress beginning from higher levels of achievement is expected in the normal course, the results of ordinary innovation are not the subject of exclusive rights under the patent laws. Were it otherwise, patents might stifle rather than promote the progress of useful arts."

This was one of two patent rulings the nation ;s high court issued today. The other – Microsoft v. AT&T – held in favor of Microsoft in that Section 271(f) of the Patent Act does not extend to cover foreign duplication of software.

Post a comment to this story

We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. Freedom From Religion Foundation: If you really want to be free from religion, don't go to the Christmas Play or the Christmas Pageant or the Christmas Parade. Anything with "Christ" or Saint...fill in the blank...would be off limits to you. Then leave the rest of us ALONE!

  2. So the prosecutor made an error and the defendants get a full remedy. Just one short paragraph to undo the harm of the erroneous prosecution. Wow. Just wow.

  3. Wake up!!!! Lawyers are useless!! it makes no difference in any way to speak about what is important!! Just dont tell your plans to the "SELFRIGHTEOUS ARROGANT JERKS!! WHO THINK THEY ARE BETTER THAN ANOTHER MAN/WOMAN!!!!!!

  4. Looks like you dont understand Democracy, Civilized Society does not cut a thiefs hands off, becouse now he cant steal or write or feed himself or learn !!! You deserve to be over punished, Many men are mistreated hurt in many ways before a breaking point happens! grow up !!!

  5. It was all that kept us from tyranny. So sad that so few among the elite cared enough to guard the sacred trust. Nobody has a more sacred obligation to obey the law than those who make the law. Sophocles No man is above the law and no man is below it; nor do we ask any man's permission when we ask him to obey it. Obedience to the law is demanded as a right; not asked as a favor. Theodore Roosevelt That was the ideal ... here is the Hoosier reality: The King can do no wrong. Legal maxim From the Latin 'Rex non potest peccare'. When the President does it, that means that it is not illegal. Richard Nixon