December 23, 2020
A Preference for Something Else is not Teaching Away
In General Electric Company v. Raytheon Technologies Corporation, [2019-1319] (December 23, 2020), the Federal Circuit vacated the Board’s decision finding Raytheon Technologies Corporation’s U.S. Patent No. 8,695,920 on a gas turbine engine not unpatentable for obviousness, and remanded the case for further consideration because the Board lacked substantial evidence for its conclusions.
The Board found that prior art disclosed all of the elements of the claimed invention, but then found that by expressly considering at least some of the one-stage versus two-stage tradeoffs and specifically choosing the one-stage option, the reference taught away from the combination asserted by GE. The Board alternatively held that, even if the reference did not teach away from the proposed combination, the evidence presented did not persuasively demonstrate a motivation to combine.
The Federal Circuit found that the Board lacked substantial evidence for its finding that reference taught away form the combination. The Federal Circuit said a reference does not teach away if it merely expresses a general preference for an alternative invention but does not criticize, discredit, or otherwise discourage investigation into the invention claimed.
The Federal Circuit also found that the Board lacked substantial evidence for its conclusion that GE did not establish a motivation to combine the references. The Federal Circuit said that the Board made certain findings that, on their own, could establish obviousness. The Federal Circuit said that these findings set forth reasons that an artisan might seek to modify the prior art, and a reasonable expectation of success in doing so.
Finally, the Board lacked substantial evidence for holding that GE did not establish the obviousness of claim 10 “as a whole.” The Federal Circuit said that the law has always evaluated the motivation to combine elements based on the combination of prior art references that together disclose all of the elements of the invention.
The Federal Circuit said that:
the Board’s approach would require a motivation to combine each element of the claim—even those present together in a reference. This analysis unduly dissects prior art references into collections of individual elements, requiring a party showing obviousness to re-do the work al-ready done in the prior art reference. The claimed invention and an invention in the prior art must both be analyzed as a whole for the same reason: an invention is more than the sum of its individual elements.
Because the Board lacked substantial evidence for its underlying factual conclusions from which it found the claims non-obvious, the Federal Circuit vacated the Board’s decision and remanded the case to the Board for further proceedings.