KSR International Co. v. Teleflex, Inc. SKH

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Supreme Court of the United States

  • District Court says KSR wins, claim 4 was obvious when invented
  • Court of Appeals reversed, says its non-obvious
  • Supreme Court reverses back, says OBVIOUS

Petitioner: KSR

Teleflex sues KSR for patent infringement

Device: Adjustable pedal assemblyy with electronic throttle control

  • sensor sends pedal posn to computer to control engine throttle

KSR adds electronic sensor to pedals, teleflex says infringement, KSR says no, your claim to it was invalid because its obvious.


Strategy set by John Deere (based on Hutchkiss)

  • determine prior art
  • find differences between it and current claims
  • resolve level of ordinary skill
    • determine non-obviousness based on these

Teaching, Suggestion, Motivation (TSM) test:

  • only obvious if motivated by:
    • prior art,
    • nature of problem, or
    • knowledge of person with ordinary skill

EG Analysis:

  • w/o elec sensor, pedal uses mechanical link to engine throttle (cable opens, closes valves)
  • start using electronic in 1990's
  • talk about pedal design patents (adjustments for short ppl)
  • b4 Teleflex gets patent, there were patents involving electronic pedal sensors
    • position of sensors - on pedal assembly, not on footpad but something fixed
  • also were patents for modular sensors in general that could be used on pedals for same thing

so what happened was:

  • KSR made adjustable pedals for Ford, using cable system
  • then made them for GM, but GM used electronic throttles, so KSR had to get modular sensors and used those.

now, these two are rivals in adjustable pedals...

teleflex gets patent on FIXED PIVOT POINT of adjustable pedal with sensor mounted

  • w/o fixed pivot pt this is just combo of two existing patents

so teleflex says KSR infringing, KSR says anyone using electronic throttle control must violate "patent" of teleflex. Teleflex says:

  • only worried about claim 4
  • not that other 3 claims are infringed
  • not that KSR mechanical adjustable pedal infringes on anything

District Court

  • says claim 4 of teleflex patent was obvious, thus KSR wins, not infringing
  • forced by Ct of Appeals (?) to apply TSM approach too
    • industry would inevitably go there - to combine elec sensors and adj pedals
    • basis provided by ppl in past
  • secondary factor of commercial success doesn't matter

Court of Appeals

  • reverses, says non-obvious
  • says references didn't really give any useful info, invention wasn't based on them
  • obvious to try something not the same as obviousness

teleflex really trying to make something cheap, simpler, smaller

Supreme Court

  • in general - cant give patents for mere combos of things, diminishes intellect and resources from field; its obvious if it only gives predictable results.
  • cites 3 cases:
    • US v Adams - despite warnings of failure, Adams achieved unexpected successful results, thus, nonobvious
    • Anderson v Black Rock - nothing new about burner or paver individually, no unexpected result when combined, thus, obvious
    • Sakraida v AG Pro - more of same...
  • needs to achieve result that you wouldn't expect from merely combining old things, they have to do something new when combined.
  • dont need to follow TSM steps because court can analyze what an ordinary person would do and judge based on that if its obvious. have to analyze, not just follow rules to assess situation.
  • TSM sucks
  • Court of Appeals messed up:
    • tried to analyze obviousness in terms of skill at the time, but addressed obviousness in relation to patentee, not an ordinary person
    • ordinary person has creativity, cant assume they would only be led by things directly related to problem at hand.
    • they said being obvious to try cant prove that something is obvious, but it could hypothetically
    • used hindsight in making decision
  • Ruling: claim 4 OBVIOUS
    • ordinary person could have combined Asano and Smith


  • TSM
    • Teaching
    • Suggesting
    • Motivating
      • to combine prior art or ordinary skill => obvious