KSR International Co. v. Teleflex, Inc. (KyleR)

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Overview of Trial

  • decided by U.S. Supreme Court in 2007
  • Teleflex is suing KSR for patent infringement
  • District Court - patent ruled invalid (obvious) - sides with KSR
  • Court of Appeals - patent ruled valid - sides with Teleflex
    • uses a TSM test: a patent is only obvious if "'some motivation or suggestion to combine the prior art teachings' can be found in the prior art, the nature of the problem, or the knowledge of a person having ordinary skill on the art."
  • Supreme Court - patent ruled invalid (obvious) - sides with KSR
    • the TSM test for obviousness does not follow precedent

Overview of the patent

  • patent no. 6,237,565 B1
  • "Adjustable Pedal Assembly With Electronic Throttle Control"
  • "the Engelgau patent"; patentee is Steven J. Engelgau
  • combines an electronic sensor with an adjustable automobile pedal
    • the pedal's location at the driver's feet can be adjusted to accommodate people of different heights

Prior Art

  • Asano - one of the pedal's pivot points stays fixed even while the pedal location is being adjusted
  • Redding - the pedal and its pivot point are both adjusted
  • '936 - preferable for electronic sensor to sense pedal position in the pedal assembly, not the engine
  • Smith - preferable to put the sensor on a fixed part of the pedal assembly rather than on the footpad to prevent wire damage
  • '068 - modular sensor that is designed independent of a given pedal and can be used with any pedal in a computer-controlled car
  • Rixon - placement of sensors on adjustable pedals

Reasons for obviousness

  • Redding provided an adjustable pedal example and Smith showed how to mount the sensor
  • Asano taught everything contained in the Engelgau patent except the use of the sensor, which was taught by '068
  • little difference between Asano+Smith and the Engelgau patent

Supreme Court analysis

  • Court of Appeals used an approach for determining obviousness that was too rigid
    • its application of the TSM test contradicts Graham's precedent for a broad inquiry to look at any secondary considerations
  • for over a half century, the Courts have approached combination patents cautiously
    • combination inventions that yield predictable results are obvious
    • U.S. v. Adams, Anderson's-Black Rock, Inc. v. Pavement Salvage Co., Sakraida v. Ag Pro, Inc.
  • "The consequent legal question, then, is whether a pedal designer of ordinary skill starting with Asano would have found it obvious to put the sensor on a fixed pivot point."

Faults of the Court of Appeals

  1. did not recognize that "the problem motivating the patentee may be only one of many addressed by the patent's subject matter"
  2. assumes that a person of ordinary skill, when working on a problem, will look only to prior art designed for that same problem
    • items may have obvious uses beyond their primary purpose
    • "A person of ordinary skill is also a person of ordinary creativity"

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