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Archived updates for Thursday, August 30, 2007

Unexpected New Use Must Be Considered for Nonobviousness of Composition

In In Re John B. Sullivan, et al. (August 29, 2007), the Federal Circuit vacate the Board’s decision because it failed to give any weight to the rebuttal evidence of record. Most relevant to the resolution of the appeal, was the Board's statement in a footnote that:

"The remainder of appellants [sic] arguments on this record, in addition to
the Declarations of record, relate to the use of the claimed composition as an
antivenom. Since we have placed not [sic] weight on the intended use of appellants’ composition we do not address these arguments or the Declarations."
The appellate court acepted that a prima facie case of obviousness had been set forth by the Examiner becuase it was not unreasonable for one skilled in the art of snake venom to consider that a Fab fragment of a whole antibody that neutralizes one type of venom might be used to neutralize the venom of another species. However, with regard to the was rebuttal evidence, the court noted that

The Board stated in a footnote that the declarations of record relate only to the use of the claimed composition as an antivenom, and thus the Board expressly declined to give any meaningful consideration to them. Sullivan, No. 2006-0220, slip op. at 13 n.7. As stated above, when an applicant puts forth relevant rebuttal evidence, as it did here, the Board must consider such evidence. The claimed composition cannot be held to have been obvious if competent evidence rebuts the prima facie case of obviousness. By failing to consider the submitted evidence, the Board thus ommitted error. That is not to suggest that the Board’s finding of obviousness must be overturned in light of the evidence; rather, the Board must give the declarations meaningful consideration before arriving at its conclusion.

Moreover, the Board was mistaken to assert that the declarations only relate to the use of the claimed composition. The declarations do more than that; they purport to show an unexpected result from use of the claimed composition, how the prior art taught away from the composition, and how a long-felt need existed for a new antivenom composition. While a statement of intended use may not render a known composition patentable, the claimed composition was not known, and whether it would have been obvious depends upon consideration of the rebuttal evidence. Had the Board considered or reviewed the declarations in any meaningful way, it might have arrived at a different conclusion than it did.

Furthermore, the Board’s focus on the intended use of the claimed composition misses the mark. The Board cites In re Zierden, 411 F.2d 1325 (CCPA 1969), for the proposition that a statement of a new use for an otherwise old or obvious composition cannot render a claim to the composition patentable. In that case, applicant conceded that his composition was distinguished from the composition disclosed in a prior art patent only by the statement of intended use. Our predecessor court held that that intended use for the known composition could not render the claim patentable. In this case, applicant does not concede that the only distinguishing factor of its composition is the statement of intended use and, in fact, extensively argues that its claimed composition exhibits the unexpected property of neutralizing the lethality of rattlesnake venom while reducing the occurrence of adverse immune reactions in humans. Such a use and unexpected property cannot be ignored. See In re Papesch, 315 F.2d 381, 391 (CCPA 1963)("From the standpoint of patent law, a compound and all of its properties are inseparable; they are one and the same thing. . . . There is no basis in law for ignoring any property in making such a comparison."). The issue here is not whether a claim recites a new use, but whether the subject matter of the claim possesses an unexpected use. That unexpected property is relevant, and thus the declarations describing it should have been considered by the Board.

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