An obvious combination of two inventions into a third invention doesn’t deserve patent protection, the Supreme Court held today.  The combination at issue — as far as Blawgletter can tell — involved putting a computer sensor at the bottom of a gas pedal that the driver could move back or forward to accommodate his height.  The "prior art" taught both the wisdom of putting the sensor at the pedal’s "pivot" point and the utility of making the pedal’s position adjustable.  The combo added nothing new, the Court concluded as it affirmed summary judgment for the defendant.  KSR Int’l Co. v. Teleflex, Inc., No. 04-1350 (U.S. Apr. 30, 2007).

Blawgletter adores patent law, especially its constant pushing at the limits of language and dependence on abstractions to describe concrete stuff.  The decision in KSR diminishes our ardor not a whit. 

But, just as importantly, KSR appears not to change the obviousness doctrine in any sweeping way.  We get the notion that an obvious combination of separate insights in the same field — gas pedals — ought not produce a monopoly in the combination.  And we doubt that the decision will significantly hinder the granting of patents that put together inventive combinations, not least because the opinion shuns any bright line rule.  Indeed, the Court seems mainly to want to discard a Federal Circuit rule that tried to simplify the obviousness test.  Good.

Barry Barnett

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