Thursday, August 27, 2009

Arguments guaranteed to lose: teaching away in anticipation context

I read a few Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences decisions recently where the Applicant distinguished over the reference and used the magic words "teaches away". Unfortunately, the magic words were used in a §102 argument. The Board noted that “[t]eaching away is irrelevant to anticipation," citing Seachange International, Inc., v. C-Cor, Inc., 413 F.3d 1361, 1380 (Fed. Cir. 2005).

I reviewed the Appeal Briefs to see the actual arguments made. In several of the cases, the Applicant had good facts, and I even agree that the reference "teaches away" in some sense. 

For example, in Choi et al. (Application 10/179,583, Appeal Brief available in Public PAIR), the claim included the feature of re-establishing a connection between a client and a previously-used server, and the reference taught establishing a new connection to a different server. Thus, the reference taught the opposite of what was claimed. With these facts, I think the Applicant in Choi was on the right track: a teaching of NOT-X is evidence that X is not taught.

As another example, in Iwamura et al. ( Application 09/972,371, Appeal Brief available in Public PAIR), the claim included encrypting a signal and the reference taught decrypting a signal – again, the reference taught the opposite of what was claimed. I don't think these facts are quite as good. While encryption and decryption are opposites, they're also symmetrical, so that you can probably infer some things about decryption from the teachings about encryption. If the Examiner is relying on implicit teachings, pointing out this opposite teaching may not help. On the other hand, if the Examiner is truly alleging that encryption and decryption are the same, the fact that they are opposites helps the Applicant's position.

The mistake made by the Applicants in these cases was simply in characterizing this as "teaching away".
It would be unfortunate to have the Board ignore your underlying arguments simply because you characterized them improperly. "Teaching away" has a specific meaning in patent law (teaching away from the combination), and is therefore is appropriate for obviousness but not for anticipation. So I say use the underlying facts to your advantage when you can – just don't use the magic words "teaches away" in an anticipation argument.

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