Ex parte Seo
Appeal 2011-005820; Appl. No. 11/378,799; Tech Center 2800
Decided: October 11, 2013
The application on appeal was directed to a semiconductor device for an LCD display. The independent claim on appeal read:
1. A display device comprising:The Examiner rejected the originally filed independent claim 1 as obvious over Doushita in view of Applicant Admitted Prior Art. The Examiner relied on Doushita for the aluminum complex oxide layer element (location and composition), and AAPA for everything else. As a reason for combining, the Examiner asserted that Doushita's coating would provide "the structure of the admitted prior art with 'excellent durability, wear resistance, anti-fogging property and anti-fogging sustainability property'. "
a metal layer formed on the substrate and including a top surface and a side surface, wherein the metal layer comprises aluminum or an aluminum alloy;
an insulating layer covering the metal layer; and
an aluminum complex oxide layer disposed between the top and side surfaces of the metal layer and the insulating layer, wherein the aluminum complex oxide layer is formed by applying to the metal layer a coating solution that comprises at least one selected from the group consisting of zirconium, tungsten, chromium and molybdenum.
During prosecution, the Applicant made various amendments, but the Examiner maintained the obviousness rejection using Doushita and AAPA. The Applicant also made one argument: that Doushita was non-analogous art. As a preliminary matter, the Applicant noted that Doushita and the invention were in different classifications: Class 428 "Stock material or miscellaneous articles" as compared to Class 438 "Semiconductor device manufacturing: process." Moving on to the test for analogous art, the Applicant first discussed the respective fields of invention. Doushita disclosed an anti-fogging article used for "buildings, vehicles, optical components, [etc.]," but this list did not include a semiconductor device (Applicant's field). The Applicant then discussed the purpose or problem solved: for Doushita, anti-fogging, with durability and wear resistance as secondary characteristics; for the Applicant, corrosion of aluminum, with secondary characteristics of electrical resistance, electrical conductivity, and adhesive strength. Therefore, "Doushita is not reasonably pertinent to the specific problem with which the Applicants were involved."
During prosecution, the Examiner did not directly respond to all of the Applicant's non-analogous art arguments. The Examiner did clarify that Doushita was "not used for the claimed structure but for the substitution of the conventional aluminum oxide layer formed on the line." The Examiner also explained that several of Doushita's applications for the anti-fog coating (i.e., "optical component," "medical equipment," "mirror," "lens") amounted to an application for semiconductor devices.
After several rounds of prosecution (including an RCE), the Applicant appealed. In the Appeal Brief, the Applicant reiterated the previously made non-analogous art argument, concluding with:
Applicants fail to understand how the problem of anti-fogging of window glass, mirrors, and lens is reasonably pertinent to the problem of protecting a metal layer 212 of a semiconductor from corrosion with an aluminum complex oxide layer 213.The Applicant separately argued that the Examiner's rationale for combining was insufficient:
Doushita simply discloses an aluminum oxide used as an anti-fogging article. Nowhere does Doushita disclose the structural relationship of the aluminum oxide layer relative to any other layer(s). Doushita fails to disclose the aluminum complex oxide layer is disposed between the top and side surfaces of the metal layer and the insulating layer. As such, without more structure specifics, Applicants submit the complex oxide of Doushita is functionally and structurally different from Applicants' aluminum complex oxide layer used to prevent a corrosion of the metal layer.Notably, the Applicant did not argue that the combination failed to disclose the claimed limitations.
Therefore, there is no suggestion to combine AAPA and Doushita with each other so as to obtain the technical features of Applicants' claimed subject matter.
The Examiner's Answer include (for the first time) a specific response to the non-analogous art argument. The Examiner asserted that Doushita's teaching of an aluminum complex oxide layer with "excellent durability and wear resistance" was "the same purpose as the claimed invention" and was therefore "reasonably pertinent and has enough motivation to be considered." Addressing Applicant's argument about classifications, the Examiner had "considered or cross referenced" the "miscellaneous articles" referred to in the title of Class 428. "Further, 'optical component' is a semiconductor device; and Class 438 'Semiconductor device manufacturing: Process' deals with this device formation."
The Board reversed the obviousness rejection. The Board first explained that the field of endeavor was determined by looking at "explanations of the invention’s subject matter in the patent application, including the embodiments, function, and structure of the claimed invention.” (In re Bigio, 381 F.3d 1320, 1325 (Fed. Cir. 2004)). The Board then characterized the problem solved by the reference (fogging of window glass, mirrors, and lens) and the problem addressed by the claimed invention (protecting a metal layer of a semiconductor from corrosion with an aluminum complex oxide layer).
The Board concluded that the anti-fogging properties of Doushita’s film "would not have logically attracted the attention of an artisan possessing knowledge of Appellants’ Admitted Prior Art." Despite Doushita's mention of "optical components" as a use for the disclosed anti-fogging article, the Board found that the anti-fogging properties "would have little utility on a semiconductor device."
As an independent basis for reversal, the Board agreed with the Applicant's second argument that the Examiner's rationale for combining was insufficient. Although Daushita taught the use of aluminum oxide as a coating and listed various advantageous properties of the coating, Daushita lacked the structural details of the oxide that were recited in claim 1. The Board agreed that "without more structure specifics, ... the complex oxide of Doushita is functionally and structurally different from Applicants' aluminum complex oxide layer used to prevent a corrosion of the metal layer."
My two cents: An important part of analogous art analysis is framing the problem. Here, the Examiner confused an advantage disclosed in the reference for a problem solved by the reference. Which seems to be related to focus. It's common for a reference to have a laundry list of advantages, Here, that list did include an advantage – wear-resistance – that overlapped with an advantage of the invention – corrosion protection. But as suggested by the title ("Non-fogging article and process for the production thereof"), the problem solved by the reference was not susceptibility to wear, but fogging. Kudos to the Applicant for honing in on this winning argument.