Last week, the Federal Circuit issued a rather interesting opinion in In re Klein, No. 2010-1411, reversing the Patent Office’s rejection of a hummingbird nectar mixer based on non-analogous art. The Court found that the five references were inappropriately used by the Patent Office because they were not analogous art and therefore not prior art under § 103.
What makes this case interesting is the fact that the invention in question, basically a cup with a moveable divider in it, is such a simple device. Under KSR, one would expect that such a simple mechanical device would be particularly vulnerable to obviousness challenges. In addition, the patentee included a purpose clause in his preamble, which many practitioners now avoid. By doing so though, it turned out to narrow the scope of his claim and protect him from the art cited against him by the Patent Office.
Mr. Klein applied for a patent on a device for mixing nectar for hummingbirds, orioles, and butterflies. The device (shown below) is basically a cup with a moveable divider. One side is filled with water, and the other with sugar. By moving the divider, the ratio of water to sugar changes creating nectars better suited for different animals.
The only independent claim recited:
21. A convenience nectar mixing device for use in preparation of sugar-water nectar for feeding hummingbirds, orioles or butterflies, said device comprising:
a container that is adapted to receive water,
receiving means fixed to said container, and
a divider movably held by said receiving means for forming a compartment within said container, wherein said compartment has a volume that is proportionately less than a volume of said container, by a ratio established for the formulation of sugar-water nectar for humming-birds, orioles or butterflies, wherein said compartment is adapted to receive sugar, and wherein removal of said divider from said receiving means allows mixing of said sugar and water to occur to provide said sugar-water nectar.
The particular nectar ratios used were admittedly well-known and not novel.
Only Analogous Art Can Be Used Under § 103 for Obviousness Determinations
The Court noted that “[a] reference qualifies as prior art for an obviousness determination under § 103 only when it is analogous to the claimed invention.” There are two separate tests for determining what defines the scope of analogous art:
- “whether the art is from the same field of endeavor, regardless of the problem addressed” and,
- “if the reference is not within the field of the inventor’s endeavor, whether the reference still is reasonably pertinent to the particular problem with which the inventor is involved.”
The issue in this case was the second test—what is reasonably pertinent to the particular problem—because the cited references were clearly not in the same field of endeavor.