Natalie A. Thomas


Secondary Considerations in Nonobviousness Analysis: The Use of Objective Indicia Following KSR v. Teleflex

Natalie A. Thomas

One of the basic requirements for patenting an invention is that the invention be
nonobvious. Following the Supreme Court’s decision in Graham v. John Deere,
secondary considerations—also known as objective indicia of nonobviousness—
have been considered when determining whether an invention is nonobvious. Secondary
considerations provide tangible evidence of the economic and motivational
issues relevant to the nonobviousness of an invention. Types of secondaryconsiderations
evidence include commercial success, long-felt but unmet need, and
copying by competitors. For many years, the Federal Circuit’s teaching, suggestion,
or motivation test often eliminated the need for the court to rely on secondary considerations
in the obviousness inquiry. Due to the Federal Circuit’s stringent application
of this test, the obviousness inquiry was generally resolved by examining the
prior art.
In 2007, the Supreme Court decided KSR v. Teleflex, which endorsed a flexible
obviousness analysis and rejected the Federal Circuit’s strict application of the
teaching, suggestion, or motivation test. Following KSR, scholars predicted that
secondary-considerations evidence would provide a critical tool for patentees
seeking to demonstrate the nonobviousness of an invention. Inspired by that prediction,
this Note evaluates how secondary-considerations evidence has been utilized
in the first few years post-KSR. It finds that the Federal Circuit has continued to
impose stringent relevancy requirements on the use of secondary-considerations
evidence, and that it remains difficult for patentees to employ secondary considerations
in favor of a nonobviousness conclusion. Specifically, secondaryconsiderations
evidence has not been used with much success outside of pharmaceutical
patent cases. More often than not, the Federal Circuit has summarily dismissed
secondary-considerations evidence as insufficient in cases involving
mechanical arts patents. This Note concludes by suggesting that the Federal
Circuit’s current practice for using secondary considerations should inform proposals
by scholars for industry-specific tailoring of the patent system and patent
law’s use of secondary considerations, and that the Federal Circuit should continue
to engage with secondary-considerations evidence in order to provide more guidance
to lower courts during the post-KSR transition period.