716.01(b) Nexus Requirement and Evidence of Nonobviousness [R-07.2022]


The weight attached to evidence of secondary considerations by the examiner will depend upon its relevance to the issue of obviousness and the amount and nature of the evidence. Note the great reliance apparently placed on this type of evidence by the Supreme Court in upholding the patent in United States v. Adams, 383 U.S. 39,148 USPQ 479 (1966).

To be given substantial weight in the determination of obviousness or nonobviousness, evidence of secondary considerations must be relevant to the subject matter as claimed, and therefore the examiner must determine whether there is a nexus between the merits of the claimed invention and the evidence of secondary considerations. Ashland Oil, Inc. v. Delta Resins & Refractories, Inc., 776 F.2d 281, 305 n.42, 227 USPQ 657, 673-674 n. 42 (Fed. Cir. 1985), cert. denied, 475 U.S. 1017 (1986). The term “nexus” designates a factually and legally sufficient connection between the objective evidence of nonobviousness and the claimed invention so that the evidence is of probative value in the determination of nonobviousness. Demaco Corp. v. F. Von Langsdorff Licensing Ltd., 851 F.2d 1387, 7 USPQ2d 1222 (Fed. Cir.), cert. denied, 488 U.S. 956 (1988).

Nexus is presumed when the asserted objective evidence of record is tied to a certain product and that product includes the claimed features, and is coextensive with them. Fox Factory, Inc. v. SRAM, LLC, 944 F.3d 1366, 1373, 2019 USPQ2d 483355 (Fed. Cir. 2019), cert. denied, 141 S.Ct. 373 (2020). “[T]he purpose of the coextensiveness requirement is to ensure that nexus is only presumed when the product tied to the evidence of secondary considerations ‘is the invention disclosed and claimed.'” Id. at 1374 (quoting Demaco Corp. v. F. Von Langsdorff Licensing Ltd., 851 F.2d 1387, 1392, 7 USPQ2d 1222, 1226 (Fed. Cir. 1988)). “[T]he degree of correspondence between a product and the patent claim falls along a spectrum. At one end of the spectrum lies perfect or near perfect correspondence. At the other end lies no or very little correspondence.” Id. “A patent claim is not coextensive with a product that includes a ‘critical’ unclaimed feature that is claimed by a different patent and that materially impacts the product’s functionality.” Id. at 1375.

Even if there is no presumption of nexus, the consideration of the rebuttal evidence does not end. “To the contrary, the patent owner is still afforded an opportunity to prove nexus by showing that the evidence of secondary considerations is the ‘direct result of the unique characteristics of the claimed invention.'” Id. at 1373-74 (quoting In re Huang, 100 F.3d 135, 140, 40 USPQ2d 1685, 1689 (Fed. Cir. 1996)). “Where the offered secondary consideration actually results from something other than what is both claimed and novel in the claim, there is no nexus to the merits of the claimed invention,” meaning that “there must be a nexus to some aspect of the claim not already in the prior art.” In re Kao, 639 F.3d 1057, 1068-69, 98 USPQ2d 1799, 1808 (Fed. Cir. 2011) (emphasis in original). On the other hand, there is no requirement that “objective evidence must be tied exclusively to claim elements that are not disclosed in a particular prior art reference in order for that evidence to carry substantial weight.” WBIP, LLC v. Kohler Co., 829 F.3d 1317, 1331, 119 USPQ2d 1301, 1308 (Fed. Cir. 2016). A patent owner may show, for example, “that it is the claimed combination as a whole that serves as a nexus for the objective evidence; proof of nexus is not limited to only when objective evidence is tied to the supposedly ‘new’ feature(s).” 639 F.3d at 1330. Ultimately, the fact finder must weigh the secondary considerations evidence presented in the context of whether the claimed invention as a whole would have been obvious to a skilled artisan. 639 F.3d at 1331-32. Fox Factory, Inc. v. SRAM, LLC, 813 Fed. Appx. 539, 542-43, 2020 USPQ2d 10546 (Fed. Cir. 2020) (the record has substantial evidence to support nexus and nonobviousness based on secondary considerations regarding industry skepticism and subsequent praise and long-felt need because it was shown that the underlying product’s success was attributed to the allegedly obvious claim feature). Campbell Soup Co. v. Gamon Plus, Inc., 10 F.4th 1268, 1279, 2021 USPQ2d 875 (Fed. Cir. 2021) (internal quotation marks omitted) (“[T]he obviousness analysis involves determining whether ‘the claimed invention as a whole would have been obvious[]’ (quoting 35 U.S.C. 103)[], and yet we still require a link to the claimed invention’s unique characteristics in that context. We therefore hold that, as in the utility patent context, objective indicia must be linked to a design patent claim’s unique characteristics.”). See also Teva Pharms. Int’l GmbH v. Eli Lilly & Co., 8 F.4th 1349, 2021 USPQ2d 866 (Fed. Cir. 2021).

“Where the offered secondary consideration actually results from something other than what is both claimed and novel in the claim, there is no nexus to the merits of the claimed invention.” In re Kao, 639 F.3d 1057, 1068 (Fed. Cir. 2011); see also Tokai Corp. v. Easton Enters., Inc., 632 F.3d 1358, 1369 (Fed. Cir. 2011) (“If commercial success is due to an element in the prior art, no nexus exists.”); Ormco Corp. v. Align Tech., Inc., 463 F.3d 1299, 1312 (2006) (“[I]f the feature that creates the commercial success was known in the prior art, the success is not pertinent.”). In evaluating whether the requisite nexus exists, the identified objective indicia must be directed to what was not known in the prior art, including patents and publications, which may well be the novel combination or arrangement of known individual elements. See KSR Int’l Co. v. Teleflex Inc., 550 U.S. 398, 418–19 (2007); Veritas Techs. LLC v. Veeam Software Corp., 835 F.3d 1406, 1414-15 (Fed. Cir. 2016).