In considering evidence of commercial success, care should be taken to determine that the commercial success alleged is directly derived from the invention claimed, in a marketplace where the consumer is free to choose on the basis of objective principles, and that such success is not the result of heavy promotion or advertising, shift in advertising, consumption by purchasers normally tied to applicant or assignee, or other business events extraneous to the merits of the claimed invention, etc. In re Mageli, 470 F.2d 1380, 176 USPQ 305 (CCPA 1973) (conclusory statements or opinions that increased sales were due to the merits of the invention are entitled to little weight); In re Noznick, 478 F.2d 1260, 178 USPQ 43 (CCPA 1973).
In ex parte proceedings before the Patent and Trademark Office, an applicant must show that the claimed features were responsible for the commercial success of an article if the evidence of nonobviousness is to be accorded substantial weight. See In re Huang, 100 F.3d 135, 140, 40 USPQ2d 1685, 1690 (Fed. Cir. 1996) (Inventor’s opinion as to the purchaser’s reason for buying the product is insufficient to demonstrate a nexus between the sales and the claimed invention.). Merely showing that there was commercial success of an article which embodied the invention is not sufficient. Ex parte Remark, 15 USPQ2d 1498, 1502-02 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1990). Compare Demaco Corp. v. F. Von Langsdorff Licensing Ltd., 851 F.2d 1387, 7 USPQ2d 1222 (Fed. Cir. 1988) (In civil litigation, a patentee does not have to prove that the commercial success is not due to other factors. “A requirement for proof of the negative of all imaginable contributing factors would be unfairly burdensome, and contrary to the ordinary rules of evidence.”).
See also Pentec, Inc. v. Graphic Controls Corp., 776 F.2d 309, 227 USPQ 766 (Fed. Cir. 1985) (commercial success may have been attributable to extensive advertising and position as a market leader before the introduction of the patented product); In re Fielder, 471 F.2d 690, 176 USPQ 300 (CCPA 1973) (success of invention could be due to recent changes in related technology or consumer demand; here success of claimed voting ballot could be due to the contemporary drive toward greater use of automated data processing techniques); EWP Corp. v. Reliance Universal, Inc., 755 F.2d 898, 225 USPQ 20 (Fed. Cir. 1985) (evidence of licensing is a secondary consideration which must be carefully appraised as to its evidentiary value because licensing programs may succeed for reasons unrelated to the unobviousness of the product or process, e.g., license is mutually beneficial or less expensive than defending infringement suits); Hybritech Inc. v. Monoclonal Antibodies, Inc., 802 F.2d 1367, 231 USPQ 81 (Fed. Cir. 1986) (Evidence of commercial success supported a conclusion of nonobviousness of claims to an immunometric “sandwich” assay with monoclonal antibodies. Patentee’s assays became a market leader with 25% of the market within a few years. Evidence of advertising did not show absence of a nexus between commercial success and the merits of the claimed invention because spending 25-35% of sales on marketing was not inordinate (mature companies spent 17-32% of sales in this market), and advertising served primarily to make industry aware of the product because this is not kind of merchandise that can be sold by advertising hyperbole.).
II. COMMERCIAL SUCCESS MUST FLOW FROM THE FUNCTIONS AND ADVANTAGES DISCLOSED OR INHERENT IN THE SPECIFICATION DESCRIPTION
To be pertinent to the issue of nonobviousness, the commercial success of devices falling within the claims of the patent must flow from the functions and advantages disclosed or inherent in the description in the specification. Furthermore, the success of an embodiment within the claims may not be attributable to improvements or modifications made by others. In re Vamco Machine & Tool, Inc., 752 F.2d 1564, 224 USPQ 617 (Fed. Cir. 1985). See also Merck & Cie v. Gnosis S.P.A., 808 F.3d 829, 833, 117 USPQ2d 1393, 1399 (Fed Cir. 2015), cert. denied, 137 S. Ct. 297 (2016) (commercial success resulted from a “unique combination” of ingredients, a synergistic interaction of components, or a specific combination of specific forms of B-vitamins and other active ingredients, rather than from the claimed method of “using L-5-MTHF and ‘at least one B-vitamin’”).
III. IN DESIGN CASES, ESTABLISHMENT OF NEXUS IS ESPECIALLY DIFFICULT
Establishing a nexus between commercial success and the claimed invention is especially difficult in design cases. Evidence of commercial success must be clearly attributable to the design to be of probative value, and not to brand name recognition, improved performance, or some other factor. Litton Systems, Inc. v. Whirlpool Corp., 728 F.2d 1423, 221 USPQ 97 (Fed. Cir. 1984) (showing of commercial success was not accompanied by evidence attributing commercial success of Litton microwave oven to the design thereof).
IV. SALES FIGURES MUST BE ADEQUATELY DEFINED
Gross sales figures do not show commercial success absent evidence as to market share, Cable Electric Products, Inc. v. Genmark, Inc., 770 F.2d 1015, 226 USPQ 881 (Fed. Cir. 1985), or as to the time period during which the product was sold, or as to what sales would normally be expected in the market, Ex parte Standish, 10 USPQ2d 1454 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1988).