Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Obviousness Analysis Need not Focus on the Inventive Concept

Tearlab Corporation v I-MED Pharma Inc 2019 FCA 179 de Montigny JA: Nadon, Gleason JJA aff’g 2018 FC 164 Manson J
            2,494,540 / TearLab System / i-Pen System

In the decision under appeal, Manson J held certain claims of TearLab’s ‘540 patent to be infringed, but invalid due to anticipation and obviousness: see here. On appeal, TearLab essentially just argued that Manson J had erred in his claim construction and in his conclusions, with the usual attempt to elevate these criticisms into an error of law, eg by arguing that Manson J had erred in how he had applied purposive construction on the facts [2], [36]. The FCA has dismissed the appeal, affirming Manson J’s holdings, either on the basis of the applicable deferential standard of review [27], or on the basis that Manson J’s conclusions were correct [80].

There are a few legal points of passing interest. In light of the uncertainty as to the nature of the “inventive concept” and its role in the obviousness inquiry, the recent FCA decisions have “downplayed the importance of the ‘inventive concept’ as an analytical tool in the context of an obviousness analysis,” and consequently it is not an error for the trial judge to focus on the claims rather than the inventive concept in the obviousness analysis [76]-[78].

Second, as discussed here, in Aux Sable 2019 FC 581 Southcott J held that the state of the art for the purposes of an obviousness attack includes all prior art, and not just that discoverable in a reasonably diligent search. In the TearLab appeal, TearLab argued that “the judge erred in not determining whether the prior art at issue was citable, ie whether it would have been located using a reasonably diligent search” [54]. The FCA dismissed this point on the basis that the relevant evidence was indeed discoverable [55]–[58], which implies that the reasonably diligent search test is indeed applicable. However, nothing much can be made of this, as the legal point does not appear to have been argued, and was not addressed by the FCA.

Third, on another point related to obviousness, TearLab argued that “the judge failed to take into account relevant secondary indicia of obviousness, such as the ‘long-felt want or need’” [67]. It is sometimes suggested that secondary evidence is necessarily substantively secondary to the “primary” evidence of expert witnesses who testify as to whether the invention would have been obvious to a POSITA: see eg Mölnlycke AB v Procter & Gamble Ltd [1994] RPC 49 (CA), 113. I have argued that this position is unsound; secondary evidence has both advantages and disadvantages as compared to the evidence of experts, and one or the other might be more persuasive on the particular facts of a case: see ‘“Secondary” Evidence of Obviousness is Not Secondary’ (2012) 28 CIPR 279 (draft version here); and various blog posts. The FCA dismissed TearLab’s argument, but not on the basis that secondary evidence is necessarily of lesser importance, rather because “the commercial success of a patented product is never conclusive, in and of itself, and is clearly not sufficient to save an obvious claim,” [68] and more specifically because

[69] to the extent the evidence of commercial success and industry praises put forward by the appellant related not to the invention disclosed in the patent itself, but rather to the TearLab System, and that no nexus was clearly shown between the two, it was irrelevant to the obviousness inquiry.

This illustrates one of the substantive limitations of commercial success, namely, for commercial success to be relevant, it must be shown that the success was due to the patented invention, and not to other aspects of the product embodying that invention.

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