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Truck Cargo Partition Patents are Obvious, Says Fed Circuit

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By Gabriella Khorasanee, JD on November 06, 2013 2:58 PM

When passing big rig trucks on the freeway, usually the only thing that comes to our mind is (1) please get out of the way; and (2) can we get them to honk like we did in grade school by gesturing to the drivers.

But, it appears, there are many designers who put much more thought into these trucks, and design patents for securing cargo within the containers the trucks haul around. On Monday, in what may be the most boring important case of the year, the Federal Circuit clarified a long dispute regarding cargo truck partitions.

U.S. Patent No. 7,214,017

FG Productions owns the patent for moveable partitions for separating cargo space in a shipping container, also known as U.S. Patent 7,214,017 ("'017"). Randall, FG's competitor sought inter partes reexamination, and the Patent Office's examiner rejected FG's patent claims on obviousness grounds, finding that '017 was merely a "combination of four prior-art references," and that "it would have been obvious to one of ordinary skill in the art to combine them."

On appeal, to the Patent Trial and Appeal Board, FG relied on the four prior-art references, and argued that "one of ordinary skill in the art would not have been motivated to combine the cited references." Randall countered by arguing that anyone with ordinary skill would have come up with the solutions found in '017. The Board reversed the Examiner's findings of obviousness.

Legal Analysis

The Federal Circuit reiterated the Supreme Court's rejection of a "rigid approach to determining obviousness" in KSR International Co. v. Teleflex, Inc. Instead, the Court adopted a "flexible and expansive" approach, which the Federal Circuit noted, requires considering common sense.

Here, the Federal Circuit found that it was prejudicial error for the Board to solely rely on the four prior-art references, without looking at them in context. The Federal Circuit noted the bevy of evidence that Randall provided to create a bigger picture in which to contextualize '017. Because the court found that '017 was nothing more than a "combination of familiar elements according to known methods," the Federal Circuit vacated the Board's rejection of the Examiner's findings of obviousness.

Repercussions

This case sends a message to the Patent Trial and Appeal Board that they must not be so rigid in the application of obviousness tests. Rather than just relying on prior-art references, it's up to the Board to examine the context, including common sense, to determine whether a person of ordinary skill would have come up with the modifications in question.

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