2007年4月30日、非自明性(米国特許法第103条)に関する判断基準について争われていたKSR事件の最高裁判決が出されました。結論としては、大方の予想通り、CAFCの厳格な判断基準は否定されました。

CAFCは、「引用例の組み合わせによって本発明の非自明性を否定するためには、当該引用例に、構成要件を組み合わせる教示、示唆、動機(Teaching, Suggestion, Motivation:TSM)が示されていなければならない」とTSMテストを厳格に適用しました。

しかしながら、最高裁は、「引用例にTSMが示されていなくても、技術常識や市場ニーズ等を考慮して非自明性を否定することができる」とTSMテストを柔軟に適用しました。具体的には、裁判所は、以下の4点(判決文から抜粋)についてCAFCの判断を否定しました。

(1)The flaws in the Federal Circuit’s analysis relate mostly to its narrow conception of the obviousness inquiry consequent in its application of the TSM test. The Circuit first erred in holding that courts and patent examiners should look only to the problem the patenteewas trying to solve. Under the correct analysis, any need or problem known in the field and addressed by the patent can provide a reasonfor combining the elements in the manner claimed.

(2)Second, the appeals court erred in assuming that a person of ordinary skill in theart attempting to solve a problem will be led only to those prior artelements designed to solve the same problem. The court wronglyconcluded that because Asano’s primary purpose was solving the constant ratio problem, an inventor considering how to put a sensor on an adjustable pedal would have no reason to consider putting it on the Asano pedal. It is common sense that familiar items may have obvious uses beyond their primary purposes, and a person of ordinaryskill often will be able to fit the teachings of multiple patents together like pieces of a puzzle. Regardless of Asano’s primary purpose, it provided an obvious example of an adjustable pedal with afixed pivot point, and the prior art was replete with patents indicating that such a point was an ideal mount for a sensor.

(3)Third, the court erred in concluding that a patent claim cannot be proved obvious merely by showing that the combination of elements was obvious to try. When there is a design need or market pressure to solve a problem and there are a finite number of identified, predictable solutions, a person of ordinary skill in the art has good reason to pursue the known options within his or her technical grasp. If this leads to the anticipated success, it is likely the product not of innovation but of ordinary skill and common sense.

(4)Finally, the court drew thewrong conclusion from the risk of courts and patent examiners falling prey to hindsight bias. Rigid preventative rules that deny recourse to common sense are neither necessary under, nor consistent with, this Court’s case law. Pp. 15–18.

上記最高裁判決により、非自明性についての判断が今後厳しくなることが予想されます。すなわち、米国の非自明性の判断基準が日欧の進歩性の基準に近づいたとも言えるのではないでしょうか。

判決文の詳細については、下記URLをご覧下さい。

http://www.supremecourtus.gov/opinions/06pdf/04-1350.pdf

以上

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