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In re Applied Materials, Inc.

Summarized by: 

Date Filed: 08-29-2012
Case #: 2011-1461, -1462, -1463, -1464
Linn, Newman, Clevenger
Full Text Opinion: http://www.cafc.uscourts.gov/images/stories/opinions-orders/11-1461-1462-1463-1464.pdf

Patents: Simple determination of optimum ranges for operation, and development of more comprehensive explanations of variable relationship based on broad ranges of prior art, does not qualify as non-obvious.

Opinion (Linn): Applied Materials, Inc. (“AMI”) appealed a PTO board decision denying their patent re-examination for obviousness. AMI manufactures pads for chemical-mechanical “planaring” during the semiconductor manufacturing process. Pads are rigid and etched with grooves of various width, height, and pitch to efficiently remove slurry and debris during use. The prior art from Weilding, Breivogel, and Talieh taught that varying groove size, shape, and pitch were “result-effective” parameters. AMI’s groove width claims overlapped each of the prior art teachings. AMI argued that because the prior art did not directly address the impact of each alteration of groove width, height, or depth, it could not lead, and thus, AMI’s optimization through trade-offs was inventive. Furthermore, AMI argued that the prior art taught larger grooves with a different profile. The Court of Appeals found that discovering optimum ranges by experimentation was not inventive; and just because AMI’s claim provided a more “comprehensive explication of the known relationships between variables,” the claim did not become non-obvious. The PTO’s decision was AFFIRMED.