A federal appeals court handed a win to Smith & Nephew (FTSE:SN, NYSE:SNN) in its patent battle with Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) subsidiary Synthes, overturning a decision by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office that a Synthes-owned patent for a bone plate is valid.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, in a rare decision to go against the patent office’s appeals board, ruled that claims in the so-called ‘744 patent would have been obvious to a person skilled in the art – namely, an orthopedic surgeon with 2 years’ experience implanting plates to fix fractures in long bones like the femur.
"While the ‘substantial evidence’ standard of review for the [patent office appeals board’s] factual findings makes Smith & Nephew’s burden on appeal a heavy one, we are satisfied, after careful review, that Smith & Nephew has met that burden and has shown that the claims at issue would have been obvious," wrote Judge William Bryson, according to court documents.
The patent dispute centered around an appeal by Smith & Nephew of the patent appeals board decision to overturn a patent examiner’s ruling that claims in the ‘744 patent were obvious, making the patent invalid. At issue was the structure of screws and screw holes used in the bone plate, according to court documents.
"The patentability of the invention at issue in this case turns on the structure of the holes, not the special nature of the non-locking screw that is to be used with those holes. The conical, partially threaded holes themselves were well known in the art, as was the advantage of adding more of them to the head of a condylar bone plate in place of unthreaded holes. Both the screws and the holes perform their conventional, expected function in securing the plate. Because we hold that the examiner correctly ruled that disputed claims would have been obvious, we reverse the decision of the [patent office appeals board]," Bryson wrote, according to the documents.