The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit vacated and remanded a Patent Trial & Appeal Board decision invalidating a patent, finding that the Board erred in assessing nexus and weight to be accorded to objective evidence of nonobviousness. Volvo Penta of the Americas, LLC v. Brunswick Corp., Case No. 22-1765 (Fed. Cir. Aug. 24, 2023) (Moore, Lourie, Cunningham, JJ.)
Volvo Penta owns a patent directed to a tractor-type stern drive for a boat. A stern drive is a type of engine that is mounted in the hull of a boat and connected to a drive unit mounted outside of the hull, typically on the stern. In the industry, this arrangement is often referred to as an inboard/outboard drive. In 2015, Volvo Penta launched its commercial embodiment of the patent called the Forward Drive and was popular particularly for wake surfing and other water sports. The Forward Drive included forward-facing propellers that increased the distance between the propeller and swimmers or surfers compared to prior pulling-type stern drive boats.
In August 2020, Brunswick launched its own drive, the Bravo Four S, which embodies Volvo Penta’s patent. On that same day, Brunswick filed a petition for inter partes review asserting that the challenged claims were anticipated or obvious based on several references, two of which were Kiekhaefer and Brandt. In response, Volvo Penta argued that a person of ordinary skill in the art would not have been motivated to combine Kiekhaefer and Brandt with a reasonable expectation of success and that the objective indicia of nonobviousness overcame any prima facie case of obviousness. In support, Volvo Penta offered evidence of copying, industry praise, commercial success, skepticism, failure of others and long-felt but unsolved need. Volvo Penta also argued that it was entitled to a presumption of nexus between the objective indicia and the claimed invention, and, even if there was no presumption, there was still nexus.
The Board found that Kiekhaefer did not anticipate the challenged claims, but it would have been obvious to redesign the stern drive of Brandt in light of Kiekhaefer’s outboard motor to arrive at the challenged claims. After finding a motivation to combine (and prima facie obviousness), the Board turned to Volvo Penta’s objective evidence of nonobviousness. The Board first determined that Volvo Penta was not entitled to a presumption of nexus because, even though the Forward Drive and Bravo Four S indisputably embody the challenged claims, Volvo Penta did not make sufficient arguments on coextensiveness. The Board also found that regardless of the presumption, Volvo Penta did not otherwise show nexus because it failed to identify the “unique characteristics” or “merits” of the claimed invention.
Despite finding no nexus, the Board still analyzed the objective evidence and concluded that Volvo Penta’s objective evidence weighed somewhat in favor of nonobviousness but that Brunswick’s strong evidence of obviousness outweighed the objective evidence. The Board therefore concluded that the challenged claims were unpatentable. Volvo Penta appealed.
Volvo Penta raised three primary arguments on appeal:
- The Board’s [...]