Obviousness Reversal Rates Across Tech Centers: Unexpected Results

Obviousness is by far the most common rejection that gets appealed to the Board. This particular ground of rejection does not draw attention for being reversed at the low end or on the high end. Over the past year and a half, the 12,000 obviousness decisions were wholly reversed about a third (34%) of the time. And 43% of the appeals are at least partially reversed. One might expect these rates to be uniform across tech centers. They are not.

Here is a detailed breakdown of the appeals across tech centers.

Tech Center 1600 1700 2100 2400 2600 2800 3600 3700 total
Reversed 251 558 375 436 360 291 858 1000 4166
At least partial reversed 71 135 120 161 132 48 210 308 1205
Affirmed 649 1143 901 916 857 414 885 935 6796
Total 985 1876 1423 1536 1374 763 1973 2299 12397
Reversal rate 25% 30% 26% 28% 26% 38% 43% 43% 34%
At least partial reversal rate 33% 37% 35% 39% 36% 44% 54% 57% 43%

For appeals in tech center 1600, pharma/biotech, the reversal rate is the lowest. Only a quarter of such appeals are wholly reversed and only a third are at least partially reversed. The chemical arts of tech center 1700 are only slightly better.

Next, tech centers 2100, 2400, 2600 and 2800 comprise computer and electrical art. These are reversed at a higher rate than the biotech and chemical tech centers, with tech center 2800 being the most overturned of the bunch.

Next, tech center 3600, which is predominately software/business methods, has a much higher reversal rate than average. That is, 43% of these appeals are wholly reversed and 54% are at least partially reversed.

Next, tech center 3700, which is home to mechanical and medical device technology also has a much higher reversal rate than average. That is, 43% of these appeals are wholly reversed and 57% are at least partially reversed.

obviousness

It is interesting that the biotech/pharma and chemical tech centers are lower than the average reversal rates. It is also interesting that the software/business methods and mechanical/medical device tech centers are reversed at a higher rate than average.

Why are some tech center reversal rates higher than others? For obviousness, this is no simple inquiry and instead requires considerable context. It starts with how strong is the Examiner’s rejection. Some fields are more crowded than others, making it easier for an Examiner to find prior art that would show obviousness. The Board panel that decides these appeals are technically trained in the technology center that they decide cases. They evaluate the legal and factual merits of the appeal. And theoretically, the Board will objectively evaluate each appeal equally. So for some tech centers where the reversal rates are low, this may signal that Examiner rejections are stronger than tech centers where the reversal rates are high.

Another reason relates to how “well” do the appeal conference examiners forward to the Board. The examiner conferences serve as a gatekeeper by reopening prosecution or even issuing a Notice of Allowance for bad rejections. But if these examiner conferences forward these bad rejections to the Board more than others, then the reversal rate goes up.

A third reason relates to the judges not being completely neutral in their decision-making. Instead, some judges may lean toward the Examiner while others may lean toward the appellant.  The more the judges lean toward Examiners, the lower the reversal rate; the more the judges lean toward appellants, the higher the reversal rate.

Next, some technology centers may be made of aggressive applicants who may want to stretch the claim coverage into the gray area of what their applications deserve. Many applications that seek to cover pioneering technology will understandably be ambitious in its scope. Other applicants may be more interested in adding another number to their patent arsenals.

These less ambitious applicants may be less interested in broad claims and appeal only at a significant impasse with the Examiner or with a particularly unreasonable rejection. The collective aggressiveness of applicants could affect the reversal rate within a tech center.

Anticipat provides the proper context to make sense of how likely it is for an application to succeed on appeal, say, if faced an obviousness rejection. With Anticpat Research, you can quickly identify those applicants in your art unit or tech center to provide a holistic context to the reversal rate numbers. Also with practitioner analytics, you can now input a customer number to see how often a particular applicant succeeds on appeal. Comparing apples to apples takes away the unexpected and instead gives you power to incorporate the statistics into powerfully guiding your prosecution strategy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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