enabling disclosure; burden of proof : CAFC Alert

If it cannot be made, it does not exist!

| May 11, 2021

Raytheon Technologies Corp. v. General Electric Co. (Fed. Cir. 2021)

Decided on April 16, 2021

Lourie, Hughes, and Chen (author).


“A typical obviousness inquiry often turns on whether an asserted prior art reference teaches a particular disputed claim limitation or whether a skilled artisan would have been motivation at the time of the invention to combine the teachings of difference references.” In this case, the court tackled the question of enabling disclosure in the prior art reference, and what is required.

Raytheon owned U.S. Patent 9,695,751 (herein ‘751) directed to gas turbine engines. Raytheon appealed a final inter partes review decision of the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (the Board) finding claims 3 and 16 where unpatentable as obvious in view of the reference Knip. Claims 3 and 16 where the only pending claims after Raytheon disclaimed all other claims cited in the inter partes review.

“[T]he ‘751 patent generally claims a geared gas turbine engine with two turbines and a specific number of fan blades and turbine rotors and/or stages.”  Further, the “key distinguishing feature of the claims is the recitation of a power density range that the patent describes as being ‘much higher than in the prior art.'”  

Knip is a 1987 NASA technical memorandum that envisions superior performance characteristics for an imagined “advanced [turbofan] engine” “incorporating all composite materials.” Such a construction was undisputedly unattainable at that time, [but] an imagined application of these “revolutionary” composite materials to a turbofan engine allowed the author of Knip to assume aggressive performance parameters for an “advanced” engine including then-unachievable pressure ratios and turbine temperatures.” Although the reference discloses numerous performance parameters, it did not explicitly disclose SLTO thrust, turbine volume or power density as per the ‘751 patent. (SLTO = Sea Level Takeoff).

 The Board ultimately found Knip rendered obvious the ‘751 patent because “it provided enough information to allow a skilled artisan to “determine a power density as defined in claim 1, and within the range proscribed in claim 1.” (Claim 3 was a dependent claim incorporating all limitation of claim 1; claim 16 depended on claim 15 which included the same argued limitations as claim 1).  

The CAFC found that the PTAB erred by focusing on whether Knip enables a skilled artisan to calculate the power density of Knip’s contemplated “futuristic engine,” rather than considering “whether Knip enabled a skilled artisan to make and use the claimed invention.”

Specifically, “[i]n general, a prior art reference asserted under §103 does not necessarily have to enable its own disclosure, i.e., be ‘self-enabling,’ to be relevant to the obviousness inquiry.”  That is, “a reference that does not provide an enabling disclosure for a particular claim limitation may nonetheless furnish the motivation to combine, and be combined with, another reference in which that limitation is enabled.”  Thus, “[I]n the absence of such other supporting evidence to enable a skilled artisan to make the claimed invention, a standalone §103 reference must enable the portions of its disclosure being relied upon” This is “the same standard applied to anticipatory references.”

Here, the sole reference was Knip, and so the CAFC emphasized the question as being whether Knip enables the claimed invention not whether a skilled artisan “is provided with sufficient parameters in Knip to determine, without undue experimentation, a power density” as per the Boards focus. That CAFC noted that this position could have carried weight “if GE had presented other evidence to establish that a skilled artisan could have made the claimed turbofan engine with the recited power density. But no such other evidence was presented.”

Therefore, according to the CAFC, “Knip’s self-enablement (or lack thereof) is not only relevant to the enablement analysis, in this case it is dispositive.”

The CAFC discussed GE’s expert testimony finding it to be lacking, because its expert constructed “a computer model simulation of Knip’s imagined engine” rather than “suggesting that a skilled artisan could have actually built such an engine.” In contrast, Raytheon’s expert presented unrebutted evidence of non-enablement… detailing the unavailability of the revolutionary composite material contemplated by Knip.” 

Lastly, GE had argued that a skilled artisan could achieve the claimed power density by optimizing Knip’s engine. The Board had affirmed this on the basis of “result-effective variable.” That CAFC rejected this, stating that “[i]f a skilled artisan cannot make Knip’s engine, a skilled artisan necessarily cannot optimize its power density.”

Accordingly, the CAFC reversed the PTAB’s finding.


  • “[I]f an obviousness case is based on a non-self-enabled reference, and no other prior art reference or evidence would have enabled a skilled artisan to make the claimed invention, then the invention cannot be said to have been obvious.”
  • If a single reference is used in a 103 rejection, and that single reference is non-self enabling, then allegations of optimization by the PTO is improper. That is, “if a skilled artisan cannot make..[it], a skilled artisan necessarily cannot optimize it…”

Non-enabling disclosure by first inventor of low defect single crystal was sufficient to defeat under 102(g) patent claim of subsequent inventor

| December 12, 2012

The Fox Group, Inc. v. Cree, Inc.

November 28, 2012

Panel:  Newman, O’Malley, and Wallach.  Opinion by Wallach.  Dissent by O’Malley.


 (1)   Summary judgment in favor of defendant was affirmed with respect to asserted claims because (a) defendant was first to reduce to practice the claimed SiC single crystal, and (2) plaintiff did not produce sufficient evidence raising genuine issue of material fact to show that defendant suppressed or concealed the invention.

 (2)   Holding that unasserted claims were invalid was vacated.
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