Court Faults Patent Office Obviousness Logic in Polaris ATV Fight

Some of Polaris Industries Inc.’s all-terrain vehicle patent claims were wrongfully invalidated in a challenge by Arctic Cat Inc., the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit said today.

The Patent Trial and Appeal Board, the PTO body that decides validity challenges, said the claims were obvious in light of a combination of two earlier patents, but its reasoning had no basis in caselaw, the court said.

One of the earlier patents, which the court called “Denney” after the inventor, described an ATV frame with a low center of gravity. The other, the Furuhashi patent, described a buggy with a fuel tank underneath the driver’s seat. Polaris’s patent claims, which cover an ATV with a low center of gravity and various components under the seats, are obvious when Furuhashi and Denney are combined, the PTAB said.

The PTAB made a mistake rejecting Polaris’s argument that there was no motivation to combine the two earlier patents, the Federal Circuit said. Furuhashi’s approach of putting a fuel tank beneath the seat would raise the vehicle’s center of gravity, and is incompatible with the Denney patent’s goal of having a low center of gravity, Polaris said.

Denney’s stated desire for a low center of gravity was just one of several “subjective preferences,” so it didn’t discourage-or teach away the Furuhashi approach of putting components under the seats, the PTAB said, rejecting Polaris’s argument.

The Federal Circuit vacated the PTAB ruling and ordered it to review the claims again. The PTAB’s dismissal of the teaching away argument as “subjective preferences” is not supported by the law, and improperly disregards the prior inventions, the court said.

Polaris Indus., Inc. v. Arctic Cat, Inc., Fed. Cir., No. 16-1807, 2/9/18