The question is often asked: Hey, can I get a patent if I am mixing together known materials?
The answer is typically "no", unless there are unexpected results. What are "unexpected results"?
From the Manual of Patent Examining Procedure (MPEP):
716.02(a) Evidence Must Show Unexpected ResultI. GREATER THAN EXPECTED RESULTS ARE EVIDENCE OF NONOBVIOUSNESS
“A greater than expected result is an evidentiary factor pertinent to the legal conclusion of obviousness ... of the claims at issue.” In re Corkill, 711 F.2d 1496, 226 USPQ 1005 (Fed. Cir. 1985). In Corkhill, the claimed combination showed an additive result when a diminished result would have been expected. This result was persuasive of nonobviousness even though the result was equal to that of one component alone. Evidence of a greater than expected result may also be shown by demonstrating an effect which is greater than the sum of each of the effects taken separately (i.e., demonstrating “synergism”). Merck & Co. Inc. v. Biocraft Laboratories Inc., 874 F.2d 804, 10 USPQ2d 1843 (Fed. Cir.), cert. denied, 493 U.S. 975 (1989). However, a greater than additive effect is not necessarily sufficient to overcome a prima facie case of obviousness because such an effect can either be expected or unexpected. Applicants must further show that the results were greater than those which would have been expected from the prior art to an unobvious extent, and that the results are of a significant, practical advantage. Ex parte The NutraSweet Co., 19 USPQ2d 1586 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1991) (Evidence showing greater than additive sweetness resulting from the claimed mixture of saccharin and L-aspartyl-L-phenylalanine was not sufficient to outweigh the evidence of obviousness because the teachings of the prior art lead to a general expectation of greater than additive sweetening effects when using mixtures of synthetic sweeteners.).II.SUPERIORITY OF A PROPERTY SHARED WITH THE PRIOR ART IS EVIDENCE OF NONOBVIOUSNESS
Evidence of unobvious or unexpected advantageous properties, such as superiority in a property the claimed compound shares with the prior art, can rebut prima facie obviousness. “Evidence that a compound is unexpectedly superior in one of a spectrum of common properties . . . can be enough to rebut a prima facie case of obviousness.” No set number of examples of superiority is required. In re Chupp, 816 F.2d 643, 646, 2 USPQ2d 1437, 1439 (Fed. Cir. 1987) (Evidence showing that the claimed herbicidal compound was more effective than the closest prior art compound in controlling quackgrass and yellow nutsedge weeds in corn and soybean crops was sufficient to overcome the rejection under 35 U.S.C. 103, even though the specification indicated the claimed compound was an average performer on crops other than corn and soybean.). See also Ex parte A, 17 USPQ2d 1716 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1990) (unexpected superior therapeutic activity of claimed compound against anaerobic bacteria was sufficient to rebut prima facie obviousness even though there was no evidence that the compound was effective against all bacteria).III.PRESENCE OF AN UNEXPECTED PROPERTY IS EVIDENCE OF NONOBVIOUSNESS
Presence of a property not possessed by the prior art is evidence of nonobviousness. In re Papesch, 315 F.2d 381, 137 USPQ 43 (CCPA 1963) (rejection of claims to compound structurally similar to the prior art compound was reversed because claimed compound unexpectedly possessed anti-inflammatory properties not possessed by the prior art compound); Ex parte Thumm, 132 USPQ 66 (Bd. App. 1961) (Appellant showed that the claimed range of ethylene diamine was effective for the purpose of producing “‘regenerated cellulose consisting substantially entirely of skin’” whereas the prior art warned “this compound has ‘practically no effect.’ ”). The submission of evidence that a new product possesses unexpected properties does not necessarily require a conclusion that the claimed invention is nonobvious. In re Payne, 606 F.2d 303, 203 USPQ 245 (CCPA 1979). See the discussion of latent properties and additional advantages in MPEP § 2145.IV.ABSENCE OF AN EXPECTED PROPERTY IS EVIDENCE OF NONOBVIOUSNESS
Absence of property which a claimed invention would have been expected to possess based on the teachings of the prior art is evidence of unobviousness. Ex parte Mead Johnson & Co., 227 USPQ 78 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1985) (Based on prior art disclosures, claimed compounds would have been expected to possess beta-andrenergic blocking activity; the fact that claimed compounds did not possess such activity was an unexpected result sufficient to establish unobviousness within the meaning of 35 U.S.C. 103.).