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KENNEDY, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Opinion of the Court


No. 04–1350



[April 30, 2007]
JUSTICE KENNEDY delivered the opinion of the Court.

Teleflex Incorporated and its subsidiary Technology Holding Company—both referred to here as Teleflex—sued KSR International Company for patent infringement. The patent at issue, United States Patent No. 6,237,565B1, is entitled “Adjustable Pedal Assembly With Electronic Throttle Control.” Supplemental App. 1. The patentee is Steven J. Engelgau, and the patent is referred to as “the Engelgau patent.” Teleflex holds the exclusive license to the patent.

Claim 4 of the Engelgau patent describes a mechanism for combining an electronic sensor with an adjustable automobile pedal so the pedal’s position can be transmitted to a computer that controls the throttle in the vehicle’s engine. When Teleflex accused KSR of infringing the Engelgau patent by adding an electronic sensor to one of KSR’s previously designed pedals, KSR countered that claim 4 was invalid under the Patent Act, 35 U. S. C. §103, because its subject matter was obvious.

Section 103 forbids issuance of a patent when “thedifferences between the subject matter sought to be patented and the prior art are such that the subject matter as a whole would have been obvious at the time the invention was made to a person having ordinary skill in the art to which said subject matter pertains.”

In Graham v. John Deere Co. of Kansas City, 383 U. S. 1 (1966), the Court set out a framework for applying the statutory language of §103, language itself based on the logic of the earlier decision in Hotchkiss v. Greenwood, 11 How. 248 (1851), and its progeny. See 383 U. S., at 15–17. The analysis is objective:

“Under §103, the scope and content of the prior art are to be determined; differences between the prior art and the claims at issue are to be ascertained; and the level of ordinary skill in the pertinent art resolved. Against this background the obviousness or nonobviousness of the subject matter is determined. Such secondary considerations as commercial success, long felt but unsolved needs, failure of others, etc., might be utilized to give light to the circumstances surrounding the origin of the subject matter sought to be patented.” Id., at 17–18.

While the sequence of these questions might be reordered in any particular case, the factors continue to define the inquiry that controls. If a court, or patent examiner conducts this analysis and concludes the claimed subject matter was obvious, the claim is invalid under §103.

Seeking to resolve the question of obviousness with more uniformity and consistency, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has employed an approach referred to by the parties as the “teaching, suggestion, or motivation ”test (TSM test), under which a patent claim is only proved obvious if “some motivation or suggestion to combine the prior art teachings” can be found in the prior art, the nature of the problem, or the knowledge of a person having ordinary skill in the art. See, e.g., Al-Site Corp. v. VSI Int’l, Inc., 174 F. 3d 1308, 1323–1324 (CA Fed. 1999). KSR challenges that test, or at least its application in this case. See 119 Fed. Appx. 282, 286–290 (CA Fed. 2005). Because the Court of Appeals addressed the question of obviousness in a manner contrary to §103 and our precedents, we granted certiorari, 547 U. S ___(2006). We now reverse. Next Page ->


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