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Game Over: Obviousness Can Be Based on a Single Prior Art Reference

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) obviousness decision, finding that obviousness can be based on a single prior art reference if modifying that prior art reference is found to be obvious. Game and Technology Co., Ltd. v. Activision Blizzard Inc., Case No. 18-1981 (Fed. Cir., June 21, 2019) (Wallach, J).

Game and Technology (GAT) owns a patent directed to a method for generating a “gamvatar” by combining game items with layers of an avatar in online games. Activision Blizzard and Riot Games sought and were granted inter partes review of the patent. During the proceeding, the PTAB construed the term “gamvatar” to be a combination of an avatar with a game item function, and construed the term “layers” to mean display regions. The PTAB issued a final written decision finding the challenged claims obvious based on a user manual for a video game called Diablo II. GAT appealed.

On appeal, GAT argued that the PTAB erred in construing the terms “gamvatar” and “layers,” and further argued that the PTAB erred in its determination that the claimed method would have been obvious over the Diablo II manual.

Addressing claim construction, GAT argued that the PTAB’s construction of “gamvatar” was broader than the broadest reasonable interpretation BRI, and argued that “gamvatar” should mean “concurrently usable online and in the game.” The Federal Circuit rejected GAT’s argument, finding that the PTAB did not err in construing the term “gamvatar” because the claims and specification both showed that “gamvatar” is a combination of an avatar with a game item function and is not limited to “concurrently useable online and in the game.” As to the term “layers,” GAT argued that the term should be construed as regions for displaying graphical objects where the layers are displayed on the avatar. The Court disagreed, finding that the claim and the specification supported the PTAB’s construction of the term “layers” to mean display regions.

Turning to obviousness, GAT argued that the PTAB erred in using the user manual to find obviousness because a “a single reference . . . cannot support obviousness.” The Federal Circuit rejected GAT’s argument as a matter of law, finding that a patent can be obvious based on a single prior art reference if it would have been obvious to modify the reference to arrive at the claims invention. Applying that standard here, the Federal Circuit found that the PTAB did not err in its obviousness decision because the PTAB’s finding that the Diablo II manual teaches the “gamvatar” and the “layers” limitations was supported by substantial evidence.

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About this Author

Yoshiko Ito Patent Agent McDermott Will & Emery Law Firm
Patent Agent

Yoshiko Ito is a patent agent in our Orange County office. Yoshiko’s practice focuses on US and international patent prosecution matters, patentability and infringement studies, developing offensive and defensive competitive strategies, and due diligence associated with financing and acquisitions.

Yoshiko represents clients in a variety of technologies, including medical technologies such as ophthalmic diagnostic devices and imaging devices, computer software for medical imaging devices,  mechanical and electro-mechanical devices and systems, wearable technologies, mobile device...