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Slim Cigarette Design Too Obvious to Be Patented
Description Appeals court upheld trial court decision that a patent held by a cigarette maker for cigarettes with a smaller circumference than standard cigarettes was invalid for obviousness. The design was obvious to one of ordinary skill in the art. Hence, there could be no claim of infringement.
Topic Intellectual Property
Key Words Patents; Infringement; Validity; Obviousness
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Most cigarettes have a circumference between 23-27 mm. Brown & Williamson Tobacco (B&W) obtained a patent in 1988 for thinner cigarettes, 10-19 mm, which use less tobacco, cost less to produce, and burn efficiently. B&W then marketed Capri-brand cigarettes with a circumference of 17 mm. Philip Morris (PM) later began to sell Virginia Slims SuperSlims cigarettes with a similar circumference. B&W sued PM for patent infringement. The district court held the patent to be invalid for obviousness. B&W appealed.
Decision Affirmed, so the infringement claim is moot. A showing of a suggestion, teaching, or motivation to combine prior art references, as required to find an invention obvious, must be clear and particular. Evidence may flow from the prior art references themselves, the knowledge of one of ordinary skill in the art, or, in some cases, from the nature of the problem to be solved. The determination that an invention is obvious does not require a predictability of success; all that is required is a reasonable expectation of success.
Citation Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. v. Philip Morris Inc., 229 F.3d 1120 (Fed. Cir., 2000)

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