Leapfrog Enterprises, Inc. v. Fisher-Price, Inc.
485 F.3d 1157 (Fed. Cir. 2007)

In one of the first cases applying the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling in KSR Int’l Co. v. Teleflex Inc., the Federal Circuit held that a patent claim relating to an electronic learning device that helped young children read phonetically was invalid as obvious in view of prior art.

The defendant had argued that the patent claim was nothing more than an item of prior art—a mechanical toy that taught reading by associating letters with their phonetic sounds—updated with modern electronics that were common at the time of the alleged invention.

Applying KSR, in which the U.S. Supreme Court held that obviousness is not to be determined by a rigid formula disassociated from the facts of the case, but by applying the common sense of those skilled in the art, the Federal Circuit agreed. The Court noted that the goal of the alleged invention was to allow a child reading a book to press letter keys so that the child would hear the sound of the letter as it is used in the word—the same goal accomplished by the prior art device. The Court determined that applying modern electronics to older mechanical devices, such as the prior art, was commonplace. By doing so, an inventor would gain from the decreased size, increased reliability, simplified operation, and reduced cost. Therefore, one of ordinary skill in the art would have found it an obvious step to add modern electronics to the mechanical prior art. As a result, the Court affirmed the District Court’s ruling that the patent claim was invalid.