Summary judgment of non-obviousness was rejected where the district court failed to give appropriate weight to analogous prior art and improperly relied on a “layperson” level of ordinary skill in the art.

The patentee brought suit for infringement of a patent for a chess-like, light-reflecting board game and methods for playing the game. The claims at issue included a limitation that the pieces be “moveable.” At summary judgment, the district court granted the patentee’s motions for literal infringement and non-obviousness. The accused infringer appealed.

The Federal Circuit accepted the district court’s ruling on infringement based on the notion that even where the rules of the game called for the pieces to remain unmoved during play, the pieces themselves were still “moveable” as required by the asserted claims.

However, the Federal Circuit rejected the district court’s ruling on non-obviousness on two grounds. First, the court rejected the ruling that prior art directed to an electronic game similar to the patented physical game was not analogous art to the patent. The court relied on the fact that both the invention and the prior art are directed to the same purpose, i.e., “detailing the specific game elements comprising a chess-like, laser-based strategy game.”

The Federal Circuit also found error where the district court improperly based its ruling of non-obviousness on a level of ordinary skill in the art equal to that of a layperson, despite a record to the contrary. Since the error was not harmless, the Federal Circuit reversed and remanded on the issue of obviousness, based on a proper determination of the level of ordinary skill in the art.

A copy of the opinion can be found here.