Before Prost, Lourie, and Wallach. Appeal from the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB).

Summary: A single prior art reference can render a patent obvious if it would have been obvious to modify that reference to arrive at the claimed invention.

Game and Technology Co., Ltd. (“GAT”) owns a patent directed to a method of customizing internet game characters in online games. Activision sought inter partes review of the patent as obvious in view of two prior art references, a video game manual and a patent publication. The PTAB determined that the challenged claims were obvious over the video game manual alone or combined with the patent publication. GAT appealed, challenging the determination of obviousness and the claim construction of the terms “gamvatar” and “layers.”

GAT argued on appeal that a single reference cannot support a finding of obviousness. The Federal Circuit rejected this as a matter of law because a patent can be obvious in light of a single prior art reference if it would have been obvious to modify that reference. The Federal Circuit also affirmed the PTAB’s construction of the terms “gamvatar” and “layers.” The Federal Circuit noted that the specification is always highly relevant to the claim construction analysis, and that the specification supports the PTAB’s construction.