How should distinguishing technical characteristics be divided?

The term technical characteristic is arguably the most commonly used term in the field of patents, and technical characteristics have an important influence on whether a product constitutes patent infringement and whether a patent application document is creative. In particular, the identification of distinguishing technical characteristics is an important step to evaluate whether a patent technology scheme is creative relative to the prior art, which has an important impact on the patent substance examination and patent invalidation procedure.


Article 8 of Patent Infringement Judgment Guide (2017) issued by Beijing Higher People's Court:

Technical feature refers to the minimum technical unit that can perform certain technical functions and produce relatively independent technical effects in the technical scheme defined by the claim. In product technical solutions, the technical unit is generally the connection between the parts of the product and/or the parts.In a method technical scheme, the technical unit is usually the method step or the relationship between the steps  



Section of Chapter four of the Guide to Patent Examination provides a creative judgment method (three-step method), in which the second step is to determine the distinguishing features of the invention and the technical problems that the invention actually solves. First, the distinguishing features of the invention requiring protection should be analyzed compared with the closest prior art, and then the technical problems actually solved by the invention should be determined according to the technical effects achieved by the distinguishing features.   


It can be seen that the relevant patent laws and regulations only make general provisions on the definition of technical characteristics, and there are no detailed provisions on distinguishing technical characteristics. As for how to divide different technical features, this paper will discuss with the following case:  


In the "Top temperature Control Sanitary ware Co., LTD. utility model patent invalidation request administrative dispute case", the dispute focus on whether "body integral structure", "two channels L and H directly through the second chamber of the thermostatic spool, two channels straight through the bottom of the first chamber of the double switch spool " and "the outward opening at its end left by the process is finally sealed with a screw" finally should be seen as a distinguishing technical characteristic. In the invalidation decision, the above three are identified as a distinguishing technical characteristic, and the patent involved is identified as creative and valid after comparison with the evidential technology. After the invalid petitioner filed the lawsuit, the first-instance court held that the above three realized relatively independent technical functions and were not indivisible technical features, and CNIPA did not fully explain the reasons, thus canceling the invalidation decision. And the court of second instance held that the technical problems to be solved by the patent are the complex structure, easy leakage and other problems caused by the assembly of thermostatic spool and double switch spool, the method is to adopt the measures of the valve body integration and reducing the sealing point. Based on this point, it is not improper to consider these three characteristics as a whole from the perspective of the correlation between realizing the aforementioned technical functions and producing the aforementioned technical effects.   


In conclusion, considering the multiple technical features in the claim as one distinguishing technical feature or dividing them into multiple distinguishing technical features will directly affect the review conclusion of creativity.Therefore, we should accurately grasp the classification criteria to avoid adverse effects.This requires us to fully understand the overall technical scheme of the patent involved and accurately locate the technical problems to be solved by the patent involved. The determination of distinguishing technical features is not simply to examine whether there are similarities and differences between the relevant technical features of the patent claim and the corresponding technical features of the prior art in terms of written expression. Instead, a comprehensive judgment is made after technical analysis on the role of the relevant technical features in their overall technical solutions, the technical problems solved, the technical effects produced and the correlation with other technical features.

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