By Kevin E. Noonan --
The Senate passed S. 23 last week, which will make several significant changes in U.S. patent law if its provisions survive deliberations in the House (which is preparing its own bill). One of the most fundamental of these is the change from the current "first-to-invent" to a "first-inventor-to-file" system. In order to implement the changes, the Senate bill revises (and in some cases completely eliminates) portions of current law.
The provisions of the bill relating to "First-Inventor-to-File" are set forth in Section 2. Section 2(a) amends definitions relating to inventorship in 35 U.S.C. § 100. The "inventor" is defined in new § 100(f) as "the individual, or if a joint invention, the individuals collectively who invented or discovered the subject matter of the invention." A "joint inventor" is defined as "any 1 of the individuals who invented or discovered the subject matter of the joint invention" (§ 100(g)). This section also defines a "joint research agreement" along current lines (§ 100(h)). Importantly for the "first-inventor-to-file" regime, Section 2(a) defines the "effective filing date" either as the actual filing date of the invention (§ 100(i)(1)(A)) or "the filing date of the earliest application for which the patent or application is entitled" under §§ 119, 365(a), 365(b), 120, 121 or 365(c) (§ 100(i)(1)(B)). Finally, this section defines "the claimed invention" as "the subject matter defined by a claim in a patent or application" (§ 100(j)).
Section 2(b) effects the changes in 35 U.S.C. § 102 that changes U.S. patent law from "first-to-invent" to "first-inventor-to-file." Instead of subsections § 102(a) through § 102(g), new § 102 provides that:
A person shall be entitled to a patent unless:
(1) the claimed invention was patented, described in a printed publication, or in public use, on sale, or otherwise available to the public before the effective filing date of the claimed invention; or
(2) the claimed invention was described in a patent issued under section 151, or in an application for patent published or deemed published under section 122(b), in which the patent or application, as the case may be, names another inventor and was effectively filed before the effective filing date of the claimed invention.
These provisions eliminate the distinction for public use, on sale or "otherwise available to the public" between acts occurring in the U.S. ("in this country") and acts occurring abroad ("in this or a foreign country") that have long been a feature of defining prior art under § 102; this effect is made explicit under Section 2(d), which repeals 35 U.S.C. § 104. New § 102(a)(2) expressly defines the "first-inventor-to-file" aspects of the change, by defining as prior art an earlier-filed patent or application that "names another inventor"; it is likely that this provision will include (or be interpreted to include) a definition of "another inventor" as another "inventive entity," i.e., any difference in named joint inventors.
The grace period that remains under S. 23 is contained in new § 102(b), which provides exceptions that include:
(1) DISCLOSURES MADE 1 YEAR OR LESS BEFORE THE EFFECTIVE FILING DATE OF THE CLAIMED INVENTION- A disclosure made 1 year or less before the effective filing date of a claimed invention shall not be prior art to the claimed invention under subsection (a)(1) if--
(A) the disclosure was made by the inventor or joint inventor or by another who obtained the subject matter disclosed directly or indirectly from the inventor or a joint inventor; or
(B) the subject matter disclosed had, before such disclosure, been publicly disclosed by the inventor or a joint inventor or another who obtained the subject matter disclosed directly or indirectly from the inventor or a joint inventor.
(2) DISCLOSURES APPEARING IN APPLICATIONS AND PATENTS- A disclosure shall not be prior art to a claimed invention under subsection (a)(2) if--
(A) the subject matter disclosed was obtained directly or indirectly from the inventor or a joint inventor;
(B) the subject matter disclosed had, before such subject matter was effectively filed under subsection (a)(2), been publicly disclosed by the inventor or a joint inventor or another who obtained the subject matter disclosed directly or indirectly from the inventor or a joint inventor; or
(C) the subject matter disclosed and the claimed invention, not later than the effective filing date of the claimed invention, were owned by the same person or subject to an obligation of assignment to the same person.
New § 102(b)(1)(A) establishes the one-year grace period for the inventor's own disclosure or disclosure by another who derived the invention ("obtained directly or indirectly") from the "true" inventor. New § 102(b)(1)(B), on the other hand, relates to a "second" disclosure of the subject matter that had previously been disclosed ("before such disclosure [had] been publicly disclosed") by the inventor or "another" who derived ("directly or indirectly") the invention from the inventor, also presumably less than one year prior to the effective filing date.
New § 102(b)(2) disqualifies as prior art disclosure in a patent or patent application by another who "obtained [the subject matter] directly or indirectly from the inventor" (§ 102(b)(2)(A)) or wherein the subject matter had been publicly disclosed by the inventor or another who derived the invention from the inventor prior to the effective filing date of the earlier patent or application (§ 102(b)(2)(B)) or there was joint ownership ("not later than the effective filing date of the claimed invention") of the earlier disclosed subject matter and the claimed invention. These provisions provide an incentive for early disclosure of inventions within the one-year grace period, because the effect of earlier disclosure is to eliminate as prior art any disclosure or patent or patent application that occurs after the first public disclosure by the inventor, provided the inventor files a patent application on the subject matter within the one-year grace period.
New § 102 also defines common ownership under a joint research agreement (§ 102(c))(which seems to broaden the protections thereof from obviousness currently under § 103 to novelty under the new provisions), and the intent for "continuity" of the treatment of joint research agreements under the new law and the CREATE Act (§ 102(d)).
Section 2(c) amends current 35 U.S.C. § 103, which sub silentio repeals §§ 103(b) and (c):
A patent for a claimed invention may not be obtained, notwithstanding that the claimed invention is not identically disclosed as set forth in section 102, if the differences between the claimed invention and the prior art are such that the claimed invention as a whole would have been obvious before the effective filing date of the claimed invention to a person having ordinary skill in the art to which the claimed invention pertains. Patentability shall not be negated by the manner in which the invention was made.
Section 2(e) repeals statutory invention registrations, and §§ 2(f) and 2(g) are "conforming" amendments.
Section 2(h) provides new § 291 defining "derived patents":
(a) In General- The owner of a patent may have relief by civil action against the owner of another patent that claims the same invention and has an earlier effective filing date if the invention claimed in such other patent was derived from the inventor of the invention claimed in the patent owned by the person seeking relief under this section.
(b) Filing Limitation- An action under this section may only be filed within 1 year after the issuance of the first patent containing a claim to the allegedly derived invention and naming an individual alleged to have derived such invention as the inventor or joint inventor.
Unlike interferences, the remedy for derivation is by "civil action," a provision seemingly at odds with the concern expressed by the supporters of "first-inventor-to-file" that small inventors are disadvantaged under current law. While it is certainly true that interference proceedings are costly, "civil actions" are notoriously costlier.
However, Section 2(i) provides for "derivation proceedings" in the Office by amendment of 35 U.S.C. § 135:
(a) Institution of Proceeding- An applicant for patent may file a petition to institute a derivation proceeding in the Office. The petition shall set forth with particularity the basis for finding that an inventor named in an earlier application derived the claimed invention from an inventor named in the petitioner's application and, without authorization, the earlier application claiming such invention was filed. Any such petition may only be filed within 1 year after the first publication of a claim to an invention that is the same or substantially the same as the earlier application's claim to the invention, shall be made under oath, and shall be supported by substantial evidence. Whenever the Director determines that a petition filed under this subsection demonstrates that the standards for instituting a derivation proceeding are met, the Director may institute a derivation proceeding. The determination by the Director whether to institute a derivation proceeding shall be final and non[-]appealable.
(b) Determination by Patent Trial and Appeal Board- In a derivation proceeding instituted under subsection (a), the Patent Trial and Appeal Board shall determine whether an inventor named in the earlier application derived the claimed invention from an inventor named in the petitioner's application and, without authorization, the earlier application claiming such invention was filed. The Director shall prescribe regulations setting forth standards for the conduct of derivation proceedings.
(c) Deferral of Decision- The Patent Trial and Appeal Board may defer action on a petition for a derivation proceeding until 3 months after the date on which the Director issues a patent that includes the claimed invention that is the subject of the petition. The Patent Trial and Appeal Board also may defer action on a petition for a derivation proceeding, or stay the proceeding after it has been instituted, until the termination of a proceeding under chapter 30, 31, or 32 involving the patent of the earlier applicant.
(d) Effect of Final Decision- The final decision of the Patent Trial and Appeal Board, if adverse to claims in an application for patent, shall constitute the final refusal by the Office on those claims. The final decision of the Patent Trial and Appeal Board, if adverse to claims in a patent, shall, if no appeal or other review of the decision has been or can be taken or had, constitute cancellation of those claims, and notice of such cancellation shall be endorsed on copies of the patent distributed after such cancellation.
(e) Settlement- Parties to a proceeding instituted under subsection (a) may terminate the proceeding by filing a written statement reflecting the agreement of the parties as to the correct inventors of the claimed invention in dispute. Unless the Patent Trial and Appeal Board finds the agreement to be inconsistent with the evidence of record, if any, it shall take action consistent with the agreement. Any written settlement or understanding of the parties shall be filed with the Director. At the request of a party to the proceeding, the agreement or understanding shall be treated as business confidential information, shall be kept separate from the file of the involved patents or applications, and shall be made available only to Government agencies on written request, or to any person on a showing of good cause.
(f) Arbitration- Parties to a proceeding instituted under subsection (a) may, within such time as may be specified by the Director by regulation, determine such contest or any aspect thereof by arbitration. Such arbitration shall be governed by the provisions of title 9, to the extent such title is not inconsistent with this section. The parties shall give notice of any arbitration award to the Director, and such award shall, as between the parties to the arbitration, be dispositive of the issues to which it relates. The arbitration award shall be unenforceable until such notice is given. Nothing in this subsection shall preclude the Director from determining the patentability of the claimed inventions involved in the proceeding.
The right is limited to an "applicant for patent" within one year after first publication of the derived application, thus imposing an obligation to monitor publication databases for any possibly derived patent applications (or patents). In addition, the petition must be supported by "substantial evidence," but without any of the provisions for discovery (or obligations to provide evidence) currently available under interference provisions of current law. In addition, the Board is given broad discretion to delay action on any petition until after the putatively derived patent has granted, without capacity to appeal such a decision (other than, perhaps, a "civil action"). And, while other portions of the bill establish the Patent Trial and Appeal Board that will be related to the current Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences, the Office will need to create the infrastructure for this "new" adjudicative body. Section 2(j) of the bill strips current law of all references to interferences wherever they appear in the statute.
Finally (and in keeping with the way the bill was amended and passed), Section 2(k) provides for amending the false marking statute (35 U.S.C. § 292) to eliminate action by "private attorneys general," i.e., the public, to bring such actions, except for competitors who can show injury from the false marking, with damages limited to those "adequate to compensate for the injury." This aspect of the law will apply retroactively to "all cases . . . pending on or after the enactment of [the] Act."
Section 2(l) introduces a 10-year "statute of limitations" into 35 U.S.C. § 32 regarding disciplinary proceedings before the Office and a biennial description of incidents that were barred from being brought under this section by the statute of limitations. Section 2(m) relates to a small business study to determine the effects of the change to "first-inventor-to-file," with a Report to be provided to Congress not later than one year after the Act is enacted. Similarly, Section 2(n) provides for a Report to Congress on prior user rights in the U.S. and abroad in Europe, Japan, Canada, and Australia and their effects "if any on small businesses, universities and individual inventors."
Finally, Section 2(o) provides that the effective date of this bill, if enacted, is 18 months from the date of enactment.
Analysis of additional provisions of S. 23 will appear in future posts.