October 2011

Sarnoff: Derivation and Prior Art Problems with the New Patent Act

In a new Patently-O Patent Law Journal essay, Professor Joshua Sarnoff (DePaul) highlights a set of important problems in the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act. The essay, titled Derivation and Prior Art Problems with the New Patent Act focuses primarily on the elimination of 35 U.S.C. § 102(f) and its implications regarding the patentability of material that was either wholly or partially derived from another source.

Legislation sometimes is enacted that obviously requires either immediate revision or creative administrative and judicial interpretation.  The new Leahy-Smith America Invents Act’s derivation and prior art provisions fall in that category.  Whether or not the move from a first-to-invent to a first-inventor-to-file system is viewed as good policy and as authorized by the Constitution, the particular changes made to the prior art provisions may not prevent or invalidate patents on inventions derived from others, i.e., when the applicant has obtained knowledge of an invention from another, original inventor and then files for a patent on the same or a similar invention.  In particular, obvious inventions made with unauthorized derived knowledge will now be patentable, given the elimination of prior art section § 102(f).  Absent creative interpretations by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) and the courts, the new derivation proceedings will not prevent a first filer from obtaining a patent even if the first filer’s invention is merely an obvious extension of information derived from another.  Further, the new act adds a narrow and poorly understood category of prior art that may generate years of needless litigation to re-settle the currently well-understood boundaries of the public domain.  I discuss these problems in detail below. 

There is some hope that Congress and the Administration will take Professor Sarnoff’s concerns to heart. 

Joshua D. Sarnoff, Derivation and Prior Art Problems with the New Patent Act, 2011 Patently-O Patent Law Review 12 at /media/docs/2011/10/sarnoff.2011.derivation.pdf