Bruckelmyer v. Ground Heaters (Fed. Cir. 2006).
Bruckelmyer has two patents on methods of thawing frozen ground so that a layer of concrete can be laid on top of the ground. In a decision earlier this year, the CAFC found that Bruckelmyer’s patents were obviated by the contents of a Canadian patent file history — thus affirming a summary judgment of invalidity.
On appeal, Bruckelmyer argued that the unpublished Canadian patent documents were not a “printed publication” under 35 U.S.C. Section 102(b) and thus, was not prior art. The CAFC found that the originally filed application was “publicly accessible,” and thus a prior art “printed publication” because the Canadian prosecution file was open to the public more than a year before Bruckelmyer filed his application. Here, the Court found that this particular application could be located because the related patent discussed a solution for the same problem addressed by Bruckelmyer’s patents.
The CAFC has now denied Bruckelmyer’s request for rehearing en banc. However, Judge Newman presented a forceful dissent from the denial of rehearing:
It is undisputed that these [disclosures] are not available in any database or any library, and that no index, no catalog, no abstract suggests their existence or their content. It is not contested that the only way to obtain these [disclosures] (although their existence was unknown) is to personally go to the Canadian Patent Office in Hull, Quebec, and ask to examine the file wrapper (the prosecution history) of this particular patent, which is entitled “Portable Construction Heating System”. This is not the method for heating frozen ground in preparation for pouring concrete, which is the subject of the patent in suit. The only lead to this particular Canadian prosecution record, we are told, is to observe that the broad recitation in the Canadian patent that “other typical uses [of the invention] are . . . thawing frozen ground,” and then to travel to Quebec to examine the file wrapper to see if it might contain information that was deleted from the Canadian application before issuance. This excised and unpublished and unreferenced material is not a “printed publication,” no matter how generously that concept is defined. This court improperly relies on it to invalidate the United States Patents here at issue. . . . As Judge Linn observes in his dissent, a person searching for prior art cannot be reasonably expected to look in the prosecution history of a foreign patent that does not disclose the invention, on the off chance that its inventor might have invented something relevant to the search, and then cancelled it from the application before grant.