By Dennis Crouch
One aspect of the Goodlatte discussion draft legislation is a series of “Improvements and Technical Corrections to the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act.” The AIA was passed in September 2011 and is gradually being fully implemented across the US patent system. The further changes here are fairly substantial, although buried within the proposed bill itself. The following post offers some explanation of the provisions with only a few comments on the policy implications.
1. REPEAL OF CIVIL ACTION TO OBTAIN A PATENT
For several years, the PTO has been pushing to weaken or eliminate the “civil action” option that is currently available to patent applicants who are refused a patent. The current system allows a patent applicant to file a federal lawsuit that asks a district court to order the PTO to issue a patent covering the claimed invention. The civil action approach allows for extensive presentation of evidence, live witness testimony, and an ultimate decision by a district court judge. And, since the civil action is not an “appeal” per se, substantial deference is not given to prior factual findings by the PTO (as long as the applicant presents its own evidence on point). The civil action approach is not widely used because of the expense of pursuing a district court claim. However, it has been a very successful approach for a number of patent applicants. Under the new provision, the only avenue for challenge an adverse PTO decision on the merits of an application would be through appeal to the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.
2. POST GRANT REVIEW ESTOPPEL SUBSTANTIALLY NARROWED
The current estoppel rules of post-grant review indicate that a petitioner will be estopped from latter asserting in-court that the challenged patent “invalid on any ground that the petitioner raised or reasonably could have raised during that post-grant review.” The amendment would substantially narrow the estoppel to cover only grounds that the petitioner actually raised.
This change would result in Post-Grant review being much more of a parallel option rather than an alternative option to challenging patent validity.
3. CONSTRUING CLAIMS DURING POST-GRANT and INTER-PARTES REVIEW
The proposal would require that the claims under review be construed in the same way that they would be construed by a district court rather than using a “broadest reasonable construction.” The statute as written requires that the PTAB construe “each claim of the patent in accordance with the ordinary and customary meaning of such claim as understood by one of ordinary skill in the art and the prosecution history pertaining to the patent.” However, that method is somewhat different than what has been ruled as the law by the Federal Circuit.
4. CODIFICATION OF DOUBLE PATENTING DOCTRINE
The statute would create a new statutory provision that is intended to codify the obviousness-type double patenting doctrine. This ensures that the doctrine is carried through into the AIA. I have not parsed through the new provision to see if it does what they say it does:
35 U.S.C. §106 that reads as follows:
A claimed invention of a patent issued under section 151 (referred to as the ‘first patent’) that is not prior art to a claimed invention of another patent (referred to as the ‘second patent’) shall be considered prior art to the claimed invention of the second patent for the purpose of determining the non-obviousness of the claimed invention of the second patent under section 103 if—
(1) the claimed invention of the first patent was effectively filed under section 102(d) on or before the effective filing date of the claimed invention of the second patent;
(A) the first patent and second patent name the same inventor; or
(B) the claimed invention of the first patent would constitute prior art to the claimed invention of the second patent under section 102(a)(2) if an exception under section 102(b)(2) did not apply and, if applicable, if the claimed invention of the first patent had not been effectively filed under section 102(d) on (but was effectively filed before) the effective filing date of the claimed invention of the second patent; and
(3) the patentee of the second patent has not disclaimed the rights to enforce the second patent independently from, and beyond the statutory term of, the first patent.
5. EXPANDING THE SCOPE OF COVERED_BUSINESS_METHOD REVIEWS
The AIA creates an option for third parties to attack patents on non-technological “covered business method” innovations through the use of a new post-grant review proceeding. Through the review program, third parties can raise any ground of invalidity and can use this approach to pre-AIA patents. The amended provision would appear to sweep-in virtually all software-type patent claims.
Under the changes, the 7-year sunset provision would be removed; the expansive definition of business methods found in SAP America, Inc. v. Versata Dev. Group, Inc., CBM2012-00001, 12 Paper 36 (January 9, 2013), would be codified; and the “non-technological” requirement would be clarified/expanded to make clear that a claim’s recitation of technological features does not make the claim technological “if it is readily apparent that the recited [technological] feature is anticipated by or obvious in light of the prior art.”
6. SHRINKING PATENT TERM ADJUSTMENT
The bill proposes a clear rule that no PTA can be awarded for any delays that occur following the filing of a Request for Continued Examination (RCE). This would reduce the patent term for a substantial portion of patents and the bill indicates that the recalculation would be retroactive against any patent application still pending at the time of enactment.
7. OVERTURNING OF GUNN V. MINTON
Although not a statutory change, the bill would make the “clarifying” statement that:
CLARIFICATION OF JURISDICTION.—Congress finds that the Federal interest in preventing inconsistent final judicial determinations as to the legal force or effect of the claims in a patent presents a substantial Federal issue that is important to the Federal system as a whole.
This provision has the potential of bringing patent malpractice claims back under Federal Court jurisprudence. And, to the extent that patent licenses depend upon the scope of a patent claim, licensee disputes would also be heard in Federal Courts.