By Dennis Crouch
MadStad Enginering v. USPTO (Fed. Cir. 2014)
In 2012, MadStad and its owner Mark Stadnyk filed a declaratory judgment lawsuit against the USPTO alleging that the new first-to-file regime implemented by the America Invents Act of 2011 (AIA) was unconstitutional. See Crouch, Constitutional Challenge to the First-to-Invent Rule
(2012), and Crouch, Constitutionality Question Looms as USPTO Implements Regime that favors a “Filers” over “Inventors”
(2013). In discussing the case, I wrote:
MadStad’s basic argument is that when the U.S. Constitution speaks of exclusive rights for “inventors” it should be interpreted to mean “first and true inventor.” Under this analysis, the AIA fails because it purposefully rewards the first-to-file a patent application rather than the first-to-invent.
Further, MadStad argues that the new law allows non-inventors to obtain patents on inventions that they learned-of because the law no longer requires that the applicant be an inventor.
Rather than reaching the merits of MadStad’s allegations, the district court rejected the case for lack of standing. The Federal Circuit has now affirmed that decision — holding that MadStad’s potential injury due to the legal change is too speculative. MadStad’s alleged injuries due to the change are creative, but ultimately the court determined that they lacked sufficient concreteness. The alleged injury included increase cost of computer security to avoid hacking that – if not blocked – could result in stolen ideas that the thief could patent under the new regime. A second alleged injury is increased time and effort to file additional patent applications before the invention’s value is properly understood.
The key precedent relied upon by both the Federal Circuit and the District Court is the secret FISA court case of Clapper v. Amnesty International USA, __ U.S. __, 133 S. Ct. 1138 (2013). In that case Amnesty Int’l did not have proof that the NSA was tapping its conversations (because the activity is secret) and the Supreme Court held that the threat was too speculative. In my view, the direct applicability of Clapper here is somewhat attenuated because it is clear that MadStad’s new patent applications would be governed under the new regime and the separation-of-powers issues are not so great.
Next steps: Regardless of the merits of this decision, by now there should be at least some patent applications that have been rejected due under the new first-to-file regime that would not have arguably been patentable under the old regime. Applicants injured in that way would certainly have standing to bring this challenge.
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The decision by Judge O’Malley also includes an interesting discussion of Federal Circuit Jurisdiction. The law provides that the Federal Circuit has jurisdiction over appeals that arise under the patent law statutes. Here, however, the claim is based upon the U.S. Constitution.