Each month I post a note discussing new research from the academic side of patent law. This March edition includes three great articles that relate to either legislative changes (prior use statute, post grant opposition) or upcoming court decisions (Phillips claim construction case). Feel free to e-mail suggestions for April’s edition.
- Tom Fairhall and Paul Churilla, Prior Use of Trade Secrets and the Intersection with Patent Law, 14 Fed. Cir. Bar J. 455. Fairhall and Churilla present a timely article on prior use rights that notes how the current prior use statute (35 USC 273) does not provide the scope necessary to truly protect a prior user’s expectations or investments. The article is quite timely because FTC proposals to expand the statutory prior use rights is gaining some teeth in the patent community and on the Hill.
- Mark Lemley, The Changing Meaning of Patent Claim Terms, available at SSRN. Professor Lemley’s article is also timely — he discusses at what particular point in time should the meaning of claim terms be fixed. This is important because the ordinary meaning of terms in the English language change over time. The major temporal candidates are (i) at the time of the invention (currently used for novelty and nonobviousness); (ii) at the time the application was filed (currently used for enablement or written description); (iii) a the time the patent issues (currently used for means-plus-function claim construction); and (iv) at the time of the infringement (at least some times used to determine infringement). Lemley agrees that each candidate has a sound legal foundation. However, he argues that the best approach moving forward is to fix the meaning at the time the patent application is first filed.
- Jay Kesan and Andres Gallo, Why ‘Bad’ Patents Survive in the Market, available at SSRN. The professors provide a game theory model to show how would-be invalid patents can survive and be valuable in the marketplace. Essentially, the transaction costs make it difficult to mount an effective challenge to improperly granted patents. Their work will serve as the theoretical basis any proposed post-grant opposition procedures. Specifically, the authors “conclude that a low-cost, post-grant opposition process based primarily on written submissions within a limited estoppel effect . . . will serve as an effective instrument for improving the quality of patents that are issued and enforced.”