One of the next major legal challenges to patent rights will be against the strong presumption of validity associated with the patent grant. Section 282 of the patent act says only that a patent and its claims "shall be presumed valid." Under longstanding doctrine, this presumption can only be overcome with clear and convincing evidence of invalidity. The challenge to this presumption is most likely on two fronts: (1) expanded post-grant review and (2) court challenges to the weight of the presumption.
Expanded Post Grant Review: The PTO uses the lower preponderance (more likely than not) standard when refusing to grant patent rights, and expanded post-grant oppositions will likely allow would-be defendants to challenge patents at the lower standard.
Challenging the Weight of the Presumption: The greater change would come, however, if the Supreme Court takes a case on point. Since the 1952 Supreme Court has not definitively weighed-in on the the level of proof necessary to overcome the statutory presumption of validity, and the Court's Radio Corp (1934) opinion arguably sums up the pre-unification state of the law: "The force of that presumption has found varying expression in this and other courts." Of course, the unified Federal Circuit cleared the air by firmly establishing the clear and convincing standard as the standard. In a 2004 article, Mark Janis reviews the history of the presumption – finding that the clear and convincing standard was already the majority rule prior to unification, but that the Federal Circuit made the standard "meaningful once again." His message: "there is no strict, inevitable correlation between the words of the evidentiary standard and the overlying message delivered by the presumption of validity."
More recently, in KSR the Supreme Court all but suggested one potential petition question: "whether the failure to disclose [relevant prior art] during prosecution … voids the presumption of validity given to issued patents." A more likely focus may be on reducing strength of the presumption over prior art that was not considered during prosecution.
Question: How would patent practice change if the strong presumption of validity was only applicable over prior art actually considered during prosecution?
- I do not believe that the presumption of validity should be reduced. However, I wrote this post to let folks know that it is on the horizon and that a change is somewhat likely during the life of any currently pending patent application.
- Mark Janis, Reforming Patent Validity Litigation: The "Dubious Preponderance", 19 Berkeley Tech. L.J. 923 (2004).
- This post was prompted by an e-mail amongst IP law professors with special input from Mark Lemley, Arti Rai, David Hricik, Howard Skaist, Josh Sarnoff and Tom Field. See also Mark A. Lemley and Douglas Lichtman, Rethinking Patent Law's Presumption of Validity, 60 Stanford Law Review 45 (2007)(suggesting gold-plated patents).