University of Pittsburgh v. Marc Hendrick (Fed. Cir. 2009) 08-1468.pdf
The patent at issue (6,777,231) relates to a method of creating stem cells from liposuction residue. In an inventorship dispute amongst former Pitt scientists, the district court held that the Hendrick was not a co-inventor. On appeal, the Federal Circuit affirmed – based primarily on the corroborating evidence found in one of the listed inventor’s laboratory notebook.
Inventorship is a question of law, although a challenge to inventorship must be proven with clear and convincing evidence. In a joint invention situation, “each inventor must contribute to the joint arrival at a definite and permanent idea of the invention as it will be used in practice.” However, there is no requirement that the inventors actually work together; that all asserted claims be jointly invented; or that all inventors realize that they invented something.
In this case, the timeline is important: The two listed inventors had written evidence (in lab notebooks and elsewhere) from before Hendrick arrived on campus that they believed their liposuction derived stem sells could transdifferentiate into various types of cells such as bone, cartilage, nerves, and muscles. At that time, however, they were not “scientifically certain” that nerve cells had been created. And, almost certainly, the two did not have enough evidence to patent their specific claim to adipose-derived stem cells that can differentiate into nerve cells. Hendrick and his REBAR team of researchers then came along and confirmed that the “highly speculative” suggestions of the original listed inventors was indeed correct.
On appeal, the Federal Circuit held that despite the lack of scientific certainty, the invention had been conceived before Hendrick joined the team.
[Hendrick’s] is premised upon a misapprehension of what it means to “know” the limitations of the claims.
Knowledge in the context of a possessed, isolated biological construct does not mean proof to a scientific certainty that the construct is exactly what a scientist believes it is. Conception requires a definite and permanent idea of the operative invention, and “necessarily turns on the inventor’s ability to describe his invention.” Proof that the invention works to a scientific certainty is reduction to practice. Therefore, because the district court found evidence that Katz and Llull had formed a definite and permanent idea of the cells’ inventive qualities, and had in fact observed them, it is immaterial that their knowledge was not scientifically certain and that the REBAR researchers helped them gain such scientific certainty.
Here, the lab notebooks were important to to show that the listed inventors had “sufficiently described to those skilled in the art how to isolate the cells from adipose-tissue … [and] thus they had disclosed a ‘completed thought expressed in such clear terms as to enable those skilled in the art to make the invention.'” Citing Coleman.