In the US, an inventor’s evidence of pre-filing conception, diligence, and reduction-to-practice can help win a priority contest against a competing inventor and can also negate would-be prior art. Around the world, the vast majority of other countries ignore pre-filing invention activity — instead relying only on an inventors patent application filing date to establish priority. Colloquially, we call the US system a “first-to-invent” (FTI) while the non-US systems are referred to as “first-to-file” (FTF).
Yesterday’s guest post discussed the potential legislative change to US patent law that would largely eliminate any consideration of pre-filing invention evidence. Interestingly, the authors refer to the potential new system as “first-inventor-to-file” (FITF) as a way to distinguish between our traditional FTI system and the European FTF system.
Although the guest authors here used the term as a way to distinguish, my experience is that the first-inventor-to-file (FITF) terminology is more frequently used as a propaganda tool by proponents of the new US legislation. By adding “inventor” to the name, proponents of the switch are hoping to sideline the FTI argument that a later inventor is not actually an inventor. Perhaps most notable on this front is PTO Director David Kappos. In a recent article directed to independent inventors, Kappos repeatedly referred to the benefits of the “first-inventor-to-file” system. [Link] In a recent speech, Director Kappos also distinguishes between FTF and FITF systems — suggesting that a FTF system allows non-inventors to file patent applications.
The new process isn’t a “first to file” system, it’s the “first inventor to file” system. So there is no risk of someone who learns about your invention being able to beat you to the patent office; because they’re not an inventor. As you know, any filer has to sign an oath and declaration under penalty of criminal sanctions. [Link]
Of course, there is no country in the world today that grants patents on stolen ideas. (Although some, including the US historically allowed what might be termed “patents of importation.”)
Invention-Date-Focused vs. Filing-Date-Focused: I would argue that all of these naming systems are incorrect because they improperly focus attention on the priority contests between two inventors claiming rights over the same subject matter. Most priority issues arise in the context of putative prior art reference used in an obviousness analysis and the question is whether the invention date evidence can be used to negate the prior-art effect of the reference. In that context the FTI and FTF language do not really make sense. I would propose a switch in terminology to distinguish between systems that are filing-date-focused and those that are invention-date-focused.