In TheraSense, the en banc Federal Circuit is looking to rewrite the rules of inequitable conduct. By both its name and historic precedent, inequitable conduct appears to stem from non-statutory doctrines of equity. However, as with other equitable doctrines (such as injunctive relief), inequitable conduct could be somewhat tamed by the language of the Patent Act. In his TheraSense amicus brief, Professor Hricik is taking a useful approach by focusing on the statutory basis for holding claims unenforceable.
Two provisions of the Patent Act come to mind. One is general and the other specific. The general statute is 35 USC 282(1). That portion of Section 282 identifies "unenforceability" as a defense to patent infringement. In TheraSense, the court's first goal should be to interpret the meaning of unenforceability as found in that statute.
The more specific provision is Section 288. It is Section 288 that allows a patentee to assert infringement of remaining claims even after some of the claims are found invalid. Section 288 sets a specific limit on this separability principle. Namely, separability of claims does not apply when an invalidated claim was obtained through deceptive intent.
Whenever, without deceptive intention, a claim of a patent is invalid, an action may be maintained for the infringement of a claim of the patent which may be valid. 35 U.S.C. §288.
Section 288 is not exhaustive in its approach. Rather, the statute is only explicit that the remaining claims of a patent can be asserted even after one of the claims was found invalid, so long as that invalid claim was not obtained with deceptive intent. The statute does not explicitly indicate the result when an invalid claim was obtained with deceptive intent or, for that matter, when a valid claim was obtained with deceptive intent. In his brief, however, Professor Hricik concludes that these statutes should be read to – at times – limit the Court’s ability to automatically render all claims of a patent unenforceable after a finding of inequitable conduct.
Contact Professor Hricik if you (or your firm / company) are interested in joining the brief.