By Jason Rantanen
Professor Lee Petherbridge, Ali Mojibi and myself are circulating a draft of our paper Inequitable Conduct and the Federal Circuit: An Empirical Analysis for comment. The underlying study examines the content of the entire body of Federal Circuit inequitable conduct jurisprudence, and the paper offers several interpretations of the reported data.
Among the most interesting are: that the Federal Circuit seems to apply a stricter standard for inequitable conduct than a substantial number of the tribunals it reviews; that the Federal Circuit’s inequitable conduct standard is applied primarily through the intent to deceive component of the analysis; and that while the apparent lack of clarity in the inequitable conduct standard may be a result of judicial variation on the court, it may also represent a preference by the Federal Circuit to effect a jurisprudential design, the purpose of which is to encourage good faith behavior on the part of patent applicants while only rarely finding inequitable conduct.
The abstract reads as follows:
Inequitable conduct is unique judicially created doctrine designed to punish patent applicants who behave inequitably toward the public in the course of patent acquisition. Its name alone strikes fear into the hearts of patent prosecutors, and justly so – for when successfully asserted, inequitable conduct can have devastating consequences that reach far beyond a patentee’s case. The need for a systematic empirical study of inequitable conduct jurisprudence has become especially pressing now that the Federal Circuit is reviewing inequitable conduct en banc – in terms so broad as to be unprecedented in the history of the doctrine. This Article reports such a study.
The study reported here provides evidence, inter alia, that the Federal Circuit applies an inequitable conduct standard stricter than that applied by a substantial number of the tribunals it reviews. The Federal Circuit’s stricter standard manifests primarily through the intent to deceive component of inequitable conduct doctrine. For all intents and purposes the Federal Circuit has no substantive jurisprudence around the balancing component, and the materiality component is comparatively less impactful then intent to deceive. The court appears to have trouble communicating its stricter standard to lower tribunals. We offer some explanations for why this might be so, and offer some modest suggestions that might advance inequitable conduct doctrine.
The complete Article can be downloaded here. As this is a work in progress, we are particularly interested in any comments, including alternate explanations for the results we discuss. In addition to responding below, comments can be sent to us directly or to firstname.lastname@example.org.