The Supreme Court has requested briefing from the US Solicitor General in the pending case of Ariosa Diagnostics, Inc., v. Illumina, Inc., Sct. Docket No. 18-109. The case focuses on core aspects of patent law — what “counts” as prior art. The petition focuses on the prior art date of unclaimed information found in a published patent application when that information was is also found in a provisional application relied upon as a priority document.
Question Presented: Do unclaimed disclosures in a published patent application and an earlier [unpublished] application it relies on for priority enter the public domain and thus become prior art as of the earlier application’s filing date, or, as the Federal Circuit held, does the prior art date of the disclosures depend on whether the published application also claims subject matter from the earlier application?
In Alexander Milburn Co. v. Davis-Bournonville Co., 270 U.S. 390 (1926), the U.S. Supreme Court provided a portion of the answer — holding that an unclaimed invention found in a later issued patent is “made public property” as of its filing date. That statement though came as an interpretation of no-longer-active provision that the patentee must be “the original and first inventor.” Rev. Sts. § 4920. In addition to interpreting a different statute, the court in Milburn also did not consider the priority question.
The relevant statute for this case is pre-AIA 102(e) — which also does not spell out what should happen in this situation — but nothing in the statute suggests to me that we should limit the prior art impact of priority filings to disclosures that are claimed in later patents or patent applications. However, the Federal Circuit ruled in this case that that a published application can count as prior art as of its provisional filing date — but only as to features actually claimed in the application. According to the court, features disclosed in the provisional but not claimed in the published application will only be prior art as of their date of public disclosure.
The opposition briefing makes a big deal of the fact that this case focuses on the outgoing pre-AIA statute. However, I expect that the ruling that the court makes here will carry-over post-AIA. [More on this in an upcoming separate post]