The Public Patent Foundation (PubPat) has continued its push against "the negative effects that over-patenting, unmerited patenting and excessive patent rights can have on society." The organization, founded by patent attorney Dan Ravicher, typically focuses on what it sees as bad patents being over-exerted. In the false marking heyday, PubPat also filed false marking suits against Cumberland (Sweet'N Low), Iovate (Xenadrine), and McNeil (Tylenol). Unlike ordinary usual public-interest lawsuits, the false marking claims had the potential earning PubPat substantial monetary returns. Under the false marking statute, 35 U.S.C. § 292, PubPat was eligible to receive half of the eventual fine paid by any adjudged false markers.
However, when Congress passed the Leahy-Smith AIA it included a provision that denies standing for any false marking complainant who cannot prove a competitive injury. The standing provision is retroactive and many of the false marking claims have already been dismissed.
In a new filing, PubPat has argued that the retroactive denial of standing violates the organizations Fifth Amendment due process rights.
While the claim underlying the cause of action in qui tam cases originally belongs to the United States, qui tam statutes perform a partial assignment of that claim to the qui tam plaintiff and the resulting cause of action is therefore partially the property of the qui tam plaintiff. . . . Retroactive congressional action that deprives a private party of its property violates the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment if it is not “supported by a legitimate legislative purpose.” United States v. Carlton, 512 U.S. 26, 30-31 (1994). Further, the retroactive effect of legislation must separately have a legitimate legislative purpose apart from the prospective substantive changes. Id. . . . The America Invents Act . . . is completely silent as to why the substantive changes are to be applied retroactively. . . . Without being overly cynical, the only honest explanation for the America Invents Act's retroactive elimination of qui tam false marking suits is that it was the result of lobbying efforts by corporations like McNeil who wished to deliberately eliminate the rights of private parties like PUBPAT to continue to pursue pending qui tam cases for false patent marking. This targeting of those who were deliberately induced to file false marking suits is an expressly improper purpose under Carlton and any potential “public good” argument that McNeil or the United States might proffer for the retroactivity would surely be pretextual, further indicating its impropriety. . . . PUBPAT agrees, for example, that “retroactive laws are not [categorically] prohibited by the Constitution.” . . . All PUBPAT suggests is that retroactive statutes can violate the Due Process Clause and that the America Invents Act's retroactive application of substantive changes to the false marking statute in a way that does nothing but deprive PUBPAT of its property interest in order to bestow a private benefit on McNeil is an example of precisely such a violation.