Is a company’s “small entity” status with the PTO put in jeopardy by granting a non-exclusive license to a major corporation — assuming that the non-exclusive license does not convey any right to exclude others from making or using the invention?
According to 37 CFR 1.27, a small entity includes:
an inventor . . . who has not assigned, granted, conveyed, or licensed, and is under no obligation under contract or law to assign, grant, convey, or license, any rights in the invention. . . .
MPEP 509.02 defines “rights in the invention” in this section of the rules as “the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention throughout the United States or importing the invention into the United States.” This therefore appears to indicate that a non-exclusive license to a large entity that does not convey any right to exclude others would not fall within rule. However, if you read further in the MPEP, you notice a discrepancy involving non-exclusive licenses:
A grant of a non-exclusive license to a “non-small” entity will disqualify applicant from claiming small entity status. See Ulead Systems, Inc. v. Lex Computer & Management Corp., 351 F.3d 1139, 1142 (Fed. Cir. 2003).
In yesterday’s decision in Nilssen v. Osram Sylvania (N.D. Ill. 2006), the district court found Nilssen’s patents unenforceable because, inter alia, Nilssen had failed to pay a large entity fee even though the patents-in-suit were nonexclusively licensed to Philips Electronics.
In addition, the patents were unenforceable due to: (a) a patentability declaration submitted by an undisclosed business partner; (b) Nilssen’s admission that he “opposes government fees, taxes, and the present legal system;” (c) Nilssen’s improper priority claims; (d) failure to disclose ongoing litigation to the PTO; (e) failure to disclose material prior art; and (f) unclean hands due a failure of decorum and courtesy in interactions with the PTO.
Regarding Nilssen’s unclean hands, the Court cited a petition to the Commissioner that reads as follows:
a) [The Examiner] cannot be characterized as being skilled in the arts to which subject applications pertain . . .
b) [The Examiner] is severely deficient in his understanding and use of reason and logic . . .
c) [The Examiner] has an inadequate command of the English language . . .
d) [The Examiner] has repeatedly shown himself to be overtly non-cooperative and non-caring.