Aristocrat Technologies Australia v. International Game Technologies (IGT) (Fed. Cir. 2008)
'The district court concluded that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office "improperly revived" U.S. Patent No. 7,056,215 after it was abandoned during prosecution, and therefore held it (and the continuation patent that followed it) invalid on summary judgment. We conclude that "improper revival" is not a cognizable defense in an action involving the validity or infringement of a patent. Thus, we reverse the district court's grant of summary judgment and remand for proceedings consistent with this opinion.'
ATA missed its US national stage filing by one day. The PTO granted ATA's petition to revive the application based on the applicant's seemingly legitimate claim that the "entire delay" in filing the appropriate papers "was unintentional." The district court, however, found the patent invalid based on the PTO's "improper revival" of the application. In particular, the district court found that the PTO lacked authority to revive unintentionally late national stage applications. Rather, according to the court, the PTO can only revive such applications when the cause of delay meets the much higher standard of being unavoidable. The Court found its statutory support from 35 USC 371, which requires the PTO to hold late national stage applications as abandoned unless "such failure to comply was unavoidable."
On appeal, the Federal Circuit panel (Judges Newman, Bryson, and Linn) reversed – finding that "improper revival" is not a proper invalidity defense in a patent infringement action.
The court's surprising conclusion is based on its interpretation of 35 U.S.C. §282. That statute lists the defenses available to charges of patent infringement. Those include:
(1) Noninfringement …,
(2) Invalidity of the patent or any claim in suit on any ground specified in part II of this title as a condition for patentability,
(3) Invalidity of the patent or any claim in suit for failure to comply with any requirement of sections 112 or 251 of this title.
(4) Any other fact or act made a defense by this title.
Conditions for Patentability: In the appeal, the Federal Circuit saw the term "condition for patentability" of ¶2 above as a term of art and gave it a narrow interpretation: "While there are most certainly other factors that bear on the validity or the enforceability of a patent, utility and eligibility, novelty, and nonobviousness are the only so-called conditions for patentability." Thus, complying with the timing requirements is not a condition of patentability.
Made a Defense: Taking a similarly hard stand, the appellate panel found that ¶4 above would only apply when another act had explicitly been 'made a defense' by the words of the patent act.
"Congress made it clear in various provisions of the statute when it intended to create a defense of invalidity or noninfringement, but indicated no such intention in the statutes pertaining to revival of abandoned applications. For example, 35 U.S.C. § 273 is entitled "Defense to infringement based on earliest inventor" and expressly provides that the provision "shall be a defense to an action for infringement."…
Because the proper revival of an abandoned application is neither a fact or act made a defense by title 35 nor a ground specified in part II of title 35 as a condition for patentability, we hold that improper revival may not be asserted as a defense in an action involving the validity or infringement of a patent."
On several occasions, the court has allowed an invalidity finding when the cause of invalidity did not reach one of the Section 282 categories. In the 1995 Quantum case, for instance, the court invalidated a patent based on improperly expanding its scope during prosecution. Here, the court pushed Quantum aside finding it irrelevant or "inapposite." On the policy side, the court noted that this case is a one-off and is unlikely to encourage bad applicant behavior.
What result: The result of this case is that an accused infringer has no recourse to invalidate a patent that was issued as a result of procedural lapses during prosecution. Absent proof of inequitable conduct, there may be no recourse at all. In this respect, the Federal Circuit quoted its own 1997 Magnivision decision:
"Procedural lapses during examination, should they occur, do not provide grounds of invalidity. Absent proof of inequitable conduct, the examiner's or the applicant's absolute compliance with the internal rules of patent examination becomes irrelevant after the patent has issued."
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