Hyatt v. Doll (Fed. Cir. 2009) 07-1066.pdf
Gil Hyatt is a prolific inventor who has spent much of his time over the past thirty years challenging the bounds of USPTO practice. This August 11, 2009 opinion marks the seventeenth Federal Circuit decision focusing on Hyatt's patent rights in addition to the 2003 Supreme Court decision Franchise Tax Bd. of California v. Hyatt.
This Case: During prosecution, the examiner rejected each of Hyatt's 117 computer memory architecture claims based on anticipation, obviousness, enablement, double patenting, and written description. Hyatt appealed (pro se) to the BPAI who reversed the bulk of the rejections, but affirming only the written description and enablement rejections associated with 79 claims. Hyatt then took his case to Federal Court by filing a civil action in DC District Court grounded in 35 U.S.C. 145.
At the district court, Hyatt submitted a new declaration offering additional evidence of enablement and written description. However, the district court excluded that inventor-declaration from evidence based on Hyatt's "negligence" in failing to previously submit the information to the PTO.
On appeal, the Federal Circuit affirmed the exclusion of evidence - holding that the district court may properly exclude evidence that Hyatt should have produced to the PTO. (Chief Judge Michel as author joined by Judge Dyk)
Hyatt was obligated to respond to the examiner's written description rejection by In re Alton, 76 F.3d 1168, 1175 (Fed. Cir. 1996), by explaining where in the specification support for each of these limitations could be found. . . . The Board noted, "It is far easier for appellant to describe where the limitation he wrote is disclosed than for the Office to prove that the limitation is not disclosed." . . . Hyatt, however, refused to cooperate, even though he necessarily possessed the information the examiner sought by the time he filed his application.
On these facts, the district court's exclusion of Hyatt's new evidence must be affirmed. . . . [I]t is clear from the record that Hyatt willfully refused to provide evidence in his possession in response to a valid action by the examiner. Such a refusal to provide evidence which one possessed was grounds in Barrett to exclude the withheld evidence. Similarly, we hold that in light of Hyatt's willful non-cooperation here, the district court did not abuse its discretion by excluding the Hyatt declaration.
Judge Moore penned a vigorous dissent in support of the patent applicant's right to a full civil action including the right to submit additional evidence when challenging a PTO decision.
The majority takes away this patent applicant’s fundamental right to a "civil action to obtain [a] patent" as granted by Congress in 35 U.S.C. § 145. Today the majority decides that a patent applicant may not introduce the inventor’s declaration in a § 145 proceeding before the district court because the inventor had an "affirmative duty" or "obligation" to disclose this evidence to the PTO. His failure to fulfill his affirmative duty, by not disclosing evidence he could have disclosed to the PTO, results in such evidence being excluded from the district court § 145 proceeding. The district court made no fact findings indicating willful withholding or intentional suppression; in fact, the district court did not even conclude that Mr. Hyatt’s conduct amounted to gross negligence, but rather excluded the evidence under a negligence "could have" standard. Nor did the PTO even argue, at any stage of these proceedings, that Mr. Hyatt’s conduct in this case was willful or intentional. Nonetheless, the majority concludes that the applicant "owed," the PTO all evidence he possesses that is responsive to a rejection and that failure to fulfill this newly created "affirmative duty" amounts to willful withholding as a matter of law. There are only two possible ways to interpret the majority’s willful withholding determination. Either the majority is engaging in appellate fact finding or it is determining that breach of its newly created affirmative duty is willful withholding as a matter of law.
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Congress granted patent applicants the right to a civil action in the district court distinct from their right of appeal. It is our obligation to protect the distinction Congress codified in § 145, not to reweigh the virtues of that decision. The § 145 proceeding is a civil action and ought to be governed by the same Federal Rules of Evidence that govern other civil actions. Patent cases do not need, nor should they have, special rules of evidence.
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The statute itself distinguishes the appeal that may be brought pursuant to 35 U.S.C. § 141 because a § 145 action is not an appeal; it is a “civil action.” The statute obligates the district court to adjudicate the facts in this civil action. Because the statute affords no limitations on the type of evidence that ought to be admissible in a civil action brought under § 145, the standard Federal Rules of Evidence that govern all civil actions ought to govern. The legislative histories of § 145 and its predecessor statute, section 4915 of the Revised Statutes, repeatedly and without contradiction indicate that the intent of Congress was to permit a patent applicant to bring a new suit built upon a new record. . . . Congress intended that the district court in a § 145 action have everything that a court would have in an infringement suit. Under this standard, Congress certainly intended for an inventor, such as Mr. Hyatt, to be permitted to introduce his own declaration in a § 145 action.
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The majority holds that by failing to offer his testimony to the PTO, Hyatt has failed to satisfy “an affirmative and specific duty.” Maj. Op. at 2. In this way, this new affirmative duty for prosecution seems to resemble inequitable conduct, though here the applicant is penalized regardless of their intent. . . . With all due respect to the majority, I do not believe a new “affirmative duty” to disclose is warranted, nor do I believe Hyatt was “required by law” or “obligated” to provide his declaration to the PTO. While Mr. Hyatt may have failed to overcome the rejections or to convince the Board based upon his submissions to the PTO, he did not fail to fulfill an “obligation” or “affirmative duty” as the majority alleges.
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In this case, the district court found that Mr. Hyatt’s failure to proffer his
declaration to the PTO was merely negligent. . . . I find troubling the majority’s characterizations of Mr. Hyatt. See, e.g., Maj. Op. at 51 (Mr. “Hyatt purposefully kept [the Board] in the dark”); id. (his “blatant non-cooperation”); id. at 50 (Mr. “Hyatt willfully refused to provide evidence in his possession”); id. (Hyatt “refused to cooperate”); id. (“Hyatt’s willful non-cooperation”); id. at 55 (“Hyatt willfully refused”); id. at 49 (providing his declaration “should have been simple for him”); id. at 55 (that Hyatt’s failure “to perform a simple task that it was his burden to perform is inexcusable”); id. at 54 (“Hyatt’s perverse unhelpfulness”). None of this appears in the district court proceedings, the PTO proceedings, or the record— these fact findings ought to be left to the district court which is in the best position to weigh the contradictory evidence.
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Contrary to the appellate finding of willful withholding, the record contains ample evidence of a lack of willful withholding. Here, the examiner rejected all of Mr. Hyatt’s 117 claims for lack of written description, failure to enable, obviousness-type double patenting (over 8 separate references), and Schneller-type double patenting (over the same 8 references). The examiner also rejected 9 claims as anticipated (Hill reference) and 7 as obvious (over a combination of three references). Technically, Mr. Hyatt was appealing 45 separate issues totaling 2546 separate rejections of his 117 claims to the Board. He wrote a 129-page appeal brief addressing all of these different rejections. And, to be clear, the Board reversed all the examiner’s rejections for obviousness, anticipation, obviousness-type double patenting, Schneller-type double patenting, and many of the written description and enablement rejections. With regard to the written description rejections in particular, the Board reversed the rejections of 38 claims and sustained the rejections of 79 claims. Mr. Hyatt prevailed on 92% of all the examiner’s rejections at the Board level. Despite Mr. Hyatt’s success, the majority declares Mr. Hyatt’s response to be “completely and wholly inadequate” and Mr. Hyatt to have been perversely unhelpful. Maj. Op. at 55, 56.
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Although Mr. Hyatt may have failed to overcome all of the written description rejections based upon his submissions to the PTO, he did not fail to fulfill an “obligation” or “affirmative duty,” and he certainly was not “perversely unhelpful” as the majority alleges. . . I believe the court is wrong to hold that breach of the newly created affirmative duty, i.e., not producing evidence to the PTO, is willful withholding as a matter of law.
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In hindsight, perhaps Mr. Hyatt should have submitted his declaration or that of any other expert earlier in the prosecution process. But hindsight is misleadingly acute. Declarations and expert reports are time consuming and expensive to prepare. It is hardly reasonable or even desirable to require patent applicants to put massive declarations into the record at an early stage of prosecution, weighing the cost to both the applicant and the PTO. See generally Mark A. Lemley, Rational Ignorance at the Patent Office, 95 Nw. U.L. Rev. 1495 (2003) (arguing that it would be inefficient for the PTO to overinvest in examination because so few patents are enforced). In this case, for example, the examiner rejected the claims on many different bases (double patenting on 8 different references, obviousness, anticipation, enablement, written description, etc.), totaling 2546 separate rejections. The Board overturned nearly all of them. It is easy with the benefit of hindsight to say Mr. Hyatt should have introduced more evidence on written description to the Board. But Mr. Hyatt was not facing merely a written description rejection, he was facing 2546 separate rejections on many, many different bases. The majority implausibly asserts that 2546 separate rejections is “proportional to Hyatt’s prosecution of an application containing 117 pending claims spanning 79 pages.” Maj. Op. at 56 n.35. An average of 21 rejections per claim is hardly proportional. Mr. Hyatt was forced to appeal 45 independent issues to the Board when the average is two. Dennis D. Crouch, Understanding the Role of the Board of Patent Appeals in Ex Parte Appeals, 4, available at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1423922. Despite this challenge, Mr. Hyatt was largely successful on appeal. Further, the length of Mr. Hyatt’s application suggests that his efforts to pinpoint pages containing certain terms was helpful and in good faith. Mr. Hyatt’s response may have been especially valuable in the time before searchable electronic applications.
To say that Mr. Hyatt had an affirmative duty to introduce all evidence to the Board or that he “owed” (Maj. Op. at 56) all the evidence he possessed is to put an enormous and undesirable burden on the patentee, one that will foreclose patent protection for many small inventors. Congress foresaw exactly this problem and ameliorated it with § 145 by providing applicants a way to initiate a civil action and introduce new evidence after Board proceedings when the issues are much more succinct and consolidated. This is illustrated perfectly here, where the applicant was contending with 2546 rejections on many different bases before the Board. After the Board overturned nearly all of them, only a small number of rejections—based on written description/enablement—were maintained. Hence at the district court the applicant could proffer much more extensive evidence because the universe of issues was greatly narrowed. This is the sensible approach Congress enacted. The statute even places the cost of the proceeding on the party better positioned to know the value of the application—the applicant. The majority’s new exclusionary rule based upon its new affirmative duty upsets this balance.
Notes: I expect that Hyatt will ask for reconsideration and will then push for Supreme Court review.