My recent study of BPAI written description requirement jurisprudence was prompted by reading the US Government Brief in the en banc case of Ariad v. Eli Lilly. In the brief, the government indicated its continued support for a separate written description requirement as a tool that the agency uses to eliminate claims during patent prosecution. In sometimes bold font, the government makes its position clear: that a separate written description requirement is "essential to the operation of the patent system;" serves an "indispensable role in the administration of the patent system;" is "fundamental to the operation of the patent system;" and is "necessary for USPTO to perform its examination function." According to the brief, these conclusions are grounded in the USPTO's "practical experience" in "appl[ying] the requirements of Section 112, ¶1 to more than 400,000 patent applications each year."
During oral arguments, the government attorney was pressed for specific evidence supporting its contention that the separate written description requirement serves a practical purpose. As in its brief, the government did not point to any evidence supporting the conclusory statements. The following colloquy at oral arguments between Chief Judge Michel and Mr. Freeman emphasize this point:
Chief Judge Michel: Why does the patent office care? How many applications that can’t be rejected on other statutory grounds will fail only if we [retain the current written description requirement]? . . . I’m asking about impact. . . .
Mr. Freeman on Behalf of the Government: I don’t know an absolute number, your honor, but I think that number must be high. . . .
Chief Judge Michel: I can’t remember ever seeing a patent office rejection that was based only on the failure of written description. I’m not saying there aren’t any, but the flow of cases that come through this court at three or four hundred a year, it is exceedingly rare that the patent office hangs its case on written description. I can’t remember a single case.
Mr. Freeman: Your honor, I don’t have a single case in mind . . . .
Chief Judge Michel: . . . It seems like the practical impact is miniscule, negligible.
Mr. Freeman: Your honor, with all respect, one cannot assume away four-hundred-thousand applications where the written description doctrine comes into play in a great many of them.
My study is essentially directed to the particular questions asked by Chief Judge Michel -- How often does the separate written description requirement actually make a difference in patent prosecution? As the data reveals, Chief Judge Michel’s notional recollections from the bench are much more accurate than are the government contentions. I.e., "the practical impact is miniscule, negligible."
These results fit well with those of UMKC professor Christopher Holman that he reported in his 2007 article, Is Lilly Written Description a Paper Tiger?: A Comprehensive Assessment of the Impact of Eli Lilly and its Progeny in the Courts and PTO, 17 ALB. L.J. SCI. & TECH. 1, 62 (2007).