As a new year begins, Paul Morgan reflects on the practical importance of the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act of 2011 – the major patent reform effort that was enacted in September 2011. Although admittedly oversimplified (like any short-list), Paul's list provides some food for thought for patent strategists. He looks forward to comments.
By Paul Morgan
1. Regarding the hyper-hyped "first inventor to file" replacing of "first to invent" -- the number of situations in which two different parties file patent applications on the same or substantially the same invention, and the second to file obtains valid dominant patent claims, is miniscule (now less than 20 a year). Cases involving invention "derivation" are a small percentage of even that miniscule number. In other words, the removal of alleged prior "invention date" arguments is not a significant AIA change.
2. The most significant AIA changes, which will affect almost every patent applicant, are in the definitions of what counts as prior art. The AIA provides a considerable simplification (albeit with a few ambiguities). Also, most prior art will now become instant "bars-to-patentability." U.S. application foreign priority filing dates and foreign public disclosure dates both becoming U.S. prior art dates will provide a significant prior art increase. The ending of PTO Rule 131 alleged prior invention dates declarations "swearing behind" earlier prior art dates will have a limited effect on some patent grants, but little or no effect on successfully litigating patents. [Rule 131 declarations are ex parte, uncontested, and often inadequately examined, so they rarely survive litigation challenges and easily raise inequitable conduct issues.]
3. Delaying filing patent applications after publicly disclosing one's invention is foolishly dangerous now, and will remain so. It will also continue to destroy foreign patent rights. There is a [sole remaining] one year "grace period" for doing that, but that grace period is ambiguous as to its disclosure extent requirements and effect. Delaying the filing of at least provisional applications for new products still under development will become more dangerous even if kept secret, due to the above changes in prior art and its effective dates.
4. The AIA significant increases the value of trade secrecy protection (instead of or even in addition to patenting) for any inventions which can be kept secret while being commercially exploited. There is potential dual IP protection from the AIA elimination of "best mode" defenses. Even more so if disputed ambiguities in AIA 102(a)(1) are held to overrule the long-established Metalizing Engineering doctrine that "forfeits" patenting after having already commercially exploited an invention, which would allow tacking on full term patent protection after unlimited years of trade secrecy protection. A rather surprising impact of "patent" legislation.
5. The ability to eliminate any inequitable conduct defense before patent litigation is provided in the new "Supplemental Examination." [An ex parte reexamination solely for patent owners to request and participate in, and thus a potentially powerful new tool for patent enforceability, although its PTO rules and actual usage remain to be seen.]
6. Ending the "false marking suits" plague and the naming of numerous defendants in the same patent suit [to avoid venue transfers] is already accomplished. Also, there is a new "virtual" marking system that really ought to be used.
Finally, the practical effects of many other text-extensive AIA changes, such as the new or amended and Board-run inter partes reexaminations and 9 month only PGR opposition systems, are too soon to predict. Especially given their potentially dangerous estoppels, predictable higher costs, un-issued PTO rules, and the limited number of them that the PTO will accept each year.