There has been a nagging question regarding the status of the on-sale bar ever since passage of the AIA in 2011. The Supreme Court has unanimously answered the question in the negative in the slip opinion in Helsinn Healthcare v. Teva No. 17–1229. Argued December 4, 2018—Decided January 22, 2019. See opinion here: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/18pdf/17-1229_2co3.pdf
Justice Thomas wrote for the unanimous court to affirm the Federal Circuit ruling and the summary of same is here. Even a “secret sale” can trigger the bar. The Court framed the issue:
“We granted certiorari to determine whether, under the AIA, an inventor’s sale of an invention to a third party who is obligated to keep the invention confidential qualifies as prior art for purposes of determining the patentability of the invention. 585 U. S. ___ (2018). We conclude that such a sale can qualify as prior art.”
“Held: A commercial sale to a third party who is required to keep the invention confidential may place the invention “on sale” under §102(a). The patent statute in force immediately before the AIA included an on-sale bar. This Court’s precedent interpreting that provision supports the view that a sale or offer of sale need not make an invention available to the public to constitute invalidating prior art. See, e.g., Pfaff v. Wells Electronics, Inc., 525 U. S. 55, 67. The Federal Circuit had made explicit what was implicit in this Court’s pre-AIA precedent, holding that “secret sales” could invalidate a patent. Special Devices, Inc. v. OEA, Inc., 270 F. 3d 1353, 1357. Given this settled pre-AIA precedent, the Court applies the presumption that when Congress reenacted the same “on sale” language in the AIA, it adopted the earlier judicial construction of that phrase. The addition of the catchall phrase “or otherwise available to the public” is not enough of a change for the Court to conclude that Congress intended to alter the meaning of “on sale.” Paroline v. United States, 572 U. S. 434, and Federal Maritime Comm’n v. Seatrain Lines, Inc., 411 U. S. 726, distinguished. Pp. 5–9. 855 F. 3d 1356, affirmed.”
Posted by Henry M. Sneath, Esquire Co-Chair Litigation Practice Group and Chair of the IP Practice Group: Houston Harbaugh, P.C. 401 Liberty Avenue, Pittsburgh, Pa. 15222. Sneath is also an Adjunct Professor of Law teaching two courses; Trade Secret Law and the Law of Trademarks and Unfair Competition at Duquesne University School of Law. Please contact Mr. Sneath at 412-288-4013 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted in America Invents Act, Federal Circuit Patent Decisions, Patents, United States Supreme Court
Tagged AIA, America Invents Act, Federal Circuit, intellectual property, intellectual property litigation, patent, patent litigation, Patent Reform Act of 2011, pittsburgh patent litigation
by: Robert Wagner, intellectual property attorney at Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C. (Robert Wagner on G+)
When President Obama signed the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act, H.R. 1249, 112th Cong. (1st Sess. 2011), the patent false marking claims that had become so popular were essentially eliminated. Whereas before anyone could bring such a claim, regardless of whether they had actually suffered any injury, now only those who have “suffered a competitive injury” as a result of a violation of the marking statute have standing to sue. (See 35 U.S.C. § 292). The America Invents Act not only prohibits persons who have not suffered a competitive injury from suing in the future, it also divests the standing of plaintiffs in pending false marking cases from continuing to pursue those claims.
In Rogers v. Tristar Products, Inc., 2011-1494, -1495, the Federal Circuit had to decide if that divestment included cases on appeal, as well as cases current pending in district courts. After considering the clear language in the newly amended 35 U.S.C. § 292—“The amendments made by this subsection shall apply to all cases, without exception, that are pending on, or commenced on or after, the date of the enactment of this Act”—the Federal Circuit determined that all cases must be dismissed, regardless of where they were pending or what procedural posture they may be in, unless the plaintiff could demonstrate that it had suffered a competitive injury.
The Federal Circuit rejected plaintiff’s assertion that he had a property right in maintaining such a claim or that the retroactive elimination of his claim violated the Due Process Clause. The Court found that Congress had a legitimate justification for eliminating these types of claims and rationally made the requirements retroactive.
The America Invents Act has effectively eliminated the nascent cottage industry of individuals suing companies for leaving expired patent numbers on its products. Companies no longer need to fear that they will be sued in such circumstances by individuals who likely have never used the products in question. Despite this, companies still need to be concerned about monitoring their products to make sure that they are appropriately marked. In the high stakes of patent litigation, defendants are still likely to look at whether they can bring false marking counterclaims if they are sued. As a competitor, it will be far easier (although by no means certain) to establish a competitive injury.