Co-Authorship ≠ Co-Inventorship but Can Be Supportive of Inventive Contribution
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The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit vacated and remanded a Patent Trial & Appeal Board (Board) decision because it failed to resolve fundamental testimonial conflict relating to inventive contribution and complete the Duncan Parking analysis. Google LLC v. IPA Technologies Inc., Case Nos. 21-1179; -1180; -1185 (Fed. Cir. May 19, 2022) (Dyk, Schall, Taranto, JJ.)
Under Duncan Parking, analyzing whether a reference patent is "by another" requires the following three steps:
- Determining what portions were relied on as prior art to anticipate the claim limitations at issue
- Evaluating the degree to which those portions were conceived by another
- Deciding whether that other person's contribution is significant enough to render them a joint inventor of the applied portions of the reference patent.
SRI International filed two patent applications in 1999 related to the software-based Open Agent Architecture (OAA) and listed Martin and Cheyer as the inventors. In March 1998, an academic paper describing the OAA project was published and named these inventors and Moran as co-authors (Martin reference). During prosecution, the examiner identified the Martin reference as prior art and rejected the claims. SRI asserted that the Martin reference was not prior art because it was made by the same inventive entity as the patents. The patents were granted and assigned to IPA.
Google petitioned the Board for inter partes review of the patent claims. Google argued obviousness in view of the Martin reference and asserted that since the authors of the Martin reference (Martin, Cheyer, Moran) were not the same as the named inventive entity (Martin, Cheyer), the Martin reference was prior art "by others." The Board instituted review but decided that Google did not meet its burden to provide sufficient support in establishing the correct inventive entity of the claimed subject matter and concluded that Moran's testimony was insufficiently corroborated. Google appealed.
First, the Federal Circuit discussed the differences between burdens of persuasion and production and responded to Google's argument that the Board improperly imposed a burden of proof. The Court found no error in the Board requiring Google to establish that the Martin reference was prior art "by another" by showing that Moran made a significant-enough contribution to qualify as a joint inventor on the relevant portions of the Martin reference.
Second, the Federal Circuit explained that the issue in this case was not the lack of corroboration for Moran's testimony but rather whether his testimony should be credited over Cheyer and Martin's conflicting testimony. The Court explained that to address joint inventorship under Duncan Parking, Moran "must have made an inventive contribution to the portions of the reference relied on and relevant to establishing obviousness." Moran's testimony could support co-inventorship of portions in the Martin reference relied on by Google and relevant to the challenged claims.
The Federal Circuit explained that although most corroboration cases involve issued patents, corroboration is also required for testimony that an individual is an inventor of a potentially invalidating, non-patent prior art reference. The record contained "more than adequate corroboration" of Moran's testimony regarding contribution, including his technical contributions in the co-authored Martin reference, his role within the OAA team as the most senior computer scientist, Cheyer's acknowledgement of Moran's technical contributions to the OAA project, and Moran's named inventorship on a related continuation-in-part. Co-authorship does not presumptively make a co-author a co-inventor, but it is significant corroborating evidence that a co-author contributed to the invention.
Lastly, IPA argued that even if Moran was a joint inventor with regard to both the Martin reference and the challenged patent claims, the Martin reference still would not be prior art "by another." However, the Federal Circuit noted that as the situation now stood, Cheyer and Martin were presumptively the true and only inventors, so IPA could not raise this argument as a defense without seeking correction of inventorship of the patents.
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