In two months, the U.S. patent system will begin its transition from the current “first to invent” system to a new “first-inventor-to-file” system. Inventors and applicants should be considering whether patent applications that may be ready for filing should be filed before or after the March 16, 2013 effective date of the U.S. first-to-file laws. This article provides a non-comprehensive, big picture review of the changes that take effect on March 16, 2013, and discusses other changes to the America Invents Act recently passed by Congress.
Which patent applications will be governed by the first-to-file laws?
What are some key effects of the first-to-file laws?
How will this impact patent application filing strategies?
Will it really matter if an application is filed before or after March 16, 2013?
If an application is filed on March 15, but an independent third party published the same invention on March 14, the applicant may be able to “swear behind” the publication by establishing an earlier date of invention. If the same application is not filed until March 16, the applicant may not be able to obtain a patent unless one of the limited exceptions under the AIA version of 35 USC § 102(b) can be established. (Please see this article for a review of the “grace period shielding disclsoure” exception, for example).
Could it be advantageous to wait to file an application until March 16, 2013?
There are some circumstances under which an application may benefit from examination under the first-to-file laws.
Deciding On A Case-By-Case Basis
The decision to file an application before or after March 16, 2013 can be a complicated one, and should be made on a case-by-case basis with the advice of U.S. patent counsel. The USPTO also has the following AIA resources:
phone: 1 855 HELP AIA
Technical Amendments To The AIA
Both houses of Congress have passed a bill (HR 6621) with “technical amendments” to the AIA, which is awaiting signature by President Obama. The AIA changes are summarized below.
Inter Partes Review
One of the most significant changes in HR 6621 closes the Inter Partes Review (IPR) “dead zone.” The original IPR statute provides that IPR cannot be requested within the first 9 months of a patent’s grant date. This time period will complement the time period for Post Grant Review (PGR), once PGR is available because PGR only can be requested within 9 months of a patent’s grant date. But, PGR only is available against certain business method patents and patents examined under the first-to-file version of 35 USC § 102, which does not take effect until March 16, 2013. Thus, under the original IPR statute, patents granted now cannot be challenged in an inter partes USPTO proceeding until they have been in force for 9 months.
HR 6621 eliminates this “dead zone” by providing that the 9-months-from-grant requirement does not apply to patents that are not examined under the first-to-file version of 35 USC § 102. (Congress does not shy away from double negatives!)
HR 6621 also eliminates a similar “dead zone” for reissue patents, by providing that the 9-months-from-grant requirement does not apply to reissue patents.
HR 6621 changes the time period for filing an executed inventor’s oath/declaration (or substitute statement) from “by allowance” to “no later than the date on which the issue fee .. . paid.” This will greatly simply allowance procedures, and will permit the USPTO to issue a Notice of Allowance even when an executed inventor’s oath/declaration has not yet been filed.
Advice Of Counsel
HR 6621 provides that the section of the AIA deeming that evidence of any failure to obtain “advice of counsel” cannot be used to establish willfulness or intent to induce infringement apply to “any civil action commenced on or after the date of enactment” of HR 6621.
HR 6621 clarifies the deadline for bringing a derivation proceeding, and provides that such a proceeding must be brought within one year of the publication or grant of a relevant claim in the earlier-filed application. This is consistent with how the USPTO had interpreted the original language of the derivation statute.
HR 6621 also defines “earlier application” and re-writes much of the derivation statute in terms of the “earlier application.”
HR 6621 clarifies that the USPTO Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) and Federal Circuit can hear appeals of interferences commenced after the effective date of the AIA’s amendments to § 135(a).
HR 6621 includes changes to the Patent Term Adjustment statute that are discussed in this article, including some changes that may be problematic.
Effective Date Of The Technical Amendments
The default effective date of HR 6621 is its date of enactment, and it will apply “to proceedings commenced on or after” that date, except where it states otherwise. However, if Preseident Obama does not sign this bill into law this week, it will have to be reintroduced and passaed again by both houses of Congress before it could become law.