Invention disclosures made by an inventor to an attorney, or a review committee including attorney(s), often contain sensitive information that a client would prefer to keep confidential. It is important for both inventors and attorneys to appreciate the boundaries of the attorney-client privilege, as applied to inventor-attorney communications, to determine which communications can be privileged, and thus sheltered from discovery, and those that will remain discoverable. As in other areas of law, the attorney-client privilege attaches to confidential communications between a client and an attorney made for the purpose of seeking legal advice or services. The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) has applied this principle to patent law and found that the privilege attaches to confidential invention disclosure communications between an inventor and an attorney made for (1) seeking advice on patentability or (2) for obtaining legal services of preparing a patent application. See In re Spalding Sports Worldwide, Inc., (Fed. Cir. 2000). Thus, the attorney-client privilege attaches to invention disclosures submitted or communicated to an attorney to assist the attorney in evaluating patentability or in prosecuting a patent. Additional inventor-attorney communications which may fall within the attorney-client privilege include draft patent applications prepared for or received by an attorney and communications between a named inventor and a patent attorney about patent prosecution.
Over the years, patents have issued on numerous games, including iconic favorites such as Monopoly® (1935), Battleship® (1935), Rubik’s Cube® (1983), Rock'em Sock'em Robots® (1966), Twister® (1969), and Simon® (1979). Although there is no per se rule under current U.S. patent law against the patenting of games, it may be more challenging today to obtain patents on certain games due to the patent eligibility requirements of 35 U.S.C. § 101.
Steve Saunders, co-chair of Nutter’s Intellectual Property Department, recently contributed an article to IPWatchdog that analyzed how the pendulum continues to slowly drift toward patentees in this post-Alice world. In the article, “Ancora v HTC: Why You Should Draft Patents That Emphasize Technical Solutions,” Steve addressed the recent ruling Ancora Technologies v HTC America, in which the Federal Circuit reversed a lower court’s invalidity ruling under 35 USC §101 by concluding that Ancora’s claimed subject matter was concrete—not abstract—because it assigned specific functions to specific parts of a computer to improve computer security. According to Steve, this case is yet another in a string of post-Alice cases suggesting that patents should be drafted with an emphasis on the technical problem and technical solution delivered by the claims.
Taking into account what constitutes a disclosure, we can see the following guiding principles and trends emerging:
The issue of public disclosure is a frequent concern for inventors looking to obtain patent protection. While it may often be safest to wait until at least a provisional patent application is filed before having any discussion regarding the invention with a third party, it is often not practical. Is the idea of waiting to discuss with a third party until a patent application is filed an overly cautious practice? Consideration of what actually constitutes a public disclosure and the factors that courts take into account illustrate that avoiding any and all discussion of the invention may not be necessary.
On June 22, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in WesternGeco LLC v. ION GeoPhysical, which addresses the ability of a patent owner to collect lost profits from sales abroad for infringement under 35 U.S.C. § 271(f)(2). Under this subsection of the Patent Act, it is an act of infringement to supply components of an invention to be combined overseas in an infringing device. The Court—in a 7-to-2 decision—held that lost profits are available from foreign sales for a patent owner who proves such infringement.
Nutter lawyers Heather Repicky and Alison Casey recently contributed an article to IPWatchdog that addresses changes in Massachusetts local patent rules. In the article, “What You Need to Know About the District of Massachusetts’ New Local Patent Rules,” Heather and Alison discuss how the new set of rules aims to make the Commonwealth a more attractive venue for patent litigation by streamlining patent cases. Please contact the authors if you’d like to learn more about this topic.
The District of Massachusetts is poised to overhaul its local patent rules with the objective of making the Commonwealth a more attractive venue for patent litigation. The new proposed rules aim to streamline patent cases by focusing on efficiency, reaching outcomes more quickly, and achieving consistency across the entire bench. The prior version of Local Rule 16.6 acted more like a guide, suggesting issues that the parties should consider and offering a template for a schedule. That template, however, was not mandatory and resulted in a case-by-case approach by both the bench and the bar. In contrast, the proposed local patent rules require a schedule that, absent extraordinary circumstances, will apply. In addition, the proposed rules bring this district in line with several other courts around the country that have adopted patent-specific rules.
In a stinging decision that will impact its patent portfolio, Arthrex recently suffered a setback in a patent dispute over suture anchors with Smith & Nephew. The Federal Circuit upheld a PTAB judgment entering adverse judgment against claims 1-9 of Arthrex’s U.S. Pat. No. 8,821,541, which S&N challenged in a 2016 IPR. This decision will affect the related patent portfolio because of the estoppel provisions of 37 CFR 42.73.
Maximizing the protection and value of intellectual property assets is often the cornerstone of a business's success and even survival. In this blog, Nutter's Intellectual Property attorneys provide news updates and practical tips in patent portfolio development, IP litigation, trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets and licensing.