Yesterday, the Federal Circuit handed down its anticipated en banc decision in Therasense, Inc. v. Becton, Dickinson & Co., increasing the standards for inequitable conduct. The 6-5 majority held that:
- an omitted reference is material only if the claim or patent would not have issued, but for omission of the reference;
- specific intent to deceive must be shown by clear and convincing evidence;
- courts can no longer employ a "sliding scale" of intent and materiality, both must be showng by clear and convincing evidence; and
- courts should apply equity to ensure that the remedy is not based upon conduct "immaterial to the issuance of the patent."
Patent Docs has an excellent explanation of the opinion and the case background. And there is plenty of commentary about the opinion (see links below). My initial reaction was that the heightened standards will not actually reduce the number of inequitable conduct claims that are filed, although it may reduce the number of inequitable conduct findings.
So, while the overall outcomes may change, the general cost and complexity of patent litigation will likely remain the same. But when I said as much on Twitter (@rdd), I got an interesting reaction from what appears to be an anonymous patent lawyer. This anonymous person suggested that the heightened standard would actually embolden inventors and patent prosecutors to omit references and hide information from the Patent Office because they are now less likely to be charged with inequitable conduct. My inclination is to dismiss this theory based upon my operating presumption that most patent prosecutors, and most inventors, are, or at least intend to, zealously advocate for their clients, or themselves, within the Patent Office's rules and the relevant ethics standards. Of course, I have seen exceptions, and they can be severe. But my experience is that those are the exceptions, not the rule. I am curious to hear what others think about this. Am I wrong?
Here is a round up of some of the blog posts about the decision: