Thursday, February 21, 2019

Is the Test for Correcting Inventorship Errors under S 52 the Same as under S 31?

Pharma Inc. v. Canada (Commissioner of Patents) 2019 FC 208 Pentney J

This decision concerned an uncontested application to add the name of a co-inventor who had been inadvertently omitted from the original application [1], [2]. The leading case on this issue is Micromass UK Ltd v Canada (Commissioner of Patents), 2006 FC 117 [10], which held that an application to the Court is required, as the Commissioner cannot make corrections related to inventorship under s 8 of the Act, which only gives the Commissioner authority to correct “clerical errors” [4]. Pentney J granted the application pursuant to s 52, which provides that:

52 The Federal Court has jurisdiction, on the application of the Commissioner or of any person interested, to order that any entry in the records of the Patent Office relating to the title to a patent be varied or expunged.

While the matter was routine, one point caught my eye. Pentney J remarked that:

[5] In prior cases involving the addition or deletion of an inventor’s (or co-inventor’s) name, the Court has considered the test set out in sub-sections 31(3) and (4) of the Act, which relate to the addition or removal of applicants to a pending patent application: Plasti-Fab v Canada (Commissioner of Patents), 2010 FC 172, at para 14; Qualcomm Inc v Canada (Commissioner of Patents), 2016 FC 1092; Gilead Sciences Inc. v Canada (Commissioner of Patents), 2019 FC 70. The pertinent part for the purposes of this application requires that the Court be satisfied: (i) that the person should be joined as a co-inventor; and (ii) “that the omission of the further applicant or applicants had been by inadvertence or mistake and was not for the purpose of delay” (sub-section 31(4)).

Note the careful language. Pentney J did not say that the test for changing inventorship under s 52 is the same as under s 31(3)(4), but rather that the Court “has considered” that test. Nonetheless, on the facts he applied the s 31 test, and there seems to be a creeping tendency to import the s 31 test into s 52.

While the point didn't make any difference on the facts, it seems to me that it would be wrong in principle to hold that the s 31(4) test applies under s 52 as well. (And I would repeat that Pentney J did not so hold.) Section 31(4), relevant to adding an inventor, provides as follows:

(4) Where an application is filed by one or more applicants and it subsequently appears that one or more further applicants should have been joined, the further applicant or applicants may be joined on satisfying the Commissioner that he or they should be so joined, and that the omission of the further applicant or applicants had been by inadvertence or mistake and was not for the purpose of delay.

The second part of the test stated by Pentney J in [5], that “that the omission of the further applicant or applicants had been by inadvertence or mistake and was not for the purpose of delay,” is drawn directly from s 31(4), as Pentney J noted. Section 52 is much broader on its face. As Layden-Stevenson J noted in Micromass:

[15] The powers conferred on the Court under section 52 are very broad. In Clopay, Cameron J. described section 54 (now section 52) of the Act in the following manner:

...I think, therefore, that s. 54 was enacted so as to enable the rectification by the Court of the records in the Patent Office relating to title in order that the party or parties actually entitled to the grant or to be registered as to the assignees of the patent, might have their rights properly recorded (p. 235).

There is no suggestion in Micromass, or in s 52 itself, that s 52 is in any way restricted to cases of inadvertence or mistake.

The notion that the test from s 31 is relevant to s 52 appears to stem from Plasti-Fab 2010 FC 172 [14], where O’Keefe J, after quoting at length from Micromass, stated “Therefore this Court may, in place of the Commissioner, engage the test set out in subsection 31(4) to determine if an individual should be joined.” With respect, there is nothing whatsoever in the passage quoted by O’Keefe J, or anywhere else in Micromass, to suggest that s 52 engages the test set out in s 31(4).

Other cases have considered the relationship between the provisions. In Gilead 2019 FC 70 [2], Grammond J stated that “This Court has said, however, that the criteria found in section 31(4), which governs the addition of applicants to a patent application, are relevant to an application under section 52,” citing Micromass and Pasti-Fab. Plasti-Fab does stand for this proposition, via the questionable interpretation of Micromass, just discussed, but Micromass does not.

Qualcomm #1 2016 FC 499 (blogged here) concerned an application under s 52 to remove a co-inventor from a granted patent. Simpson J considered s 31(3), which relates to the removal of an named inventor from an application, where (i) “it . . . appears that one or more of them has had no part in the invention,” and (ii) the Commissioner is satisfied “by affidavit that the remaining applicant or applicants is or are the sole inventor or inventors.” Simpson J stated at [7] that “I am satisfied that the first part of the test in [s 31(3)] is relevant” under s 52; but this is only to say that a named inventor should not be removed unless they are in fact not an inventor. No doubt the Court would have come to that conclusion under s 52, even without consulting s 31(3). She then went on to say that the second part of s 31(3), the requirement for an affidavit, did not apply [8]-[11]. Thus, Qualcomm #1 is authority for the proposition that the test from s 31(3) is not applicable under s 52, though some of the same considerations may be relevant.

In Qualcomm #2 2016 FC 1092 (blogged here) Southcott J noted that Simpson J in Qualcomm #1 had held that affidavits were not required under s 2, but he accepted them nonetheless given that they had been sworn and introduced into evidence. He did not suggest that he disagreed with Simpson J’s holding.

It does seem entirely reasonable to say that the test from s 31 may be relevant under s 52, in that whenever the more restrictive requirements of s 31 are met, it will almost always be appropriate to order the correction under s 52. But on the face of the Act, and in light of Micromass and Qualcomm #1, it seems to me that the opposite is not true; s 52 might properly be invoked even in circumstances where the test from s 31 is not satisfied.

This is a longer post than is perhaps necessary given that the issue discussed made no difference on the facts. But I am concerned that by slow accretion of obiter statements it might become accepted that the s 31 test is required under s 52, thereby effectively reading a restriction from s 31 into s 52. I appreciate Pentney J’s careful language on this point, noting that prior decisions had considered the test from s 31, without saying that it was necessary under s 52.

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