Thursday, March 12, 2020

Correcting Inventorship Post-Grant

Inguran LLC dba STgenetics v. Canada (Commissioner of Patents) 2020 FC 338 Brown J

This decision concerned an uncontested application to remove six named inventors from several granted patents. Brown J followed Qualcomm 2016 FC 499 (here) in holding that an affidavit from remaining inventors to the effect that they are the sole inventors is not required, so long it is adequately established on the other evidence that the named inventors to be removed are not in fact inventors. The case also illustrates that the power of the FC to correct inventorship is post-grant pursuant to s 52 is broader than the power of the Commissioner to correct inventorship pre-grant pursuant to s 31.

In this case, the original application had twelve named inventors. After a unity of invention objection by CIPO, the application was divided into divisional applications relating separately to electro-mechanical subject-matter and biological subject-matter. All twelve inventors were left on the divisionals, even though the named inventors sought to be removed in this application had not contributed to electro-mechanical subject-matter claimed in the patents at issue. This application sought to remove those non-inventors.

Before a patent is granted, inventors can be removed by the Commissioner pursuant to s 31(3) and added by the Commissioner pursuant to s 31(4). The Commissioner does not have the authority to add or remove inventors after grant: Micromass 2006 FC 117. (The Commissioner can correct some essentially clerical errors under the Patent Rules, including a spelling error in the name of an inventor pursuant to Rule 109 (this was previously authorized by s 8, now repealed).)

Post-grant, grant, inventors may be added or removed on application to the FC pursuant to s 52, which gives the Court broad authority to “order that any entry in the records of the Patent Office relating to the title to a patent be varied or expunged.” A number of decisions by the FC have invoked the test under s 31 in a decision pursuant to s 52, notwithstanding that on its face s 31 applies only to the Commissioner in respect of applications (see here). Presumably this is because s 31 provides more specific guidance regarding changes in inventorship specifically.

There is a bit of a concern regarding this practice, as s 31 is more restrictive than the broad powers granted to the Court by s 52. In particular, s 31(3) regarding removal of non-inventors (ie named inventors who in fact did not contribute to the development of the claimed inventions), specifies that the application may be carried on by the remaining inventors “on satisfying the Commissioner by affidavit” that they are the true inventors. S 31(4), regarding addition, provides that inventors may be added on satisfying the Commissioner that (i) they should be so joined, and (ii) that the omission of the further applicant or applicants had been by inadvertence or mistake and (iii) was not for the purpose of delay. The question is whether these—in particular (ii) and (iii) are all required under s 52 as well.

Brown J agreed with the submission that in an application under s 52 the Court “may apply” the tests set out for the Commissioner of Patents in subsections 31(3) and 31(4) [35], citing various cases. I’d quibble a bit on this point, at least to the extent that “apply” suggests that the test under s 31 is also the strict test under s 52. Section 31 was certainly considered in the cases cited by Brown J, but I’m not sure it was actually adopted as the test under s 52, rather than as identifying relevant considerations. While the application to correct inventorship under s 52 will certainly be granted when the test under s 31 is satisfied, the question is whether it is necessary to satisfy the test under s 31 to correct inventorship under s 52. Brown J’s decision suggests that the answer is no.

First, Brown J noted at [37] that in Imperial Oil 2015 FC 1218 Leblanc J set out two criteria for the removal of named inventors set out by subsection 31(3):

[15] Subsection 31(3) of the Act sets out two criteria for the removal of named inventors:
i. does it appear that one or more of the named inventors have no part in the invention?; and
ii. has an affidavit been provided to satisfy the Court that the remaining inventors are the sole inventors?

However, in this case, two of the six remaining true inventors could not be located [29] and so they did not provide affidavits. There was plentiful evidence from the other named inventors, including both the true inventors and the non-inventors, that the non-inventors were indeed not inventors, and Brown J followed Qualcomm 2016 FC 499 (here) in holding this was a housekeeping requirement that is “not relevant when an issued patent is being considered by the Court under section 52 of the Act” (Qualcomm [10], quoted at [39]).

Thus, whether or not affidavits from all remaining applicants are required under s 31(3), there is no such requirement under s 52. This indicates that the test under s 52 is not the same as the test under s 31(3).

This makes sense functionally. It may be much more difficult to find the remaining inventors post-grant, as is illustrated on the facts of this case. Further, while it may make sense for the Commissioner to want to be satisfied that the remaining applicants are in fact the inventors before the patent is granted to them, it is not clear why the FC would need to be satisfied that the remaining inventors are in fact inventors, given that the Commissioner was already satisfied of this fact on granting the patent. Surely, post-grant, that can be presumed. The real question post-grant is simply whether the inventors sought to be removed were not in fact inventors, and it would seem that affidavits from those non-inventors to that effect would normally be sufficient evidence. I suppose the point will really be tested if one named inventor is to be removed, on the basis of satisfactory evidence that the named inventor not in fact an inventor, in circumstances in which none of the remaining named inventors can be located. It seems to me that it would be clearly appropriate for the FC to order the non-inventor to be removed in such circumstances.

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