Thursday, June 5, 2008

CIP apps don't get presumption of priority

PowerOasis v. T-Mobile (Fed. Cir. 2008)

The district court granted summary judgment to T-Mobile — finding the PowerOasis cell-phone vending machine patents invalid.

The patent family history includes a continuation-in-part (CIP) preceded by a continuation and an original utility patent application. Based on the prior art date, the issue boiled down to whether the asserted patents could claim priority through the CIP to the original application.

Patentee Bears Burden of Proving Priority. Despite the statutory presumption of validity, the CAFC first held that the patentee normally has the burden of proving priority. The exception is when the PTO considers the issue of priority during prosecution. In drafting the opinion, Judge Moore shifted the decision from a question of validity (where a presumption lies) to a question of effective filing date (where there is no statutory presumption). “When neither the PTO nor the Board has previously considered priority, there is simply no reason to presume that claims in a CIP application are entitled to the effective filing date of an earlier filed application.”

Interestingly, this decision falls runs parallel to Microsoft’s recent petition for certiorari in the z4 case.

Written Description: To claim priority to the original application date, that original application must “convey with reasonable clarity to those skilled in the art, as of the filing date sought, [that the inventor] was in possession of the [claimed] invention.” (Quoting Vas-Cath). Here, the original application disclosed a “display” and “user interface” while the asserted patent claimed a “customer interface.” Although these terms appear quite close, the CIP had added specific examples of a laptop customer interface while the original application only included interface embodiments attached to the vending machine. This makes a difference because the accused device uses a laptop and the patentee asked for a construction of the term that would include the laptop interface.

Holding: “Because none of this support was present in the Original Application and because the Original Application did not disclose a customer interface apart from the vending machine, the asserted claims are only entitled to the 2000 CIP Application.”

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