Independently Performed, Publicly Disclosed Prior Work Can Lead to Joint Inventorship
Addressing an inventorship decision that added two co-inventors to patents covering cancer treatments, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit agreed that the co-inventors’ work constituted joint inventorship even though it was performed independently and publicly disclosed prior to conception of the claimed invention. Dana-Farber Cancer Institute v. Ono Pharma. Co., Ltd., Case No. 19-2050 (Fed. Cir. July 14, 2020) (Lourie, J.).
In 2015, Dana-Farber filed an inventorship correction claim seeking to add two of its researchers as inventors to six patents covering cancer treatments that named inventors who had assigned the patents to Ono Pharmaceutical. After an eight-day bench trial, the district court judge issued a 111-page decision agreeing that Dana-Farber’s researchers were joint inventors for all six patents. Ono appealed.
Ono first argued that, as a matter of law, the contributions from Dana-Farber’s researchers were too far removed from the claimed invention because their contributions had been independently performed and publicly disclosed prior to conception, and thus constituted prior art to the patents. The Federal Circuit acknowledged that simply informing another inventor about the state of the prior art does not make one a joint inventor. However, the Court contrasted that situation with a genuine contribution by a participant in a collaborative enterprise that lasted over a year, where the contribution happened to be published shortly before conception. The Court stated that such a situation may be sufficient to lead to joint inventorship.
Ono also contested the district court’s factual determination that Dana-Farber’s researchers contributed to the invention as claimed. Specifically, Ono argued that the contributions from Dana-Farber’s researchers did not relate to the claimed subject matter of an antibody for a particular receptor. Dana-Farber responded that, as found by the district court, all six patents had the same core invention of blocking a particular ligand-receptor interaction and thus the identification of the relevant ligand by Dana-Farber’s researchers was properly considered part of the conception of all claims. The Federal Circuit agreed and affirmed the district court.