A bill to amend title 35, United States Code, to provide for patent reform.
Previous Senate Votes
S. 23 as Amended
Bill Passed 95-5
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Mr. LEAHY. Mr. President, Congress has been working on the America Invents Act going back many years. It has gone through numerous iterations and changes have been made over time. Accordingly, I want to take a few minutes to discuss some important legislative history of a critical piece of this bill--section 2 of the legislation, which amends section 102 of title 35 of the United States Code. There has been a great deal of attention paid to subsections 102(a) and (b) and how those two subsections will work together. Senator Bennet and others have asked about this issue in particular.
Mr. HATCH. I thank the Senator. I agree with the chairman that it is important that we set down a definitive legislative history of those subsections, which will be important for each and every patent application.
Mr. LEAHY. One key issue on which people have asked for clarification is the interplay between patent-defeating disclosures under subsection 102(a) and the situations where those disclosures are excepted and have no patent-defeating effect under the grace period provided in subsection 102(b).
In particular, some in the small inventor community have been concerned that a disclosure by an inventor might qualify as patent-defeating prior art under subsection 102(a) because, for example, the inventor's public disclosure and by a ``public disclosure'' I mean one that results in the claimed invention being ``described in a printed publication, or in public use, on sale, or otherwise available to the public''--might in some situation not be excluded as prior art under section 102(b)'s grace period. There is absolutely no situation in which this could happen given the interplay between subsections 102(a) and 102(b) as these subsections are drafted.
We intend that if an inventor's actions are such as to constitute prior art under subsection 102(a), then those actions necessarily trigger subsection 102(b)'s protections for the inventor and, what would otherwise have been section 102(a) prior art, would be excluded as prior art by the grace period provided by subsection 102(b). Indeed, as an example of this, subsection 102(b)(1)(A), as written, was deliberately couched in broader terms than subsection 102(a)(1). This means that any disclosure by the inventor whatsoever, whether or not in a form that resulted in the disclosure being available to the public, is wholly disregarded as prior art. A simple way of looking at new subsection 102(a) is that no aspect of the protections under current law for inventors who disclose their inventions before filing is in any way changed.
Mr. HATCH. The Senator from Vermont is correct. For the purposes of grace-period protection, the legislation intends parallelism between the treatment of an inventor's actions under subsection 102(a) that might create prior art and the treatment of those actions that negate any prior-art effect under subsection 102(b). Accordingly, small inventors and others will not accidentally create a patent-defeating bar by their prefiling actions that would otherwise be prior art under subsection 102(a) as long as they file their patent applications within the grace period provided by subsection 102(b). But, the important point is that if an inventor's disclosure triggers the 102(a) bar with respect to an invention, which can only be done by a disclosure that is both made available to the public and enabled, then he or she has thereby also triggered the grace period under 102(b). If a disclosure resulting from the inventor's actions is not one that is enabled, or is not made available to the public, then such a disclosure would not constitute patent-defeating prior art under 102(a) in the first place.
But even if the disclosure was enabled and available to the public so that it did qualify as prior art under subsection 102(a), subsection 102(b) would require that the disclosure be disregarded if it occurred during the 1-year grace period before the patent was sought. Indeed, a disclosure that does not satisfy the requirements to be prior art under subsection 102(a), nonetheless constitutes a disclosure that is fully protected under the more inclusive language of subsection 102(b). This relationship between these subsections will fully protect the inventor and, together with the provisions of subsection 101 limiting patenting to inventors, prevent others from obtaining a patent on the inventor's creation.
Mr. LEAHY. I agree. One of the implications of the point we are making is that subsection 102(a) was drafted in part to do away with precedent under current law that private offers for sale or private uses or secret processes practiced in the United States that result in a product or service that is then made public may be deemed patent-defeating prior art. That will no longer be the case. In effect, the new paragraph 102(a)(1) imposes an overarching requirement for availability to the public, that is a public disclosure, which will limit paragraph 102(a)(1) prior art to subject matter meeting the public accessibility standard that is well-settled in current law, especially case law of the Federal Circuit.
Mr. HATCH. An additional clarification we have been asked about deals
[Page: S1497] GPO's PDF
Mr. LEAHY. That is correct. Subparagraph 102(b)(1)(B) is designed to work in tandem with subparagraph 102(b)(1)(A) to make a very strong grace period for inventors that have made a public disclosure before seeking a patent. Inventors who have made such disclosures are protected during the grace period, not only from their own disclosure, but also from disclosures by others that are made after their disclosure. This is an important protection we offer in our bill that will benefit independent and university inventors in particular.