Lawsuit Challenges AIA’s Constitutionality
According to the New York Times Article Inventor Challenges a Sweeping Revision in Patent Law, a lawsuit has been filed to challenge the Constitutionality of the “first to file” provisions of the America Invents Act (AIA). The lawsuit was filed by Mr. Stadnyk who holds several patents related to motorcycles. He compares his fight against the AIA to the battle against Obama Care, which I believe is very appropriate. Both were large complicated pieces of legislation laden with special interest goddies. Both ignored the clear meaning of the Constitution. Given this it is surprising that Mr. Stadnyk selected an attorney who is not committed to the Constitution. Mr. Stadnyk attorney is Jonathan S. Massey, who is a protégé of Laurence H. Tribe. Mr. Tribe has been a leading advocate of the ‘living Constitution’ concept and believes the Commerce Clause is an open ended excuse for the expansion of government power. Hopefully Mr. Massey will be able to argue effectively despite these leanings. I also hope that they hire a patent attorney. As the Supreme Court has proven over a century of confused decisions, most attorneys do not understand patent law and cannot pick it up by just reading the confused decisions of the Supremes.
I and others have argued that the First-to-File (FTF) provision of the America Invents Act (AIA) is unconstitutional. For instance see First to File is it Constitutional, which is a open letter by a number of law professors. The essence of the argument is that Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8, grants Congress the power to protect inventors’ rights in their creations, not the first person to file at the Patent Office. I suspect the opponents will argue the following points:
*Standing: Mr. Stadnyk holds a number of patents, but these are not going to be effected by the AIA. Mr. Stadnyk may have filed a number of patent applications, but these are not going to be effected. If I were the opponents, I would argue that only a patent application that was denied under the first-to-file rule, but would have been issued under a first-to-invent (FTI) system would be well enough developed issue to provide standing. If they succeed with this argument it could be years before a plaintiff had standing to sue.
I think the counter argument is that any inventor whose actions have been effected (changed) because of the change in the rule should have standing. I think this may be the most difficult argument for Mr. Stadnyk to win because it will allow the courts to avoid the difficult questions presented by this suit.
*First Inventor-to-File: The proponents of the FTF system have argued that the AIA is really a first inventor to file. What does that mean? How can you be the first inventor to file? What does the word inventor mean? INVENTOR means the first person to create an invention. There is no such thing as the first inventor to file. There can only be one (one group of) inventor. All others are just re-creators. For example, if I, with no knowledge of Calculus, were to recreate it today that does not make me the discover of Calculus and the equivalent of Newton or Leibnitz. Even if my discovery is close in time to the inventor’s, I am still just a re-creator. This is no different than science or the winner of a race, or the winner of a football game. There is only one winner and there is only one inventor.
Now advocates of the AIA will argue that the first person to create an invention is not always considered the inventor under the present system. Under the rules of interferences the second person to create the invention can be considered the inventor, if they did it without any knowledge of the first creator’s work and if the first creator abandoned their efforts to perfect the invention or concealed the invention. If someone abandons an invention, then it was not created or at the least it provided no benefit to world or even the inventor. You cannot award a patent or inventorship to someone who does not tell you about their invention. In the case of abandonment, I do not see how that person can be considered an inventor. The other case is concealment. In that case, the proponents of the FTF system should argue that no patent should issue not that we should change our whole system to accommodate this very rare circumstance.
*Alice in Wonderland Argument: Proponents of the FTF system will argue that the word INVENTOR can mean anything that Congress decides it means. If that were true, why write a Constitution. IF Congress can define every word as it wishes, then it is pointless to write down a founding document. This is a nonsensical argument, but one the statists on the Supreme Court are likely to find appealing.
*Promote the Progress of Science and Useful Arts: Proponents of the AIA are likely to argue that the Constitutional purpose of a patent system is to ‘promote the progress of science and the useful arts’ and Congress can do anything to further that purpose. First of all this theory confuses the purpose of the preamble with the actual right involved. The purpose of a preamble is explanatory, but not mandatory. This is exactly the way preambles work in patent law. Second, the Constitution says the EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS of inventors. It is the only RIGHT mentioned in the original Constitution and when the founders used the word right they meant natural rights. The purpose of government is to secure these rights – see the Declaration of Independence. The purpose of government is not to promote the progress of science and the useful arts that is the result of securing the exclusive rights of inventors (and authors).
The proponents of the AIA will not admit it, but all empirical evidence shows that a FTI system is more effective at promoting science and the useful arts than a FTF system. This is not surprising since a FTI system rewards the creator not just the person who can game the system the best.
*Treaty Obligation: The advocates of the AIA will argue that our treaty obligations require the US to award patents to foreigners under the FTF system. This is true. However, treaty obligations do not trump the Constitution. We should renegotiate these treaties not trash the Constitution.
It would be nice to believe that patent law is not influenced by politics, but a century of activist Supreme Court Judges shows this is not the case. The most egregious example was the 1949 case Jungersen v. Ostby & Barton Co., 335 U.S. 560, 572 (1949) where Justice Jackson ignored the Constitution and stated that “The only valid patent is one which this Court has not been able to get its hands on.” None of the present Supreme Court Justices understands patent law as well as a first year patent law associate and so this case will probably turn more on politics than the law or logic.
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