2010 Office Handling of Duty of Disclosure/Inequitable Conduct Issues [R-08.2012]
Determination of inequitable conduct issues requires an evaluation of the intent of the party involved. While some court decisions have held that intent may be inferred in some circumstances, consideration of the good faith of the party, or lack thereof, is often required. In several court decisions, a high level of proof of intent to mislead the Office was required in order to prove inequitable conduct under 37 CFR 1.56. See In re Harito, 847 F.2d 801, 6 USPQ2d 1930 (Fed. Cir. 1988) and FMC Corp. v.Manitowoc Co., 835 F.2d 1411, 5 USPQ2d 1112 (Fed. Cir. 1987). The Office is not the best forum in which to determine whether there was an “intent to mislead”; such intent is best determined when the trier of facts can observe demeanor of witnesses subjected to cross-examination. A court, with subpoena power, is presently the best forum to consider duty of disclosure issues under the present evidentiary standard for finding an “intent to mislead.” The court proceeding involves two participating adverse parties. This is not the case in the Office, since even “protesting” parties are not permitted to participate under the rules. Also, it is the courts and not the Office that are in the best position to fashion an equitable remedy to fit the precise facts in those cases where inequitable conduct is established. Furthermore, inequitable conduct is not set by statute as a criteria for patentability but rather is a judicial application of the doctrine of unclean hands which is appropriate to be handled by the courts rather than by an administrative body. Because of the lack of tools in the Office to deal with this issue and because of its sensitive nature and potential impact on a patent, Office determinations generally will not deter subsequent litigation of the same issue in the courts on appeal or in separate litigation. Office determinations would significantly add to the expense and time involved in obtaining a patent with little or no benefit to the patent owner or any other parties with an interest.
Accordingly, the Office does not investigate and reject original or reissue applications under 37 CFR 1.56. Likewise, the Office will not comment upon duty of disclosure issues which are brought to the attention of the Office in original or reissue applications except to note in the application, in appropriate circumstances, that such issues are no longer considered by the Office during its examination of patent applications. Examination of lack of deceptive intent in reissue applications will continue but without any investigation of inequitable conduct issues. Applicant’s statement of lack of deceptive intent normally will be accepted as dispositive except in special circumstances such as an admission or judicial determination of fraud or inequitable conduct. See notice published in the Official Gazette at 1095 O.G. 16 (October 11, 1988). See also MPEP § 2022.05.
Issues of fraud and/or inequitable conduct in an interference proceeding before the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences (Board) will be considered by the Board if they are raised by way of preliminary motion for judgment under 37 CFR 1.633(a). The motion must be filed during the period set for filing preliminary motions (37 CFR 1.636(a)), or good cause (37 CFR 1.655(b)) must be shown as to why the issues of fraud and/or inequitable conduct were not timely raised during the preliminary motion period. Issues of fraud and/or inequitable conduct will not be considered in any interference in which the times for taking testimony or the times for filing briefs for final hearing have already been set, unless 'good cause' is shown under 37 CFR 1.655(b). An example of good cause would be where fraud or inequitable conduct is first discovered during taking of testimony. See notice published in the Official Gazette at 1133 O.G. 21 (December 10, 1991).