Brevet US invalidé pour “Conduite inéquitable” pour non-divulgation d’une déclaration faite durant la poursuite d’une demande équivalente en Europe

Dans la cause Therasense, Inc. (Abbott) v. Becton, Dickinson and Co. (Fed. Cir. 2010) (Case No. 2009-1511), la Federal Cicuit a trouvé un brevet d’Abbott “unenforceable due to inequitable conduct”.

On appeal, the Federal Circuit has affirmed that decision — holding that the prosecuting attorneys had violated their duty of disclosure by failing to dislcose statements made by Abbott to the European Patent Office during a proceeding involving the European counterpart of another patent family (the ‘382 patent’ family) also owned by Abbott.

To deprive an examiner of the EPO statements—statements directly contrary to Abbott’s representations to the PTO—on the grounds that they were not material would be to eviscerate the duty of disclosure. Moreover, if this could be regarded as a close case, which it is not, we have repeatedly emphasized that the duty of disclosure requires that the material in question be submitted to the examiner rather than withheld by the applicant.

…However, all of the cases Abbott cites involve patentees who simply made representations to the PTO about prior art in order to secure the allowance of their patents. None of these cases involved a situation in which contradictory arguments made in another forum were withheld from the PTO. They do not speak to the applicant’s obligation to advise the PTO of contrary representations made in another forum. Before the EPO, Abbott made statements that contradicted the representations Abbott made to the PTO regarding the ‘382 patent. An applicant’s earlier statements about prior art, especially one’s own prior art, are material to the PTO when those statements directly contradict the applicant’s position regarding that prior art in the PTO. See 37 C.F.R. § 1.56(b)(2). In any event, the representations to the PTO were not merely lawyer argument; they were factual assertions as to the views of those skilled in the art, provided in affidavit form.

Because the district court’s findings that the EPO submissions were highly material to the prosecution of the ‘551 patent and that Pope and Dr. Sanghera intended to deceive the PTO by withholding those submissions were not clearly erroneous, the district court did not abuse its discretion in holding the ‘551 patent unenforceable due to inequitable conduct.