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Archived updates for Thursday, January 31, 2008

No Public Use with General Understanding of Confidentiality from Observers

In American Seating v. USSC Group (January 29, 2008) the Federal Circuit affirmed a jury finding of no invalidity for public use where
. . . As they improved the invention, on several occasions Ditch and Razavi placed evolving prototypes in an out-of-service bus for the purpose of soliciting feedback from friends and colleagues who to varying degrees assisted in the invention’s development.

Contrary to USSC’s argument, the fact that the inventors revealed the prototype to a select group of individuals without a written confidentiality agreement is not dispositive. When access to an invention is clearly limited and controlled by the inventor, depending upon the relationships of the observers and the inventor, an understanding of confidentiality can be implied. Id. at 1381; Moleculon Research Corp. v. CBS, Inc., 793 F.2d 1261, 1265-66 (Fed. Cir. 1986). In this case, the jury was entitled to conclude that Ditch, Razavi, and the limited number of people permitted to view the tie-down restraint system prototype shared a general understanding of confidentiality. Ditch demonstrated the prototype on an out-of-service bus, solicited feedback, and removed the invention to store under his control. There was no evidence that the prototype was placed in service before December 1995, and no evidence that an unrestricted number of people unconnected with the development of the invention observed the invention in use. The district court properly confirmed the jury verdict that the ‘038 patent is not invalid for public use.
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