TP LABORATORIES v. PROFESSIONAL POSITIONERS, INC. Appeal Nos. 83-660, 83-680.
724 F.2d 965 (1984)
TP LABORATORIES, INC., an Indiana Corporation, Appellant/Cross Appellee, v. PROFESSIONAL POSITIONERS, INC., a Wisconsin corporation, Professional Positioners, Inc., a Delaware corporation, Gerald W. Huge and Richard W. Allessee, Appellees/Cross Appellants.
United States Court of Appeals, Federal Circuit.
January 4, 1984.
Allan B. Wheeler, Milwaukee, Wis., argued for appellees/cross appellants.
Before MARKEY, Chief Judge, SKELTON, Senior Circuit Judge, and NIES, Circuit Judge.
NIES, Circuit Judge.
These appeals are from the October 27, 1982 judgment of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin (Warren, J.) dismissing a charge of infringement of a patent for an orthodontic appliance. Sitting without a jury, the court held U.S. Patent No. 3,178,820 ('820), owned by TP Laboratories, Inc. (TP), invalid under 35 U.S.C. § 102(b), on the ground that a public use occurred more than one year prior to the filing date of the application for the subject patent.
TP appeals the holding of invalidity. TP admits that the inventor used the dental appliance on three orthodontal patients during the critical period but asserts that such use was non-barring experimental use. On this issue we agree with appellant and reverse. However, since the issue of whether the accused devices are infringements, as well as other issues, were not decided, it is necessary to remand.
In the cross-appeal Professional Positioners et al. (PRO) appeal the denial of an award of attorney fees under 35 U.S.C. § 285, and seek an increase in the amount awarded under Rule 37(d) of the Fed.R.Civ.P. for costs attributable to TP's late production of certain documents during discovery. We affirm the district court's decisions on these matters.
Our jurisdiction is found in 28 U.S.C. § 1295(a)(1).
Appellant-plaintiff, TP Laboratories, Inc., makes and sells orthodontic supplies and appliances to the dental profession. TP Laboratories is a separate business from the professional practice of the Kesling and
Kesling conceived and made the first prototype of the invention of the patent in suit in 1956. It was not, however, until February 19, 1962, that Kesling filed a patent application on his invention for which the '820 patent was granted on April 20, 1965. On November 1, 1965, the patent was assigned to TP Laboratories.
The subject matter of the '820 patent is a molded tooth positioning appliance which is to be worn several hours a day by a person undergoing orthodontal treatment. The general type of device is not new. The improvement by Kesling lies in placing wires in the device which fit in the embrasure area between the teeth and keep the appliance in position without the necessity of the patient exerting constant jaw pressure. The wires are referred to as "seating devices," "seating springs," "precision seating springs," "springs," or "metal adjuncts." Because of the shape, as seen below, the invention is also referred to as a tooth positioner with "C's":
This figure is a transverse sectional view illustrating one form of positioning means or clip employed for obtaining proper positioning of the dental appliance in a person's mouth.
The use of tooth positioners with C's in the treatment of three K & R patients during the period 1958-61 led to the issues under 35 U.S.C. § 102(b). It is undisputed that these three devices fell within the language of the '820 claims and no modification of design was made as a consequence of these uses. The evidence which established these uses was found in the patient records of K & R and the underlying facts are not in dispute. Appellant characterizes these uses as secret and/or experimental; appellees urge that they are, as found by the district court, public uses within the meaning of the statute.
The first use of the claimed invention on a patient occurred on August 25, 1958. Orthodontal treatment of this patient (Furst) spanned the time period between February 1958 and April 1964. Use of the device terminated after approximately two months. During discovery, the device itself was produced, having been retained by K & R in the patient's model box. This patient's manibular model from the model box was inscribed "experimental wires." Over the six year period of treatment, this patient was also fitted with other devices, retainers as well as positioners not embraced by the '820 claims.
Another patient (Rumely-Brady) who had begun treatment in August 1958 was supplied with a tooth positioner equipped with C's on November 10, 1959. Entry on the record card of this patient indicates "results fair" on December 18, 1959; "results better" on February 5, 1960, and "results good" on August 1, 1960. Nevertheless, use of the device was discontinued on January 16, 1961, in favor of retainers, because certain spacing irregularities were not being corrected. The same positioner with C's was again prescribed on May 5, 1961, and was used in conjunction with various other devices until at least March of 1962. The patient missed a later scheduled appointment which is the last entry on her card.
A positioner with C's was prescribed for a third patient (Spiers-Elliott) on November 1, 1960. Its use apparently was discontinued about three months later, a different
The initial use in each of the above cases occurred prior to the critical date of February 19, 1961. During the years 1958-60, K & R placed 606 tooth positioners, of which only the three described above were within the claims of '820. In 1961, after the critical date, 28 tooth positioners with C's were prescribed by K & R out of a total of 151.
The above devices were made for the K & R patients by TP, including C's handmade by Kesling. There is no evidence that K & R charged patients specifically for any positioner. With two of the three patients, K & R followed its regular practice of setting a fixed total fee for professional services, which included necessary appliances. One patient (Furst), whose father was a dentist, received free treatment as a professional courtesy.
Sales of the patented device to other orthodontists began in 1966, that is, only after TP's acquisition of the patent. Appellees, Huge and Allessee, had no knowledge of the invention even though employed at TP prior to 1961.
The district court did not rule on whether appellees' allegedly infringing devices came within the scope of the claims of the '820 patent and we know only that infringement is charged since 1972.
The patent statute provides in pertinent part in 35 U.S.C. § 102:
Decisions under this provision and comparable provisions in earlier statutes are marked by confusion and inconsistency.
"The general purpose behind all the [§ 102(b)] bars is to require inventors to assert with due diligence their right to a patent through the prompt filing ... of a patent application." 2 D. Chisum, Patents § 601 (1981 & Supp.1983).
More specifically, courts have discerned a number of factors which must be weighed in applying the statutory bar of § 102(b).
The district court's consideration of the issue of public use proceeded according to the following two-step analysis:
As to the first step, the district court reasoned:
On the second issue as perceived by the district court, the court placed a heavy burden of proof on the patent owner to prove that the inventor's use had been experimental and expressly found that TP did not carry that "burden." In the words of the court:
We disagree with this analysis and the shift in the burden of proof which led the district court to an erroneous result.
The above quotation is from City of Elizabeth v. American Nicholson Pavement Co.,
97 U.S. at 134-35.
In the decision on appeal, the trial court looked for proof of an exception to the public use bar. However, in Elizabeth, the Supreme Court did not refer to "experimental use" as an "exception" to the bar otherwise created by a public use. More precisely, the Court reasoned that, if a use is experimental, even though not secret, "public use" is negated. This difference between "exception" and "negation" is not merely semantic. Under the precedent of this court, the statutory presumption of validity provided in 35 U.S.C. § 282 places the burden of proof upon the party attacking the validity of the patent, and that burden of persuasion does not shift at any time to the patent owner. It is constant and remains throughout the suit on the challenger. As stated in Richdel, Inc. v. Sunspool Corp,
Under this analysis, it is incorrect to impose on the patent owner, as the trial court in this case did, the burden of proving that a "public use" was "experimental." These are not two separable issues. It is incorrect to ask: "Was it public use?" and then, "Was it experimental?" Rather, the court is faced with a single issue: Was it public use under § 102(b)?
Thus, the court should have looked at all of the evidence put forth by both parties and should have decided whether the entirety of the evidence led to the conclusion that there had been "public use." This does not mean, of course, that the challenger has the burden of proving that the use is not experimental. Nor does it mean that the patent owner is relieved of explanation. It means that if a prima facie case is made of public use, the patent owner must be able to point to or must come forward with convincing evidence to counter that showing.
While various objective indicia may be considered in determining whether the use is experimental, the expression by an inventor of his subjective intent to experiment, particularly after institution of litigation, is generally of minimal value. In re Smith, 714 F.2d at 1127, 218 USPQ at 976.
Applying the principles set forth above to this case, that non-secret uses of the device were made prior to the critical date is not in itself dispositive of the issue of whether activity barring a patent under 35 U.S.C. § 102(b) occurred. Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing Co. v. Johnson & Johnson, 179 USPQ 216, 220 (N.D.Ill.1973). The fact that the device was not hidden from view may make the use not secret but non-secret use is not ipso facto "public use" activity. City of Elizabeth v. American Nicholson Pavement Co., 97 U.S. at 136. Nor, it must be added, is all secret use ipso facto not "public use" within the meaning of the statute, if the inventor is making commercial use of the invention under circumstances which preserve its secrecy.
Turning to the instant case, we note first that disclosure of the seating device to patients could not be avoided in any testing. In some circumstances, no doubt it would be significant that no pledge of confidentiality was obtained from the user. In the circumstances of use by orthodontal patients, we attach no importance to the fact that the doctor did not ask a patient to swear to secrecy. As in City of Elizabeth, testing of the device had to be public to some extent and it is beyond reasonable probability that a patient would show the device to others who would understand the function of the C's or would want to duplicate the device. One is all that is needed and, if lost or broken, the patient would expect it to be replaced by the treating dentist.
In any event, a pledge of confidentiality is indicative of the inventor's continued control which here is established inherently by the dentist-patient relationship of the parties. Nothing in the inventor's use of the device on his patients (or the transfer to them) is inconsistent with experimentation. Similarly, the routine checking of patients by one of the other K & R orthodontists does not indicate the inventor's lack of control or abandonment to the public.
Secondly, the finding is clearly erroneous that the invention "proved satisfactory immediately," or "by April of 1959." In this connection, it is noted that the '820 patent itself describes a utility of the patented device for correcting orthodontal irregularities as "urging teeth into preselected positions." The patient records discussed above indicate that treatment to correct such orthodontal irregularities can range from two to six years. Moreover, while results appeared to be good within six months use by one patient, the variable of patient cooperation cannot be checked by one patient alone. Use on three patients is not an obviously excessive number. In other words, the test for success of the improvement was not whether it could be used at all, but whether it could be said to work better on patients than a positioner without C's. Again, as in City of Elizabeth, the test of necessity had to run for a considerable time and on several patients before the inventor could know whether "it was what he claimed it to be" and would "answer the purpose intended."
A factor in favor of the patentee is that during this critical time the inventor had readily available all of the facilities of TP to commercially exploit the device. Yet, no positioners with C's were offered competing orthodontists despite the fact this was one facet of the inventor's total business activity.
Indeed, none of the policies which underlie the public use bar and which, in effect, define it have been shown to be violated. At most, the record shows that the uses were not secret, but when the evidence as to the facts of use by the inventor is considered as a whole, we conclude that appellees failed to prove that the inventor made a public use of the subject invention within the meaning of 35 U.S.C. § 102(b). The patent may not be held invalid on this ground.
Fees Under Rule 37(d) of the Fed.R.Civ.P.
No error or abuse of discretion is found in the award of fees to appellees under Rule 37(d) or in the amount of the award. Appellant's premise that no order of the court was violated by its failing to produce certain invoices ignores the scope of the December 31, 1975 order. In PRO's motion leading to that order "All invoices ... to Kesling-Rocke Orthodontic Center" were specifically designated and thus, the withheld invoices fall under its terms.
PRO's cross-appeal from the district court's denial of attorney fees under 35 U.S.C. § 285 is dismissed as moot. In view of our disposition of the appeal, PRO is no longer a prevailing party to whom an award could be made. Stickle v. Heublein, Inc.,
The decision of the district court holding U.S. Patent No. 3,178,820 invalid is reversed. The decision of the court awarding costs and fees under Rule 37(d) is affirmed. The cross-appeal is dismissed. The case is remanded to the district court for proceedings consistent herewith.
REVERSED-IN-PART; AFFIRMED-IN-PART; REMANDED CROSS-APPEAL; DISMISSED.
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