By: Mark R. Malek
You may recall that I wrote an article recently which noted that there is a duty of disclosure when filing a patent application in the United States. For the sake of a quick summary, in return for the exclusive right to exploit an invention, the government requires the Applicant to disclose all prior art known to them in order to ensure a more detailed examination of the patent application. In other words – no hiding the ball on the Patent Office.
The process in which information is disclosed to the Patent Office is by filing an Information Disclosure Statement (IDS). The IDS includes a list of all the prior art references that the Applicant believes are relevant to the invention, as defined by the claims in the patent application. There is a lot of prior art out there, and the best that every Applicant can do is to disclose the prior art that they know about.
The big question is about the prior art that the Applicant discovers after filing the IDS. Is all lost? Has the Applicant now committed fraud on the Patent Office? That depends on how this is handled. If the Applicant does nothing about the prior art that is discovered, then the likelihood that the patent stands up to a challenge of validity is very, very slim. In fact, if it can be shown that the Applicant later became aware of relevant prior art, and chose not to inform the Patent Office, it is almost a foregone conclusion that the patent will be found invalid. Worse yet, the Applicant may be found to have engaged in inequitable conduct, which can lead to liability for attorneys’ fees.
So how does the Applicant avoid this? By filing a supplemental IDS. It is exactly what it sounds like. It is another IDS that supplements the original. This is simple enough, and a good way to ensure that the Applicant has fulfilled the duty of disclosure to the Patent Office.