The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) now makes copies of patent assignments available for immediate download. This is a deviation from prior practice, under which interested parties were forced to order assignments from the USPTO, pay a fee of $25 per request and then wait for US mail delivery. Although a seemingly small gesture, the new USPTO service is valuable to patent practitioners and IP professionals who often need expedited access to assignment records for diligence purposes or otherwise to diagnose inventorship or ownership issues.
Any due diligence of a company’s IP rights identifies and confirms the assignment status of patent assets. This is because the proper assignment of patent rights pre-emptively circumvents numerous IP pitfalls. As just one example, executed patent or patent application assignments prevent employee inventors from later claiming ownership of an invention or from practising or developing covered technology individually or through a competing entity. During a critical diligence process, it is now quicker and cheaper to obtain assignment documentation directly from the USPTO.
Assignment documents are available through the USPTO patent assignment search page. However, the location of the document is not immediately apparent. An interested party may use the search page itself to search for assignment documents by patent number, patent application number, patent application publication number, assignor name or assignee name. The search page then provides a history of conveyances (along with corresponding reel and frame numbers) for the particular patent or patent application. A PDF icon appears next to the name of each conveyance (eg, security agreement or assignment of assignor’s interest), which then provides click-through access to a PDF copy of the conveyance document. Otherwise, a searching party may simply click the reel and frame number of a particular conveyance to view summary data regarding that particular document. A PDF copy of the document is then similarly available from the individual summary page.
Assignment documents are not accessible through the assignments tab of the Patent Application Information Retrieval system (known as 'Public Pair'). Further, the USPTO patent assignment search page provides access to patent assignment documents for issued patents and published patent applications.
The public availability of assignment documents is in line with patent file history information available through Public Pair. The new service is welcome news to patent practitioners and IP professionals. Under prior practice, last minute diligence projects faced potential delay while awaiting mail delivery of ordered assignment documents; now, the information is available with the click of a button.
David Franklin Sawrie
This article first appeared in IAM. For further information please visit www.iam-media.com.
301 Ownership/Assignability of Patents and Applications [R-07.2015]
35 U.S.C. 261 Ownership; assignment.
Subject to the provisions of this title, patents shall have the attributes of personal property. The Patent and Trademark Office shall maintain a register of interests in patents and applications for patents and shall record any document related thereto upon request, and may require a fee therefor.
Applications for patent, patents, or any interest therein, shall be assignable in law by an instrument in writing. The applicant, patentee, or his assigns or legal representatives may in like manner grant and convey an exclusive right under his application for patent, or patents, to the whole or any specified part of the United States.
A certificate of acknowledgment under the hand and official seal of a person authorized to administer oaths within the United States, or, in a foreign country, of a diplomatic or consular officer of the United States or an officer authorized to administer oaths whose authority is proved by a certificate of a diplomatic or consular officer of the United States, or apostille of an official designated by a foreign country which, by treaty or convention, accords like effect to apostilles of designated officials in the United States, shall be prima facie evidence of the execution of an assignment, grant, or conveyance of a patent or application for patent.
An interest that constitutes an assignment, grant, or conveyance shall be void as against any subsequent purchaser or mortgagee for valuable consideration, without notice, unless it is recorded in the Patent and Trademark Office within three months from its date or prior to the date of such subsequent purchase or mortgage.
35 U.S.C. 262 Joint owners.
In the absence of any agreement to the contrary, each of the joint owners of a patent may make, use, offer to sell, or sell the patented invention within the United States, or import the patented invention into the United States, without the consent of and without accounting to the other owners.
37 CFR 3.1 Definitions.
For purposes of this part, the following definitions shall apply:
Application means a national application for patent, an international patent application that designates the United States of America, an international design application that designates the United States of America, or an application to register a trademark under section 1 or 44 of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. 1051 or 15 U.S.C. 1126, unless otherwise indicated.
Assignment means a transfer by a party of all or part of its right, title and interest in a patent, patent application, registered mark or a mark for which an application to register has been filed.
Document means a document which a party requests to be recorded in the Office pursuant to § 3.11 and which affects some interest in an application, patent, or registration.
Office means the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
Recorded document means a document which has been recorded in the Office pursuant to § 3.11.
Registration means a trademark registration issued by the Office.
Ownership of a patent gives the patent owner the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, selling, or importing into the United States the invention claimed in the patent. 35 U.S.C. 154(a)(1). Ownership of the patent does not furnish the owner with the right to make, use, offer for sale, sell, or import the claimed invention because there may be other legal considerations precluding same (e.g., existence of another patent owner with a dominant patent, failure to obtain FDA approval of the patented invention, an injunction by a court against making the product of the invention, or a national security related issue).
For applications filed on or after September 16, 2012, the original applicant is presumed to be the initial owner of an application for an original patent. See 37 CFR 3.73(a). For applications filed before September 16, 2012, the ownership of the patent (or the application for the patent) initially vests in the named inventors of the invention of the patent. See Beech Aircraft Corp. v. EDO Corp., 990 F.2d 1237, 1248, 26 USPQ2d 1572, 1582 (Fed. Cir. 1993). A patent or patent application is assignable by an instrument in writing, and the assignment of the patent, or patent application, transfers to the assignee(s) an alienable (transferable) ownership interest in the patent or application. 35 U.S.C. 261.II.ASSIGNMENT
“Assignment,” in general, is the act of transferring to another the ownership of one’s property, i.e., the interest and rights to the property. In 37 CFR 3.1, assignment of patent rights is defined as “a transfer by a party of all or part of its right, title and interest in a patent [or] patent application....” An assignment of a patent, or patent application, is the transfer to another of a party’s entire ownership interest or a percentage of that party’s ownership interest in the patent or application. In order for an assignment to take place, the transfer to another must include the entirety of the bundle of rights that is associated with the ownership interest, i.e., all of the bundle of rights that are inherent in the right, title and interest in the patent or patent application.III.LICENSING
As compared to assignment of patent rights, the licensing of a patent transfers a bundle of rights which is less than the entire ownership interest, e.g., rights that may be limited as to time, geographical area, or field of use. A patent license is, in effect, a contractual agreement that the patent owner will not sue the licensee for patent infringement if the licensee makes, uses, offers for sale, sells, or imports the claimed invention, as long as the licensee fulfills its obligations and operates within the bounds delineated by the license agreement.
An exclusive license may be granted by the patent owner to a licensee. The exclusive license prevents the patent owner (or any other party to whom the patent owner might wish to sell a license) from competing with the exclusive licensee, as to the geographic region, the length of time, and/or the field of use, set forth in the license agreement.
A license is not an assignment of the patent. Even if the license is an exclusive license, it is not an assignment of patent rights in the patent or application.IV. INDIVIDUAL AND JOINT OWNERSHIP
Individual ownership - An individual entity may own the entire right, title and interest of the patent property. This occurs where there is only one inventor, and the inventor has not assigned the patent property. Alternatively, it occurs where all parties having ownership interest (all inventors and assignees) assign the patent property to one party.
Joint ownership - Multiple parties may together own the entire right, title and interest of the patent property. This occurs when any of the following cases exist:
- (A) Multiple partial assignees of the patent property;
- (B) Multiple inventors who have not assigned their right, title and interest; or
- (C) A combination of partial assignee(s), and inventor(s) who have not assigned their right, title and interest.
Each individual inventor may only assign the interest he or she holds; thus, assignment by one joint inventor renders the assignee a partial assignee. A partial assignee likewise may only assign the interest it holds; thus, assignment by a partial assignee renders a subsequent assignee a partial assignee. All parties having any portion of the ownership in the patent property must act together as a composite entity in patent matters before the Office.V.MAKING THE ASSIGNMENT OF RECORD
An assignment can be made of record in the United States Patent and Trademark Office (Office) in two different ways, for two different purposes. The differences are important to note:
- (A) An assignment can be made of record in the assignment records of the Office as provided for in 37 CFR Part 3. Recordation of the assignment provides legal notice to the public of the assignment. It should be noted that recording of the assignment is merely a ministerial act; it is not an Office determination of the validity of the assignment document or the effect of the assignment document on the ownership of the patent property. See 37 CFR 3.54 and MPEP § 317.03. For a patent to issue to an assignee, the assignment must have been recorded or filed for recordation in accordance with 37 CFR 3.11. See 37 CFR 3.81(a).
- (B) An assignment can be made of record in the file of a patent application, patent, or other patent proceeding (e.g., reexamination proceeding). This step may be necessary to permit the assignee to “take action” in the application, patent, or other patent proceeding under the conditions set forth in 37 CFR 1.46 and 37 CFR 3.81(a) and MPEP § 325 (for applications filed on or after September 16, 2012) or under the conditions set forth in pre-AIA 37 CFR 3.73 and MPEP § 324 (for applications filed before September 16, 2012). Recordation of an assignment in the assignment records of the Office does not, by itself, permit the assignee to take action in the application, patent, or other patent proceeding.
Additionally, for applications filed under 35 U.S.C. 111(a), 363, or 385 on or after September 16, 2012, an assignment may contain the statements required to be made in an oath or declaration (“assignment-statement”), and if the assignment is made of record in the assignment records of the Office, then the assignment may be utilized as the oath or declaration. See 35 U.S.C. 115(e), 37 CFR 1.63(e), and MPEP §§ 302.07, 317, and MPEP § 602.01(a).
301.01 Accessibility of Assignment Records [R-11.2013]
37 CFR 1.12 Assignment records open to public inspection.
- (1) Separate assignment records are maintained in the United States Patent and Trademark Office for patents and trademarks. The assignment records, relating to original or reissue patents, including digests and indexes (for assignments recorded on or after May 1, 1957), and published patent applications are open to public inspection at the United States Patent and Trademark Office, and copies of patent assignment records may be obtained upon request and payment of the fee set forth in § 1.19 of this chapter. See § 2.200 of this chapter regarding trademark assignment records.
- (2) All records of assignments of patents recorded before May 1, 1957, are maintained by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). The records are open to public inspection. Certified and uncertified copies of those assignment records are provided by NARA upon request and payment of the fees required by NARA.
- (b) Assignment records, digests, and indexes relating to any pending or abandoned patent application, which is open to the public pursuant to § 1.11 or for which copies or access may be supplied pursuant to § 1.14, are available to the public. Copies of any assignment records, digests, and indexes that are not available to the public shall be obtainable only upon written authority of an inventor, the applicant, the assignee or an assignee of an undivided part interest, or a patent practitioner of record, or upon a showing that the person seeking such information is a bona fide prospective or actual purchaser, mortgagee, or licensee of such application, unless it shall be necessary to the proper conduct of business before the Office or as provided in this part.
- (c) Any request by a member of the public seeking copies of any assignment records of any pending or abandoned patent application preserved in confidence under § 1.14, or any information with respect thereto, must:
- (1) Be in the form of a petition including the fee set forth in § 1.17(g); or
- (2) Include written authority granting access to the member of the public to the particular assignment records from an inventor, the applicant, the assignee or an assignee of an undivided part interest, or a patent practitioner of record.
- (d) An order for a copy of an assignment or other document should identify the reel and frame number where the assignment or document is recorded. If a document is identified without specifying its correct reel and frame, an extra charge as set forth in § 1.21(j) will be made for the time consumed in making a search for such assignment.
Assignment documents relating to patents, published patent applications, registrations of trademarks, and applications for registration of trademarks are open to public inspection. Records related to assignments of patents, and patent applications that have been published as patent application publications are available on the USPTO website. To view the recorded assignment document itself, members of the public must place an order pursuant to 37 CFR 1.12(d).
The Office will not open only certain parts of an assignment document to public inspection. If such a document contains two or more items, any one of which, if alone, would be open to such inspection, then the entire document will be open. Thus, if a document covers either a trademark or a patent in addition to one or more patent applications, it will be available to the public ab initio; and if it covers a number of patent applications, it will be so available as soon as any one of them is published or patented. Documents relating only to one or more pending applications for patent which have not been published under 35 U.S.C. 122(b) will not be open to public inspection.
Copies of assignment records relating to pending or abandoned patent applications which are open to the public pursuant to 37 CFR 1.11 or for which copies or access may be supplied pursuant to 37 CFR 1.14 are available to the public. For pending or abandoned applications which are not open to the public pursuant to 37 CFR 1.11 or for which copies or access may not be supplied pursuant to 37 CFR 1.14, information related thereto is only obtainable upon a proper showing of written authority. For applications filed on or after September 16, 2012, the written authority must be from (A) an inventor, (B) the applicant, (C) the assignee or an assignee of an undivided part interest, (D) a patent practitioner of record, or (E) a person with written authority from (A), (B), or (C) or (D). See 37 CFR 1.12. For applications filed prior to September 16, 2012, the written authority must be from the applicant or applicant’s assignee or from the attorney or agent of either, or upon a showing that the person seeking such information is a bona fide prospective or actual purchaser, mortgagee, or licensee of such application. See pre-AIA 37 CFR 1.12.
If the application on which a patent was granted is a division, continuation, or continuation-in-part of an earlier application, the assignment records of that earlier application will be open to public inspection because copies or access may be supplied to the earlier application pursuant to 37 CFR 1.14.
Assignment records relating to reissue applications are open to public inspection because reissue applications are open to public inspection pursuant to 37 CFR 1.11(b).
Requests for abstracts of title for assignments of patents recorded after May 1, 1957, are provided by the Certification Division upon request and payment of fee required in 37 CFR 1.19. Requests for copies of pre-1957 records for patents should be directed to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). Since these records are maintained by NARA, it is more expeditious to request copies directly from NARA, rather than from the Office, which would then have to route the requests to NARA. Payment of the fees required by NARA should accompany all requests for copies.
All assignment records from 1837 to April 30, 1957 for patents are now maintained and are open for public inspection in the National Archives Research Room located at the Washington National Records Center Building, 4205 Suitland Road, Suitland, Maryland 20746. Assignment documents recorded before 1837 are maintained at the Civilian Records Division of the National Archives at College Park, 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, MD 20740-6001.