TiVo’s present success is the result of an interview with Examiners followed by two very powerful declarations. TiVo was represented at the interview by counsel, but also by TiVo co-founder and ‘389 patent co-inventor Jim Barton, as well as UCLA Professor John Villasenor. Barton’s declaration, and presumably his presentation at the interview, established a critical nexus between the substantial commercial success enjoyed by TiVo’s digital video recorder and the “automatic flow control” required by claims 31 and 61. Dr. Villasenor’s declaration detailed the technical distinctions between the ‘389 claims and the prior art, which he asserted “simply reacts to the flow and does not control it.” Villasenor also argued that one skilled in the art would have no reason to combine the references in the manner proposed in the final rejection.
The use of expert declaration evidence is patent prosecution is a topic of particular interest to me, so I reviewed some of the file history, and in particular the declarations and responses which relied on this evidence. I've reviewed many Board decisions dealing with expert declarations, and in doing so have learned about some of the common problem areas with declarations. From what I can see, the expert declarations in this Tivo reexam skillfully handled several areas which Applicants often have trouble with.
Here's a few of the things that Tivo got right in its use of expert declarations -- along with the case authority for why I say each is "right":
- Most importantly, Tivo used a declaration to explain technical facts, rather than simply putting this in a response as "mere attorney argument." In re Geisler, 116 F.3d 1465, 1470 (Fed. Cir. 1997)(attorney argument without factual evidence will not rebut prima facie obviousness).
- The declaration includes credentials and those credentials are relevant to the art. For a discussion of the relevant case law, see my post here.
- The declaration explains the relationship of the declarant to the assignee. Failure to do so can implicate inequitable conduct. An undisclosed business relationship between a patent applicant and a declarant is material if "(1) the declarant's views on the underlying issue are material and (2) the past relationship is a significant one." Ferring B.V. v. Barr Labs, Inc., 437 F.3d 1181, 1188 (Fed. Cir. 2006).
- The declaration itself gives facts and then draws technical conclusions, rather than conclusions unsupported by fact. The Board has broad discretion to accord little weight to declarations expressing an opinion as to fact when there is a lack of factual support for the opinions expressed. In re Am. Acad. of Sci. Tech. Ctr. , 367 F.3d 1359, 1368 (Fed. Cir. 2004).
- The declaration itself doesn't make legal conclusions. This is the proper role of attorney argument: to make a legal conclusion such as"not obvious." “An expert’s opinion on the ultimate legal conclusion is neither required nor indeed ‘evidence’ at all.” Mendenhall v. Cedarapids Inc. , 5 F.3d 1557, 1574 (Fed. Cir. 1993) (quoting Nutrition 21 v. United States, 930 F.2d 867, 871 n.2 (Fed. Cir. 1991))
In future posts I'll discuss some of these requirements in more detail. In the meantime, you can see a few posts which touch on expert declarations by selecting the label "1.132" in the list of Labels on the right-hand side of the blog.