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 owner of the 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.
“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. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office cannot explain or interpret laws that govern assignments and related documents, nor can it act as counselor for individuals. Assignments and other documents are contracts that are governed by the relevant state or jurisdictional law.
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. 35 U.S.C. 261 requires transfer of ownership by an assignment to be in writing. See Realvirt, LLC v. Lee, 195 F.Supp.3d 847, 859 (E.D. Va. 2016).
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,MPEP § 317.03, and Realvirt, LLC v. Lee, 195 F.Supp.3d 847, 862-3 (E.D. Va. 2016). 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).