[Editor Note: This MPEP section is not applicable to applications subject to the first inventor to file provisions of the AIA unless being relied upon to overcome a rejection under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(g). See 35 U.S.C. 100 (note) and MPEP § 2159. For a discussion of 37 CFR 1.130, affidavits or declarations of attribution or prior public disclosure in applications subject to the first inventor to file provisions of the AIA, see MPEP § 717. For a discussion of affidavits or declarations under 37 CFR 1.131(c), see MPEP § 718.]
I. GENERAL REQUIREMENTS
The essential thing to be shown under 37 CFR 1.131(a) is priority of invention and this may be done by any satisfactory evidence of the fact. FACTS, not conclusions, must be alleged. Evidence in the form of exhibits may accompany the affidavit or declaration. Each exhibit relied upon should be specifically referred to in the affidavit or declaration, in terms of what it is relied upon to show. For example, the allegations of fact might be supported by submitting as evidence one or more of the following:
- (A) attached sketches;
- (B) attached blueprints;
- (C) attached photographs;
- (D) attached reproductions of notebook entries;
- (E) an accompanying model;
- (F) attached supporting statements by witnesses, where verbal disclosures are the evidence relied upon. Ex parte Ovshinsky, 10 USPQ2d 1075 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1989);
- (G) testimony given in an interference. Where interference testimony is used, the applicant must point out which parts of the testimony are being relied on; examiners cannot be expected to search the entire interference record for the evidence;
- (H) documents submitted under the Disclosure Document Program (discontinued February 1, 2007) may be used as documentary evidence of conception.
A general allegation that the invention was completed prior to the date of the reference is not sufficient. Similarly, a declaration by the inventor to the effect that his or her invention was conceived or reduced to practice prior to the reference date, without a statement of facts demonstrating the correctness of this conclusion, is insufficient to satisfy 37 CFR 1.131(a). “An inventor cannot rely on uncorroborated testimony to establish a prior invention date.” In re NTP, Inc., 654 F.3d 1279, 1291, 99 USPQ2d 1481, 1488 (Fed. Cir. 2011).
“When the issue of priority concerns the antedating of a reference, the applicant is required to demonstrate, with sufficient documentation, that the applicant was in possession of the later-claimed invention before the effective date of the reference. Demonstration of such priority requires documentary support, from which factual findings and inferences are drawn, in application of the rules and law of conception, reduction to practice, and diligence.”
In re Steed, 802 F.3d 1311, 1316, 116 USPQ2d 1760 (Fed. Cir. 2015).
37 CFR 1.131(b) requires that original exhibits of drawings or records, or photocopies thereof, accompany and form part of the affidavit or declaration or their absence satisfactorily explained. In Ex parte Donovan, 1890 C.D. 109, 52 OG 309 (Comm’r Pat. 1890) the court stated:
If the applicant made sketches he should so state, and produce and describe them; if the sketches were made and lost, and their contents remembered, they should be reproduced and furnished in place of the originals. The same course should be pursued if the disclosure was by means of models. If neither sketches nor models are relied upon, but it is claimed that verbal disclosures, sufficiently clear to indicate definite conception of the invention, were made the witness should state as nearly as possible the language used in imparting knowledge of the invention to others.
When reviewing a 37 CFR 1.131(a) affidavit or declaration, the examiner must consider all of the evidence presented in its entirety, including the affidavits or declarations and all accompanying exhibits, records and “notes.” An accompanying exhibit need not support all claimed limitations, provided that any missing limitation is supported by the declaration itself. Ex parte Ovshinsky, 10 USPQ2d 1075 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1989).
The affidavit or declaration and exhibits must clearly explain which facts or data applicant is relying on to show completion of his or her invention prior to the particular date. Specifically, “[t]he burden of showing actual reduction of practice is on the party seeking its benefit.” In re Steed, 802 F.3d 1311, 1317-18, 116 USPQ2d 1760 (Fed. Cir. 2015)(citing to In re NTP, Inc., 654 F.3d 1279, 1291, 99 USPQ2d 1481, 1488 (Fed. Cir. 2011)). Vague and general statements in broad terms about what the exhibits describe along with a general assertion that the exhibits describe a reduction to practice “amounts essentially to mere pleading, unsupported by proof or a showing of facts” and, thus, does not satisfy the requirements of 37 CFR 1.131(b). In re Borkowski, 505 F.2d 713, 184 USPQ 29 (CCPA 1974). Applicant must give a clear explanation of the exhibits pointing out exactly what facts are established and relied on by applicant. 505 F.2d at 718-19, 184 USPQ at 33. See also In re Harry, 333 F.2d 920, 142 USPQ 164 (CCPA 1964) (Affidavit “asserts that facts exist but does not tell what they are or when they occurred.”).
II. ESTABLISHMENT OF DATES
If the dates of the exhibits have been removed or blocked off, the matter of dates can be taken care of in the body of the oath or declaration.
When alleging that conception or a reduction to practice occurred prior to the effective date of the reference, the dates in the oath or declaration may be the actual dates or, if disclosure of the actual dates is not desired, the declarant/affiant may merely allege that the acts referred to occurred prior to a specified date. However, the actual dates of acts relied on to establish diligence must be provided. See MPEP § 715.07(a) regarding the diligence requirement.
III. THREE WAYS TO SHOW PRIOR INVENTION
The affidavit or declaration must state FACTS and produce such documentary evidence and exhibits in support thereof as are available to show conception and completion of invention in this country or in a NAFTA or WTO member country (MPEP § 715.07(c)), at least the conception being at a date prior to the effective date of the reference. Where there has not been reduction to practice prior to the date of the reference, diligence in the completion of the invention from a time just prior to the date of the reference continuously up to the date of an actual reduction to practice or up to the date of filing the application (filing constitutes a constructive reduction to practice, 37 CFR 1.131) must be shown.
As discussed above, 37 CFR 1.131(b) provides three ways in which an applicant can establish prior invention of the claimed subject matter. The showing of facts must be sufficient to show:
- (A) (actual) reduction to practice of the invention prior to the effective date of the reference; or
- (B) conception of the invention prior to the effective date of the reference coupled with due diligence from prior to the reference date to a subsequent (actual) reduction to practice; or
- (C) conception of the invention prior to the effective date of the reference coupled with due diligence from prior to the reference date to the filing date of the application (constructive reduction to practice).
A conception of an invention, though evidenced by disclosure, drawings, and even a model, is not a complete invention under the patent laws, and confers no rights on an inventor, and has no effect on a subsequently granted patent to another, UNLESS THE INVENTOR FOLLOWS IT WITH REASONABLE DILIGENCE BY SOME OTHER ACT, such as an actual reduction to practice or filing an application for a patent. Automatic Weighing Mach. Co. v. Pneumatic Scale Corp., 166 F.2d 288, 1909 C.D. 498, 139 OG 991 (1st Cir. 1909).
Conception is the mental part of the inventive act, but it must be capable of proof, as by drawings, complete disclosure to another person, etc. In Mergenthaler v. Scudder, 1897 C.D. 724, 81 OG 1417 (D.C. Cir. 1897), it was established that conception is more than a mere vague idea of how to solve a problem; the means themselves and their interaction must be comprehended also.
In general, proof of actual reduction to practice requires a showing that the apparatus actually existed and worked for its intended purpose. However, “there are some devices so simple that a mere construction of them is all that is necessary to constitute reduction to practice.” In re Asahi/America Inc., 68 F.3d 442, 37 USPQ2d 1204, 1206 (Fed. Cir. 1995) (Citing Newkirk v. Lulejian, 825 F.2d 1581, 3USPQ2d 1793 (Fed. Cir. 1987) and Sachs v. Wadsworth, 48 F.2d 928, 929, 9 USPQ 252, 253 (CCPA 1931). The claimed restraint coupling held to be so simple a device that mere construction of it was sufficient to constitute reduction to practice. Photographs, coupled with articles and a technical report describing the coupling in detail were sufficient to show reduction to practice.).
The facts to be established under 37 CFR 1.131(a) are similar to those to be proved in interference. The difference lies in the way in which the evidence is presented. If applicant disagrees with a holding that the facts are insufficient to overcome the rejection, the remedy is by appeal from the continued rejection.
For the most part, the terms “conception,” “reasonable diligence,” and “reduction to practice” have the same meanings under 37 CFR 1.131(a) as they have in interference proceedings. However, in In re Eickmeyer, 602 F.2d 974, 202 USPQ 655 (CCPA 1979), the court stated:
The purpose of filing a [37 CFR 1.]131 affidavit is not to demonstrate prior invention, per se, but merely to antedate the effective date of a reference. See In re Moore, 58 CCPA 1340, 444 F.2d 572, 170 USPQ 260 (1971). Although the test for sufficiency of an affidavit under Rule 131(b) parallels that for determining priority of invention in an interference under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(g), it does not necessarily follow that Rule 131 practice is controlled by interference law. To the contrary, “[t]he parallel to interference practice found in Rule 131(b) should be recognized as one of convenience rather than necessity.” Id. at 1353, 444 F.2d at 580, 170 USPQ at 267. Thus, “the ‘conception’ and ‘reduction to practice’ which must be established under the rule need not be the same as what is required in the ‘interference’ sense of those terms.” Id.; accord, In re Borkowski, 505 F.2d 713, 718-19, 184 USPQ 29, 33 (CCPA 1974).
One difference is that in interference practice a reduction to practice requires a proof that a utility was known, whereas under 37 CFR 1.131(a) practice, proof of a utility must be shown only if the reference discloses a utility. In re Wilkinson, 304 F.2d 673, 134 USPQ 171 (CCPA 1962); In re Moore, 444 F.2d 572, 170 USPQ 260 (CCPA 1971). Where proof of utility is required, whether or not test results are required to establish the utility of the subject matter in question depends on the facts of each case. The ultimate issue is whether the evidence is such that one of ordinary skill in the art would be satisfied to a reasonable certainty that the subject matter necessary to antedate the reference possessed the alleged utility. In re Blake, 358 F.2d 750, 149 USPQ 217 (CCPA 1966). Also, in interference practice, conception, reasonable diligence, and reduction to practice require corroboration, whereas averments made in a 37 CFR 1.131(a) affidavit or declaration do not require corroboration; an applicant may stand on his or her own affidavit or declaration if he or she so elects. Ex parte Hook, 102 USPQ 130 (Bd. App. 1953).