30 Pages Posted: 27 Oct 2012 Last revised: 25 Feb 2013
Date Written: February 22, 2012
The patent doctrine of inequitable conduct — which allows a patent to be held unenforceable on the basis of misbehavior by the applicant during patent prosecution — has been the subject of intense criticism from the bench and bar alike. And yet to date there has been no systematic attempt to determine whether the doctrine is or is not working as theorized. This study fills that gap. We evaluate the performance of the inequitable conduct doctrine with a novel methodological approach: by empirically characterizing the differences between patents found unenforceable and several other types of patents (unlitigated, litigated, invalid, obvious, and under-disclosed), we use those differences to reveal the real-world impact of the inequitable conduct doctrine. We find that patents held unenforceable have clear hallmarks of risky prosecution behavior, such as longer pendency and fewer disclosures of prior art as compared to all other types we studied. These results indicate that the doctrine is likely to be operating better than the conventional wisdom would suggest.
Keywords: patents, unenforceability, inequitable conduct, empirical, patent data
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