The Federal Circuit recently ruled that all co-inventors must be named on issued patents, even when their contributions to an invention are minimal.
The case, Vapor Point LLC v. Moorhead, involved patents for the removal of volatile fuel vapors from storage tanks used in the oil and gas industry.
The plaintiffs, Vapor Point, LLC, Keith Nathan, and Kenneth Matheson sued NanoVapor Fuels Group Inc., Elliot Moorhead, and Bryan Hickman, seeking to have Nathan and Matheson listed as co-inventors on two of NanoVapor’s patents.
Nathan had worked with Moorhead on marketing a process Moorhead developed, called “Vapor Suppresion System,” at NanoVapor. Nathan later became COO of NanoVapor.
NanoVaper later hired Matheson to help with the “commercial embodiment” of the technology.
Moorhead filed a provisional patent for the system in 2006.
NanoVapor claimed that Nathan and Matheson
plotted to steal [NanoVapor’s] technology and destroy [NanoVapor’s] business when [Nathan and Matheson] developed the commercial embodiment of NanoVapor’s patent-pending concept.
VaporPoint alleged that the patent
wrongfully incorporated, disclosed, and claimed all of Nathan and Matheson’s conceptual and inventive contributions.
The district court found that Nathan and Matheson did contribute to four key concepts in two of the NanoVapor patents.
On appeal, the Federal Circuit reviewed whether substantial evidence supported the finding that Nathan and Matheson should be added as co-inventors on the NanoVapor patents.
The court ruled as follows:
Given the evidence adduced, we find that the district court was correct to conclude that both Nathan and Matheson should be listed as inventors on the ’310 patent, which is the only patent asserted in NanoVapor’s infringement claim. All inventors, even those who contribute to only one claim or one aspect of one claim of a patent, must be listed on that patent.
Additionally, held the court,
Co-inventors need not “physically work together or at the same time,” “make the same type or amount of contribution,” or “make a contribution to the subject matter of every claim of the patent.”
An inventor who wasn’t properly credited when a patent application was filed can later seek to be named on an issued patent.