CALL US: 206.533.3854
CALL US  206.533.3854
AEON Law logo full color transparent
Tasuku Honjo, Nobel Laureate in Medicine. By 大臣官房人事課 - 平成25年度 文化勲章受章者:文部科学省, CC BY 4.0,

Inventors Include Those Who Significantly Contributed to an Invention

All the inventors
Must be listed on patent
Or disputes ensue

Failing to accurately identify the actual inventors in a patent application can lead to disputes, as in the recent federal court case of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Inc. v. Ono Pharmaceutical.

The case involved patents for a method of treating cancer by administering antibodies targeting specific receptor-ligand interactions on T cells.

A bench trial ordered (in a 111-page opinion!) that Dr. Gordon Freeman and Dr. Clive Wood be added to the patents as co-inventors alongside Dr. Tasuku Honjo, a professor at Kyoto University’s medical school.

Dr. Honjo isolated DNA sequence the PD-1 receptor in the early 1990s and began working with the protein in mouse models with a colleague.

Dr. Wood later collaborated with Dr. Honjo, and they also shared information with Dr. Freeman.

In 1999, Drs. Wood and Freeman filed a provisional patent application, leaving off Dr. Honjo as an inventor. Dr. Honjo challenged this and eventually stopped sharing information with the others. He then filed his own patent application in 2002.

The patents at issue in the case claimed priority from those 2002 patents. As the court noted,

In 2018, Dr. Honjo won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, and it is not without interest that in his acceptance speech he credited Dr. Freeman as a major collaborator in his work.

35 U.S.C. § 116(a) provides the standard for joint inventorship:

When an invention is made by two or more persons jointly, they shall apply for patent jointly and each make the required oath, except as otherwise provided in this title. Inventors may apply for a patent jointly even though (1) they did not physically work together or at the same time, (2) each did not make the same type or amount of contribution, or (3) each did not make a contribution to the subject matter of every claim of the patent.

The federal court found that:

To be a joint inventor, one must:
(1) contribute in some significant manner to the conception or reduction to practice of the invention, (2) make a contribution to the claimed invention that is not insignificant in quality, when that contribution is measured against the dimension of the full invention, and (3) do more than merely explain to the real inventor’s well-known concepts and/or the current state of the art.

It wasn’t relevant, according to the court, that Drs. Freeman and Wood failed to participate in certain experiments that led to the conception of the claimed invention because “the statute and our case law make clear that joint inventors need not contribute to all aspects of a conception.”

Just like the haiku above, we like to keep our posts short and sweet. Hopefully, you found this bite-sized information helpful. If you would like more information, please do not hesitate to contact us here.

Related Articles

Just Because It’s on the Internet Doesn’t Mean It’s “Publicly Accessible”

The Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB or Board) has denied institution of a petition for inter partes review (IPR) because the petitioner failed to ...
Read More

Trademark Denied for “ChatGPT”

The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has denied OpenAI’s applications to trademark “ChatGPT” and “GPT.” The Final Office Action states, “Registration is refused because the applied-for mark ...
Read More

Federal Circuit: “Improving User Experience” Isn’t Patentable

The Federal Circuit has affirmed a lower court decision that patent claims for methods and systems for improving how search results are displayed to users ...
Read More

Stay Informed

Sign up to receive Patent Poetry—a monthly roundup of key IP issues in our signature haiku format. Four articles (only 68 syllables); zero hassle.



Artificial Intelligence

Blockchain & Cryptocurrency

Computer Technology & Software

Consumer Electronics

Electrical Devices



Mechanical Devices

Consumer & Retail Products

Hardware & Tools

Toys & Games



Chemical Compounds

Digital Health

Healthcare Products



Books & Publications

Brand Creation

Luxury Products

Photography & Video

Product Design