To the casual observer, the Supreme Court’s January 23 decision in Helsinn v. Teva may seem like no big deal. In just a few pages of text, the Court informs us that Congress did not change the established meaning of “on sale” prior art when it rewrote Section 102 of the Patent Act in 2011. Move along, nothing to see here, right? More than a few commentators seem to assume that we’ll simply return to the pre-America Invents Act (AIA) status quo, and that sales of an invention, whether public or private, will just continue to trigger a familiar statutory one-year clock for filing a patent application. But nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the impact of private sales (and of non-public commercial uses) on the patentability of later-filed patent applications will be significant, and very different from pre-AIA law. Patent applicants and owners of patents that were issued under the AIA have every reason to worry about traps for the unwary.
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