Declining to extend the public-use bar to third-party commercial uses of secret processes, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed a summary judgment ruling that found a patent invalid under the “known or used by others,” “on-sale” and “public-use” bars of 35 U.S.C. § 102. BASF Corp. v. SNF Holding Co. et al., Case No. 19-1243 (Fed. Cir. Apr. 8, 2020) (Lourie, J.).
BASF owns a patent on a process for preparing certain polymers. The claimed polymerization process allows easy removal of “sticky” polymers from walls of the tubular reaction vessel by including a conical taper with specific dimensions at the bottom of the vessel. BASF filed a patent infringement suit against SNF, who in turn alleged that the prior art “Sanwet” process invalidated the patent. The Sanwet process was developed in Japan by Sanyo and licensed to third-party Celanese for use in the US prior to the patent’s critical date. Sanyo provided substantial technical support to help Celanese with the process. Celanese was required to keep the Sanwet process confidential and could only disclose information to employees on a need-to-know basis. Employees were also required to sign confidentiality agreements.