indispensable party : CAFC Alert

Inventorship disputes raise difficult issues; involvement of State universities adds layers of complexity

| September 6, 2013

University of Utah v. Max-Planck-Gesellschaft 

August 19, 2013

Panel:  Moore, Reyna and Wallach.  Opinion by Reyna.  Dissent by Moore.


This case started with the University of Utah suing the University of Massachussetts and others to obtain correction of inventorship in a group of patents co-owned by UMass and the other defendants.  But the main issues in this appeal relate to the status of the plaintiff UUtah and initial co-defendant UMass as State entities.

To overcome UMass’ sovereign immunity defense (a State can be sued by another State only in the Supreme Court under Article III of the Constitution), UUtah amended its complaint to name individual UMass officials, instead of UMass itself.

The District Court held that the lawsuit could proceed, and the Federal Circuit affirms on the grounds that (1) UMass is not a “real party of interest” because deciding inventorship does not involve a core state interest, and (2) UMass is not an “indispensable party” because the officials can adequately represent the interest of UMass as co-owner of the patents.

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