Federal Circuit Holds Written Instrument Can Be Reformed Under Contract Law To Effect Assignment

In Schwendimann v. Arkwright Advanced Coating., No. 2018-2146 (Fed. Cir. 2020), the Federal Circuit found that an incorrect written instrument filed with the USPTO could be properly reformed by the court under contract law to reflect the parties’ agreement to assign a patent application, and thus held the plaintiff did own the patents issuing from the ’845 application and could file suit.  In reaching this decision, the Court considered that the plaintiff’s former employer offered to assign the ’845 patent application and she accepted that offer in exchange for consideration that she agreed not to file suit against the employer for unpaid wages. The Court found that the plaintiff performed her portion of the agreement, i.e., not suing her employer, and thus assignment of the ’845 application was made. The Court further found that the “written instrument” requirement under 35 U.S.C. § 261 (“[a]pplications for patent … shall be assignable in law by an instrument in writing”) does not define when the agreement occurs. Rather, the Court found that only some writing is required to confirm the fact of an assignment.  And, by virtue of the reformation, the written instrument was corrected to reflect the assignment.