NASA's Administrative Review of a Patent Infringement Claim

RCED-00-240R: Published: Aug 8, 2000. Publicly Released: Aug 16, 2000.

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James E. Wells, Jr
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) administrative review of a patent infringement claim, focusing on: (1) whether NASA adhered to established procedures in conducting its administrative review of the inventor's infringement claim; and (2) what criteria NASA used in reaching its decision.

GAO noted that: (1) NASA reviewed the inventor's complaint in accordance with its procedures governing administrative reviews of patent infringement claims; (2) even though the inventor never filed an official claim, NASA treated his complaint as an infringement claim because it had no other mechanism for investigating allegations of infringement and wanted to remove any doubt that it had infringed the patent in question; (3) also, NASA and the inventor agree that the agency's decision to treat the inventor's allegation as an infringement claim probably will work to his advantage if he chooses to bring an infringement suit; (4) the inventor was correct that NASA used the same attorney to conduct the administrative review that earlier had been involved in licensing negotiations on the inventor's patent; (5) while this does not violate NASA's procedures, it is inconsistent with federal internal control standards; (6) NASA said it would separate the duties if such a case arose in the future; (7) NASA applied the federal patent law to reach its decision; (8) NASA interpreted the law as providing that only the patent claims--those specific elements set out in the patent that make the invention novel--can be infringed; and (9) after surveying the operations of its field units, NASA concluded that none of its systems--including the Mars Pathfinder landing system and the TransHab Design Concept cited by the inventor--infringed the claims in the inventor's patent.

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