In a second decision, the court ruled that plaintiffs in a securities fraud class action against Halliburton did not have to prove that false statements from the company caused them to lose money in order to band together in a class action.
In the patent case, Stanford v. Roche Molecular Systems, No. 09-1159, the court considered how a 1980 federal law, the Bayh-Dole Act, affected rights to the H.I.V. test. It was invented by Dr. Mark Holodniy, a fellow at Stanford’s department of infectious diseases who had been assigned by the university to conduct research at the Cetus Corporation, a private firm.
Dr. Holodniy had signed a contract saying that “I agree to assign” inventions arising from his employment at Stanford to the university. He later signed a contract saying that “I will assign and do hereby assign” to Cetus inventions arising from his time there.
Roche Molecular Systems bought Cetus’s rights in the H.I.V. test and created a kit that became widely used in hospitals and clinics. Stanford sued for patent infringement; Roche said it was entitled to sell the kits in light of the agreement between Dr. Holodniy and Cetus; and Stanford responded that the doctor had no rights to assign given the Bayh-Dole Act, which specifies how rights in patents are allocated when federal money is involved.
The “general rule,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for the majority in a 7-to-2 decision, is that “rights in an invention belong to the inventor,” even if created on an employer’s watch. (Outside the patent context, Chief Justice Roberts said, the basic rule often goes the other way. “No one would claim,” he wrote, “that an autoworker who builds a car while working in a factory owns that car.”)