When a debtor grants a security interest in a patent issued by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO), the creditor must take steps to perfect that security interest. Given that the PTO issues patents but the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) generally governs perfection of security interests, creditors have often filed both a UCC-1 financing statement and made a filing in the PTO to cover all the bases.

Perfection By UCC Filing. In 2001, the Ninth Circuit held that a creditor who filed a UCC-1 financing statement properly perfected a security interest in a patent even if it did not also make a filing with the PTO. The decision in the In re Cybernetic Services, Inc. case, officially Moldo v. Matsco, Inc., 252 F.3d 1039 (9th Cir. 2001), rested on the Ninth Circuit’s determination that the federal Patent Act does not cover liens on patents and does not preempt the UCC with respect to perfection of security interests. This seemed to settle the question of whether a UCC filing alone was enough to perfect a security interest in a patent, at least in the Ninth Circuit.

Does A PTO Filing Alone Perfect? Judge William C. Hillman of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Massachusetts faced the opposite question in the In re Coldwave Systems, LLC case. There the creditor sought to rely on a PTO filing alone to perfect its security interest in a patent because the Bankruptcy Court avoided as a preference a tardy UCC filing made long after the security interest was granted but within 90 days of the bankruptcy petition. The creditor’s much earlier PTO filing of a Recordation Form Cover Sheet, recording the conveyance of the security agreement between the debtor and the creditor, was not subject to avoidance as a preference. The creditor argued that the PTO filing was sufficient to perfect its security interest, even in the absence of a UCC filing.

UCC Perfection Or Bust. In his 14-page decision issued on May 15, 2007, Judge Hillman held that the PTO filing was insufficient to perfect the creditor’s security interest because the Patent Act (specifically Section 261 of Title 35), did not create a system for the perfection of security interests in patents. After first concluding that "[t]he Federal statute does not protect holders of security interests," Judge Hillman held as follows:

There is nothing in §261 that addresses in any way the conflict between one who is not a holder of an interest by way of assignment, grant, or conveyance and a bankruptcy trustee. We must look to other law for the answer. 

That other law was the UCC. Holding that a patent is a general intangible, the Court ruled that nothing in the UCC excepts general intangibles from the rule requiring perfection by a UCC filing. Since no valid UCC filing perfected the creditor’s security interest, it was unperfected and the Chapter 7 trustee prevailed.

The Bottom Line. The Coldwave Systems decision is consistent with the Ninth Circuit’s earlier Cybernetic Services ruling. Together they teach creditors that the only way to perfect a security interest in a patent is by an unavoidable and proper UCC filing. Any creditor relying on a PTO filing alone will end up unperfected and unsecured. While there may be other reasons for a creditor to make a PTO filing, such as potentially protecting against an improper assignment of the patent, perfection of a security interest is not one of them.

Want More? For more on the Coldwave Systems and Cybernetic Services decisions, be sure to read Warren Agin’s excellent post on the Tech Bankruptcy blog, entitled "An Expert Builds On Cybernetic Services." Warren also gets special thanks for first posting on Judge Hillman’s interesting decision.