Preston v. Marathon Oil Co., No. 11-1013 (Fed. Cir. 2012)Annotate this Case
A subsidiary of Marathon hired Preston as a relief pumper in Marathon’s coal bed methane well operation. After beginning work, Preston signed an Employee Agreement containing the assignment at issue. Later, Preston worked with Marathon Engineer Smith on a baffle system to improve machinery used to extract methane gas from water-saturated coal in a coal bed methane gas well. Marathon installed the system on wells. After Preston’s employment ended, both Marathon and Preston pursued patents. The district court declared that Preston is the sole inventor of one patent and that Smith was misjoined as an inventor; ordered the PTO to issue a new certificate reflecting Preston as the sole inventor; declared Marathon the owner of other patents pursuant to the employment agreement and that Preston breached the agreement for failing to assign his rights. The court entered summary judgment in favor of Marathon on its shop right claim, finding that, even if Marathon did not own the patents, it had a shop right to practice the inventions. The Federal Circuit affirmed that Preston assigned his rights in two inventions to Marathon pursuant to his employment agreement. Because that assignment was automatic, there was no breach of that agreement.