WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Commerce’s United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) announced that it will host seven roadshows across the country between September 16 and October 9, 2014, to increase understanding of the First Inventor to File (FITF) provisions of the America Invents Act (AIA). The public meetings will serve as an opportunity for USPTO subject matter experts and stakeholders to discuss the FITF provisions and updates since its implementation in March 2013.
The USPTO specifically wants to broaden public knowledge of the FITF provisions and assist understanding of the provision’s administrative processes to aid inventors and their representatives in the filing and prosecuting of patent applications under the FITF system. At each roadshow, panelists will discuss FITF statistics to date, the applicability of the FITF provisions on patent applications filed today, the FITF statutory framework and its exceptions, and AIA evidentiary declaration practice useful to invoke these exceptions. The experts will present a variety of sample scenarios to illustrate both the applicability of the FITF provisions as well as tips for prosecuting applications filed under the FITF provisions.
Earlier this summer the United States Patent and Trademark Office published a Request for Comments on Trial Proceedings Under the America Invents Act Before the Patent Trial and Appeal Board. This request for comments pertains to the new administrative trial proceedings ushered in by the America Invents Act (AIA), which President Obama signed into law on September 11, 2011. The administrative trial proceedings at the USPTO did not go into effect immediately, but rather went into effect on September 16, 2012, the first anniversary of the signing of the AIA.
The administrative trial proceedings created by the AIA are: (1) Inter partes review; (2) post-grant review; (3) covered business method patents review; and (4) derivation proceedings. To bring these new proceedings into being, the USPTO issued a number of final rules and a trial practice guide in August and September of 2012. It is now time for the USPTO to take a step back and take account of these new proceedings, aided by public input. This is not an unexpected occurrence. Many will recall that during the rule making phase the USPTO held roundtable discussions in a number of cities across the country. During this timeframe the USPTO committed to revisiting the rules and practice guide once the Board and public had operated under the rules and practice guide for some unspecified period of time and had gained experience with the new administrative trial proceedings. With nearly two years of practical experience with these new proceedings, the time has now come for the USPTO to revisit and quite possibly revise the rules.
Back on June 2, 2014, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) wrote to President Obama expressing concern with the fact that the United States Patent and Trademark Office has been without a director for more than 16 months. A further 11 weeks has passed and we are still without a presidential nominee to run the USPTO. The letter from Senator Hatch to President Obama is reproduced below.
In the letter, Senator Hatch also questions whether USPTO Director Michelle Lee was appointed consistent with 35 U.S.C. § 3(b)(1). Dennis Crouch and Hal Wegner have covered that issue with some detail, so there is no need to rehash that here, but suffice it to say that the Director is supposed to nominate the Deputy Director for the position, but there has not been a Director of the Office since David Kappos left in January 2013. At the time Lee was nominated Peggy Focarino, the Commissioner for Patents, had been vested with the powers and duties of the Director by the Obama Administration, although not given the title.
In the Federal Register Notice the USPTO explains that electronic sharing of information and documents between intellectual property (IP) offices is critical for increasing the efficiency and quality of patent examination worldwide. It is hard to argue with this statement given the worldwide growth of patent applications. Truthfully, whenever there is a public forum at the USPTO of leaders from patent offices around the world it almost seems like everyone is overwhelmed. Working together in bi-lateral fashion has given us various Patent Prosecution Highway pilot programs that seek to accelerate applications. The United States worked with the European Patent Office to streamline and update patent classification systems. Sharing files electronically is another step toward streamlining the process for applicants and Offices alike.
Standing in the way of file sharing with other offices is the confidential nature of unpublished U.S. patent applications, as set forth in 35 U.S.C. 122. An applicant now must provide the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) written authority in accordance with 37 CFR 1.14 to grant a foreign IP office access to an unpublished U.S. patent application. With this grant of authority, the Office may electronically provide the U.S. patent application-as-filed or the requested file contents, such as information and documents, from the U.S. patent application to the foreign IP office on behalf of the applicant.
Novartis filed law suits that challenged the determinations by the USPTO of how much time to add to the patent term under 35 U.S.C. § 154(b) with respect to 18 different patents. The district court dismissed 15 of the claims as untimely asserted, and the Federal Circuit affirmed that ruling. With respect to the substantive ruling on the other three patents (U.S. Patent Nos. 7,807,155; 7,968,518; and 7,973,031), the Federal Circuit in a panel decision by Judge Taranto (joined by Judges Newman and Dyk) concluded that the USPTO was partly correct and partly incorrect in its interpretation of 35 U.S.C. § 154(b)(1)(B). As a result, the Federal Circuit determined that Novartis was entitled to most, but not all, of the patent term adjustment it seeks.
By agreement signed with the Patent Office Professional Association on June 24, 2014, the United States Patent and Trademark Office is once again providing tuition reimbursement for employees who are enrolled in law school seeking a Juris Doctor degree. See 2014 Supplemental Agreement on the Non-duty Hours Legal Study Program. To qualify the employee must have at least 2 years of USPTO experience and sign a continuing service agreement.
The continuing service agreement requires an employee who received tuition reimbursement to provide continued service with the federal government for 30 days for each credit paid for by the USPTO. If the employee leaves the federal government prior to completing the required length of the continued service, the employee’s tuition reimbursement obligation will be on a pro rata basis (based on thirty-day increments).
Currently, the USPTO targets of 10 months on average to a first office action, and an average of 20 months for total pendency were established with stakeholder input in the previous USPTO 2010–2015 Strategic Plan. In an effort to continue to take into consideration industry realities the USPTO would like to ensure a balance between workload, production capacity and the requirements of the stockholder community.
Johnson, a strong proponent for patent reform, publicly questioned the need for expanding covered business method (CBM) review, which has long been a pet cause of Shumer’s. Schumer is on record as supporting CBM and wanting to expand the reach of this post grant patent challenge. It is believed Schumer is so invested in CBM because those primarily using CBM are banks and other financial institutions, which is where Schumer receives much of his considerable financial backing and political support. More recently Schumer has also been lobbied by App developers and others who would like CBM review to become available to challenge all software patents.
If the news of resistance on the Senate Judiciary Committee is true the question then turns to whether anyone qualified for the job of Director of the USPTO could be confirmed. Virtually everyone in the industry questioned the wisdom behind expanding CBM review; Phil Johnson was hardly an outlier on that subject. In fact, even Microsoft and Apple broke off from the Google/Cisco high tech collaboration to question the wisdom of expanded CBM review. It was a bad idea to expand CBM. If support for expanding CBM becomes a litmus test then it seems unlikely that a candidate will emerge that is both acceptable to those who adhere to the Google/Cisco orthodoxy and who would also be acceptable to pharma/biotech and the rest of the patent community that needs strong patents and a fully functioning patent system.