A patent for an invention is the grant of a property right to the inventor, issued by the United States Patent Office. The right conferred by the patent grant is, in the language of the statute and of the grant itself, “the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling” the invention in the U.S. or “importing” the invention into the U.S.
In order to obtain a patent in the United States it is necessary to file a US patent application. One can either file a design patent application (which covers the way something looks, but not the way it functions), a plant patent application (to cover asexually reproduced plants) or a utility patent application. The utility patent application covers what most people refer to as an invention; namely devices, methods, compounds and software, for example. From this point forward we will limit our discussion to utility patents and utility patent applications.
In order to obtain a utility patent one must file what is referred to as a non-provisional application or a non-provisional utility application. It is called “non-provisional” to distinguish it from a provisional patent applications. This distinction between a provisional patent application and a non-provisional patent application became necessary in 1995 when the Patent Office first allowed the filing of provisional applications. A provisional application is one that essentially allows you to file and hold your place in line for 12 months. You can file a provisional application without many of the formalities required for a non-provisional application because the Patent Office will not review provisional applications.
~ ‘The report of my death was an exaggeration’ –Mark Twain
Mark Twain, American humorist.
With apologies to the great humorist, the report of the death of software patents is an exaggeration. Some commentators quite quickly suggested that the Supreme Court’s decision in Alice Corp. Pty. Ltd. v. CLS Bank Int’l, 573 U.S. ___, No. 13-298 (June 19, 2014), will “invalidate the majority of all software patents in force today” and is “bad news for software patents”. That interpretation may make good copy, but it is simplistic and overblown. While the Court invalidated Alice’s patents, the decision certainly does not invalidate the majority, or even a large percentage, of software patents, nor does it radically restrict the kinds of inventions that can be patented going forward. The decision is a modest and incremental clarification in the patent law, and a not wholesale revision.
The Court set forth a two-step test grounded in Bilski v. Kappos and Mayo v. Prometheus. While the Court may not have defined a clear boundary for so called “abstract ideas” specifically, it did squarely place this case within the “outer shell” of the law set forth in Bilski and Mayo. In doing so it articulated an approach that focuses not on finding the boundary line, but rather on the core properties of an ineligible patent claim. In Part I of this two-part post, I will focus on just the first step of the test, whether a claim recites a patent-ineligible “abstract idea.” In Part II, I’ll address issues regarding preemption, mental steps, and the application of Alice to software patents.
Sony is a regular feature here on IPWatchdog’s Companies We Follow series, and we see a constant stream of intriguing consumer electronics coming out of the research facilities of this corporate giant. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office handles an amazing amount of patent filings from this company and its subsidiaries. As always, we’re sharing the most interesting technologies expressed in published patent applications and recently issued patents assigned to Sony with our readers.
A device that better provides assistive therapies to elderly or physically handicapped individuals is discussed in today’s featured patent application. This device is more cost-effective and easy to wear than prior exercise support devices designed to assist walking, providing effective response to a wearer’s leg movement. We also noticed a couple of patent applications describing improvements to multiplayer video gaming environments, including one method that improves the ability for an advertiser to reach players through an in-game avatar.
At least initially, the USPTO instructions to examiners seems extremely patentee friendly, which I must say comes as a surprise given the largely anti-patent rhetoric that has come from the White House over the last 16 months. Indeed, the USPTO has told examiners that the reason Alice’s claims were determined to be patent ineligible was because “the generically-recited computers in the claims add nothing of substance to the underlying abstract idea.”
The USPTO then went on to point out to patent examiners that there is no new category of innovation that is patent ineligible, nor is there any new or special requirements for the eligibility of either software or business methods. Hirshfeld explained: “Notably, Alice Corp. neither creates a per se excluded category of subject matter, such as software or business methods, nor imposes any special requirements for eligibility of software or business methods.”
Hirshfeld also explained that there is now a slight change in the way applications are to be examined when claims involve abstract ideas. Essentially, Alice stands for the proposition that the same analysis should be used for all types of judicial exceptions and the same analysis should be used for all categories of invention. Still, even recognizing this shift in analysis, Hirshfeld told examiners: “[T]he basic inquiries to determine subject matter eligibility remain the same as explained in MPEP 2106(I).” (emphasis added). Therefore, nothing has changed as far as the USPTO is concerned.
Earlier today the United States Supreme Court issued its decision in American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. v. Aereo, Inc., a case that required the Court to determine whether Aereo infringed copyrights of the plaintiffs by selling its subscribers a service that allowed them to watch television programs over the Internet at about the same time as the programs broadcasted the programs over the air. In a 6 to 3 decision authored by Justice Stephen Breyer the Court found that Aereo’s actions did constitute copyright infringement. A dissent was written by Justice Scalia and joined by Justices Thomas and Alito.
Using an all too familiar “logical” construct, the Supreme Court determined that what Aereo did was not a public performance within the meaning of the Copyright Act, but was still infringement because it was a public performance. This construct, which often appears in patent cases, is logically absurd, but without anyone to review the Court’s decisions they seem completely comfortable rendering internally inconsistent and logically flawed decisions, particularly when dealing with intellectual property.
The Supreme Court likely struggles with intellectual property because the Court is simply not comfortable with technology. In the past I have made much of the fact that the Supreme Court does not use e-mail, I’ve also pointed to the fact that during the KSR oral arguments Justice Scalia called the entire area of patent law “gobbledegook.” But we don’t even need to go beyond the text of the written decision to understand the Court’s true naiveté. Indeed, at one point in his opinion Justice Breyer asked why the facts actually matter.
Breyer asked: “why should any of these technological differences matter?” Aside from the fact that intellectual property issues are by their very nature extraordinarily dependent upon technology, technological reality matters because under our system of law cases are supposed to be decided based on fact, not myth or superstition.
We usually think of two players in the patent system: the patentee and its competitor, assuming that competitors will represent the interests of end users. But, in my article – The Rise of the End User in Patent Litigation, which is forthcoming in the Boston College Law Review – I show that this is changing. Increasingly end users are becoming significant players in the patent system. What follows is an executive summary of this article.
Attention has recently turned to patent assertion entities that are suing vast numbers of customers using patented technologies in their everyday businesses. But, end users were also principal players in some of the main recent patent before the Supreme Court. In Bowman v. Monsanto, Monsanto sued farmers for re-using its patented self-replicating seeds. In Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, patients and physicians sued to invalidate breast cancer gene patents. And, patients and drug stores repeatedly challenge pay-for-delay agreements between patentees and competitors, claiming they undermine patients’ interests in access to generic drugs. Finally, end users are likely to become even more prevalent in patent litigation, as the 3D printer becomes more popular, making it more likely that an individual or a small business will make an infringing item that will expose them to patent liability.
I define end users broadly to include those using a patented technology for personal consumption and those using it in business, but it is important to emphasize that they are strictly users. One would still be a user under my definition even if they incorporate the patented technology into a product or service they offer their customers they do not make or sell the technology itself.
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Commerce’s United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) will host its next Software Partnership Meeting on Tuesday, July 22, 2014, at the USPTO headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia, from 1:00 pm – 4:30 pm. Members of the public are invited to attend. Software Partnership meetings are an opportunity to bring stakeholders together to share ideas, experiences, and insights and to provide a forum for an informal discussion of many topics specific to the software community.
On June 4, 2013, the White House issued five executive actions designed to reduce abusive litigation and level the playing field for innovators. The second of the five executive actions focuses on clarity in patent claims and functional claiming in patents. The meeting on July 22 will feature a focused discussion on claim clarity and functional language. In particular, USPTO officials at the meeting will present details of four examiner training modules on functional language, discussed below, that were delivered this past year, and will provide an opportunity for an interactive discussion on the goals and effectiveness of the training. A stakeholder presentation on claim clarity will follow. The public will have an opportunity to provide input on the training and ask questions regarding claim clarity. Public attendees are invited to provide individual input on these topics and additional ideas during the interactive discussion portion of the meeting.
The pharmaceutical industry is widely criticized for wasteful spending on duplicative research to develop “me too” drugs, and focusing their efforts on “evergreening” patents. Those who argue that incremental innovation and follow on improvements to existing therapies aren’t worthy of patent protection need to look more deeply at the reality of what subsequent innovation provides. The case for protecting incremental innovation is laid out in a new publication by the Fraser Institute (released 19 June 2014), in which a thorough exploration of the therapeutic and economic value of follow-on pharmaceutical innovation is provided.
Pharmaceutical innovation is an inherently dynamic process; one innovation builds on another and improvements draw from a long history of earlier technological advances. Sir Isaac Newton once stated, “If I have seen far, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” In her classic paper on innovation, Scotchmer cites this quote and emphasizes that virtually all technical progress builds on a foundation provided by earlier innovators. Innovation is an undeniably cumulative event, and progress happens both in leaps and bounds (radical innovation) and in small steps (incremental innovation). In the context of the pharmaceutical industry, radical innovations encompass breakthrough discoveries of the ‘first-in-class’ medicine with a new mechanism of action. In contrast, incremental innovations may expand an existing therapeutic class through the development of a new drug based on differences in adverse effects, delivery systems, dosing schedules, or heat stability. In 2012, 45 new drugs gained regulatory approval from the US FDA, the highest number since 1997. Currently there are 907 biologics, medicines and vaccines in development, targeting more than 100 diseases. Much of this innovation can be considered incremental, resulting in so-called ‘me-too’ or follow-on drugs. These are therapies that largely replicate the action of existing drugs. All indicators suggest that a significant share of medical progress is happening through incremental innovation.