Director Kappos delivering remarks during the FTF Roundtable, Sept. 6, 2012.
On September 6, 2012, the United States Patent and Trademark Office held a Roundtable on the campus of the USPTO in Alexandria, Virginia. The Roundtable event was for the purpose of the USPTO accepting feedback from the user community on the proposed examination guidelines to implement the first-to-file changes of the America Invents Act (AIA), which go into effect on March 16, 2013.
While there were many issues raised, the one issue on which there seemed overwhelming consensus (although not unanimity) was with respect to the USPTO’s interpretation of the new grace period. A substantial majority of those who offered comments disagreed with the USPTO’s interpretation of 102(b)(1)(B), which pertains to disclosures made by third parties. The USPTO’s interpretation of this provision was set forth in the Federal Register on Thursday, July 26, 2012.
After the pre-scheduled speakers concluded their remarks at the roundtable those in attendance were invited to make remarks. At that time I was recognized and went to the podium to speak on behalf of the USPTO interpretation of the grace period. After my remarks there were no other remarks, but a Q&A session began, with many of those who spoke asking questions of the USPTO Officials in attendance, who were surprisingly willing to provide insight into their interpretations. I say surprisingly because these events are typically not a forum where the USPTO shares information.
Anyone interested in reading this is likely old enough to have heard the old saying “Be careful what you wish for – you may get it.” Now we have it. Many people situated variously within and outside of the patent system of the United States urged the adoption of first-to-file. The underlying reasons included harmonization with the laws of other nations, and simplification or elimination of some proceedings in our own system, etc. with a view toward curing some of what has been ailing the U.S. patent system. The day, March 16, 2013, is now approaching when first-to-file will be a reality.
There are many questions about the scope and possible impact of the AIA. Exactly how it will all play out remains to be seen. A significant question is what will be the likely impact of the AIA upon the operations of the USPTO, an organization that has been so greatly over-burdened in recent times.
Now that the “ink is dry” on the American Invents Act (which I refer to as the “Abominable Inane Act” or AIA), it’s now time to consider how to cope with (and even take advantage of) the AIA. See my prior article — American Davids of Innovation, Start Your Engines: Strategies for Coping with First to File Under the America Invents Act. Take advantage of the AIA? Oh, yes. I’m referring to the new “grace period” provision in Section 3(b)(1) (Exceptions for Disclosures Made 1 Year Or Less Before The Effective Filing Date Of The Claimed Invention) which will eventually become new 35 U.S.C. 102(b)(1) which may allow the inventor/patent applicant to have his/her cake and eat it too, come March 16, 2013 when this provision of the AIA goes into effect.
By now virtually everyone in the patent and innovation communities knows that on September 16, 2011, President Barack Obama signed into law the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act. This is an enormous change to U.S. patent laws, likely the largest change in U.S. patent law since at least 1790. The last major re-write was in 1952, and that wasn’t a re-write so much as a codification of case law that had developed over the previous decades. This is a major change and one that must be thoroughly and completely respected in terms of breadth and depth.
A lot of arguing has been going on here on IPWatchdog.com about certain portions of the so-called first to file provisions contained in the Act. Truthfully, the new 102(b)(1)(B) is not written as clear as it probably could be, but I have steadfastly maintained that it provides only a personal grace-period, nothing more. Many have criticized me at great lengths, and some have even told me via private e-mail they have stopped reading IPWatchdog because I am dead wrong. I have even had a variety of entertaining discussions with Staffers on the Hill and a variety of senior attorneys and high ranking corporate counsel. Notwithstanding those who vehemently disagree with me, with every new statement made by the United States Patent and Trademark Office my position seems to be further confirmed.
The grace-period provided to inventors is only a personal grace-period and subsequent disclosure that is not derived from the inventor will create a statutory bar to patentability. My source? The United States Patent and Trademark Office.
The ink is hardly dry on the Supreme Court decision in Stanford v. Roche and already those who oppose patent reform are concocting one of the most ridiculous arguments I have ever seen to oppose first to file provisions. There are some, including at least one Member of Congress, that have started saying that the Supreme Court’s decision in Stanford v. Roche makes it clear that the first to file provisions of patent reform are unconstitutional. Just sit right back and allow me to explain to you exactly why that is perhaps the most specious argument I have ever heard.
Let me begin with attempting to explain how presumably intelligent people erroneously conclude that the Supreme Court earlier today held first to file unconstitutional. The argument goes like this: Chief Justice Roberts wrote, “Since 1790, the patent law has operated on the premise that rights in an invention belong to the inventor.” This was repeated several times and in slightly different ways throughout the decision. So those misconstruing the case twist this beyond all reasonable logic to conclude: “patent rights have to belong to the inventor, so those who file first cannot receive the patent ahead of the person who invented first.” Oh my goodness! Is this the level of debate in Congress? No where in the decision is that said! It is no wonder our leaders have failed us so miserably.
Unfortunately there is no easy answer to the question of prior art, particularly for those who are new to the patent field. We can start off with the understanding that a particular reference or piece of knowledge will be considered to be prior art that must be overcome by a patent applicant if the patent examiner is legally allowed to use it against the applicant to reject one or more claims in a pending application. Likewise, a reference or piece of knowledge will be prior art if it can legally be used to invalidate one or more claims of an issued patent during litigation.
The trouble with explaining what prior art is stems from the fact that everyone already thinks they know what it is. Conceptually we do not want to issue patents for inventions that are not considered new, which seems fair enough. The trouble is defining what is “new.” For now, let’s just say that prior art must be a reference of some type (i.e., a patent or a printed publication) or some type of knowledge or event (i.e., public knowledge, public use or a sale of a product) that demonstrates that the invention in question is not new.