Congressman Conyers seems interested in providing funding to the USPTO
Recently the United States Patent and Trademark Office released its draft Strategic Plan for FY 2010 – 2015. This may seem odd given that FY 2010 is almost over, ending on September 30, 2010. So it is probably a better title to call it the FY 2011 – 2015 Strategic Plan, but there is no doubt as you read the document that under the guidance of Director David Kappos the USPTO has already well launched the short term Strategic Plan. Now if Congress would only be wise enough to grant funding for the Patent Office to actually accomplish what needs to be done!
Truth be told, it would be enough for Congress to just (1) stop siphoning off money from the USPTO through fee diversion; (2) grant the USPTO fee setting authority; and (3) stand out of the way. So my message to Congress would be this: put the pocketbook down, slowly step back and raise your hands over your head so we can see them!
Mass hysteria seems to have been unleashed on the Internet and directed toward Amazon.com for patenting social networking. Some of the Internet media have suggested that Amazon has patented Facebook, but it is apparent that virtually no one has read the patent (U.S. Patent No. 7,739,139) past the first sentence of the Abstract, which is really the only thing that gets quoted in most of the stories on the Internet.
It is truly sad that massive anti-patent hysteria can be whipped up simply based on a single sentence in the Abstract of a patent. For crying out loud people, the Abstract is hardly considered to be a part of the patent application and has absolutely nothing to do with the exclusive rights granted. The claims are what defines the exclusive right, nothing else! But we will never get the anti-patent types to ever read a claim because they are just too difficult to understand and there are way too many details. WAKE UP! That is the point! The more details in the claim the more narrow the rights!
On Friday, May 28, 2010, USPTO Director David Kappos gave five suggestions for practitioners on the Director’s Forum (i.e., the Kappos blog). The first two suggestions caught my attention because they are things that I have been writing about for quite some time. First, set up an interview. Second, set for your arguments and be prepared to discuss what makes the invention new and distinguished over the prior art.
It would be wonderful if such things could occur in the prosecution of every case, but unfortunately the Federal Circuit has effectively prevented that from happening and forced upon the USPTO and the practicing patent bar a game of hide the ball, which benefits no one. With Congress not stepping up to the plate any time soon to do anything useful for the patent system there may be only one hope left; namely to get the CAFC judges to examine patent applications, sitting by designation, so they can better understand the mess they have created.
Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) grills Kappos on Capitol Hill
On Wednesday, May 5, 2010, David Kappos, Undersecretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, testified in front of the United States House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary. See Hearing Page and Kappos Prepared Remarks. Many issues were covered during the hearing, but there were a couple matters that jump out as quite important. Most significantly, it seems that once again the Senate patent reform bill may be running into some difficulty in the House of Representatives. Some in the House of Representatives seem interested in slowing down regarding the substantive changes embodied in the Senate bill, but seem willing to consider legislation less grandiose and focused solely on giving the Patent Office fee setting authority and perhaps the ability to retain its fees. This, however, lead to a heated exchange that has been misreported in some outlets, so lets set the record straight.
In a decision handed down earlier today in Avid Identification Systems v. The Crystal Import Corporation, a bad acting President of a closely-held company managed to create potentially bad inequitable conduct law for the rest of us. Intent to deceive was admitted, if you can believe that, but as it turns out the prior art withheld, a prior sale, was not invalidating and would not have lead to an appropriate rejection by the Patent Office. Nevertheless, the prior sale of an earlier version of the invention in question was the closest prior art and the Federal Circuit, per Judge Prost, explained that materiality does not require that the the withheld prior art lead to a good rejection. So Judge Prost applied the Patent Office law relative to materiality as it existed prior to the 1992 revision of 37 CFR 1.56. In a feat of mental gymnastics, however, Judge Prost quoted the current Rule 56 to support her decision, muddying the waters even further in the area of inequitable conduct. Who would have thought muddying the inequitable conduct waters was even possible!
Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Chair of Judiciary Committee
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) recently came to agreement with Committee Ranking Republican Jeff Sessions (R-AL) on changes to the Patent Reform Act of 2009 (S. 515), winning Senator Sessions’ support for passage and making it extremely likely that patent reform will happen this year, and likely very soon. An individual involved in the ongoing patent reform debate on Capitol Hill tells me that the Leahy-Sessions language would substitute for the Committee-passed language, and then be considered by the Senate as a whole. This is an important procedural step toward passing patent reform, and could mean that patent reform will be passed by the full Senate any day now. Leahy’s procedural move is called a “hot line”, in which Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) will ask all Senate offices for unanimous consent to proceed to the bill, substitute the new language, and consider it passed.
Late last night the United States House of Representatives passed the Senate Health Care Bill that has been debated for nearly a year. Like the clear majority of Americans who oppose the bill, I think this was the wrong thing to do and will ultimately be a disaster. I realize there are 30 million Americans without health insurance, but they will remain without health insurance for the next 4 years, so it is hard to believe that anything will change for the better for the uninsured in the near term. The debate also seems to completely ignore the 270 million Americans who have health insurance. Yes, costs are rising and need to be reigned in, but creating another entitlement is the wrong thing to do, particularly when Social Security and Medicare alone are collectively going to already be in the red to the tune of $50 trillion in coming years. See Statement of Judd Gregg (R-NH). But at least BIO was able to get provisions into the bill that will truly spur biotech innovation.
Earlier this afternoon the United Inventors Association, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit founded in 1990 and dedicated to providing inventor education and support, wrote to Congress to set the record straight on the UIA stance on patent reform efforts. UIA Executive Director Patrick Raymond sent a letter to Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who is Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and an identical letter to Congressman John Conyers (D-MI), who is Chairman of the House Committee on the Judiciary. The primary purpose of the letter, as stated in the letter itself, was to make clear that the primary mission of the UIA is to provide reliable information to inventors and not to undertake lobbying efforts. The letter makes clear that the UIA is “not involved in any campaign against this proposed legislation.” The letter goes on to explain that while some “coalitions” and “alliances” are claiming to speak “on behalf of all independent inventors nationwide,” they do not speak for or on behalf of the United Inventors Association or its membership.
By now most are likely aware that patent reform is back, once again, with the current draft legislation available for everyone to read. It is becoming harder and harder to take patent reform seriously, given that it has started to become a little like a bad horror movie where the villain is killed only to reappear in the next episode, a la Jason from the Friday the 13th movie franchise. Over the last 5 years or so we have been told that patent reform is a done deal, only to have it called off and proclaimed dead due to lack of compromise. Is this time different? At the risk of sounding extremely naive, I think this time is different and it is going to happen. It looks like most of the contentious issues have been ironed out enough to have generated a bill that can be passed and become law. However, the continued focus on health care reform by the Obama Administration promises to cripple Congress for at least a few more weeks, likely longer. By the time Congress is operational again, will there be enough interest to do something, even anything?
Invention promotion firms, sometimes referred to as invention promotion companies, have been widely criticized in numerous circles, including political circles in Washington, DC, for many years. The American Inventors Protection Act (AIPA) was enacted into law in 1999 and by its very name sought to address head on the problems faced by so many inventors. In truth, the title of the Act probably had more to do with selling the patent reform bill, which many individuals did not think would benefit independent inventors. Whatever your view of whether the AIPA was a net positive or net negative for independent inventors, it is clear that certain provisions of the Act, which are now law and codified at 35 USC 297, unequivocally attempted to provide important protections for inventors against those invention promotion firms who have such a checkered past.
In light of recent developments, namely IPWatchdog, Inc., me personally and my wife Renee personally being sued by an invention promotion company that didn’t like what we wrote about them, I thought it might not be a bad idea to take a stroll down memory lane, explain a bit about the Act, take a look at what US Senators Joseph Lieberman and Orrin Hatch had to say and made a part of the legislative history.
It is that time of the year when everyone has made or is making resolutions for the new year, most of which will undoubtedly be broken within a few days or weeks, particularly those promises to lose weight, exercise more or find more time for unwinding and better managing stress. All are things I hope to do in the new year, but it will be so much easier to lose weight once football season is over, and exercising will be easier when it is a little warmer outside and the days are longer. On top of that, after taking time off for the holidays how can anyone really manage stress when you come back from the holidays to a pile of work? Oh well… I might as well take this opportunity to set forth my Patent Wishes for 2010 instead of engage in resolutions sure to be broken.
Last year I provided 5 wishes, 2 of which came true — Obama appointing a Patent Attorney and the withdraw of the claims and continuations rules. The Patent Office also adopted several suggestions I made throughout the year, or they came up with the same ideas on their own, who knows? Whatever the case may be, I am hoping that this year I will get at least a few of my wishes granted, but at least some require Congressional cooperation, so I am not going to do anything silly like hold my breath, although I am sure some would like that! All I can do is give good ideas and hope folks in the right places are listening, which I suspect they are.
Without further ado, here are my patent wishes for 2010:
Repeal KSR v. Teleflex
Adequate Funding for the Patent and Trademark Office
Reform Inequitable Conduct
Do away with Examination Support Documents
Acceleration for Those Without Multiple Applications
On December 21, 2009, I embarked upon identifying the top 10 patent stories of the decade, which ends as we usher in the new year. The Top 10 Part 1 identified what I thought were in the bottom half of the top 10, and while any top 10 list is sure to be at least somewhat controversial, it seems as if the list hasn’t created too much of a stir, at least so far. Undoubtedly, once I set out the top 5 the real debating will begin as folks suggest what they would have preferred instead. Notwithstanding, I really cannot imagine any bigger stories than the top 5 below. Please also feel free (and I am sure you will) to point out things that I missed or clearly got wrong, at least in your opinion.
Without further ado, in descending order, here is Part 2 of my Top 10 Patent Related Stories of the Decade, with numbers 5 through 1. Up next, honorable mentions, which will be Part 3.
Christmas is coming early for inventors, innovative companies, patent attorneys and anyone in the technology/innovation industry that relies upon patent protection. Faced with a growing backlog and long patent pendency periods in a difficult fiscal environment, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is reaching out to former patent examiners, inviting them to return to the agency. According to David Kappos, the Director of the USPTO and Undersecretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property: “Because of their prior experience, returning examiners will need little training and will be able to hit the ground running. These examiners can have an immediate impact on the patent examination backlog and reducing the backlog is our top priority.” In the past I have written over and over again that the USPTO should bring back former patent examiners, precisely for the reasons stated by Kappos (e.g., 5th paragraph and 5th paragraph). I am not about to claim that the USPTO listened to me, but whether they listened to me or came up with this idea on their own it is something I have thought made a lot of sense for a long time. So, not surprisingly, I think this is a wonderful idea!
Earlier this week Mike Drummond, the Editor in Chief of Inventors Digest, authored an article titled US Senate Votes to Leave Patent Office Underfunded for 2010. In this article Drummond explained that over the weekend, while no one was paying attention, the Senate voted to leave USPTO funding at the same level in 2010 as it was in 2009, which is bad enough because the Patent Office desperately needs more resources in order to tackle the problems left over by the previous regime. Worse, the Senate vote would re-institute fee diversion, which means that if the Patent Office were to collect revenues over and above the amount allocated by Congress those additional fees would not be able to be used by the Patent Office to improve operations, or even for just handling the increased work generated by additional filings. Rather, fees received over and above the allocated amount would be stripped from the Patent Office and diverted into the General Treasury account. That is plain and simple a National Innovation Tax, and it is an enormously bad idea.
Congress convened in a rare session last Sunday. On that sleepy news day, the U.S. Senate passed an appropriations bill leaving the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office funding for 2010 essentially the same as 2009. President Obama should send this bill back. The USPTO is solely funded through fees. But Congress controls the purse strings. The USPTO has fewer examiners now than it did at the start of this year. The agency faces a $200 million budget shortfall. It’s instituted a hiring freeze and can’t pay for needed IT upgrades. Why Congress would leave the USPTO underfunded to the tune of $200 million – particularly during a time of nascent national economic recovery – is vexing.
How to Write a Patent Application is a must own for patent attorneys, patent agents and law students alike. A crucial hands-on resource that walks you through every aspect of preparing and filing a patent application, from working with an inventor to patent searches, preparing the patent application, drafting claims and more. The treatise is continuously updated to address relevant Federal Circuit and Supreme Court decision impacting patent drafting.
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