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.
For many months we have been hearing about the government attempts to “reform” health care in the United States, and this weekend the United States Senate is actually working, yes Senators working on a weekend, as the contentious debate continues. Even a relatively rare Presidential visit to Capitol Hill is scheduled for later this afternoon, presumably so President Obama can rally the troops for whatever lies ahead. While patent policy has not taken center stage in these debates, it is hard to ignore the under current that rages through the debates. Health care costs too much, so costs need to be contained. Of course, market initiatives like a national heath insurance market, which would lower premiums for everyone overnight, are not being considered. Likewise, attempts to prevent those without insurance from clogging up emergency rooms for simple matters like runny noses, sprains, colds and a litany of other ailment is not on the table either, so rather than discussing health insurance premium reform and government sponsored clinics in areas where there is the highest density of uninsured, we are debating a host of other things and trying to squeeze the private sector. I have long wondered why there has been such an all-out patent war against pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, but the ACLU patent challenge against Myriad Genetics and the assault on biologic from some corners of government has me thinking that the preferred way to control costs in the minds of some politicians is to either stop or dramatically slow medical technology progress through revised patent and innovation policy. That is a mistake, an enormous mistake. We enjoy an ever increasing life span and higher quality medical care than anywhere in the world because of technology and innovative advances in an array of disciplines, and that MUST be preserved.
As first reported by Bartholomew Sullivan of The Commercial Appeal, last week, on October 22, 2009, thirty-four members of Congress wrote a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urging her to steadfastly support strong intellectual property rights and not to given in to international demands that would weaken intellectual property rights, particularly patent rights. The concern expressed by these members of Congress centers around negotiations attempting to obtain an international agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCCC). This letter references a 432-0 vote in the United States House of Representatives on June 10, 2009, relative to an amendment to the Foreign Relations Authorization Bill, which stated that the United States “should prevent any weakening of, and ensure robust compliance with and enforcement of, existing international legal requirements as of the date of the enactment of this Act for the protection of intellectual property rights related to energy or environmental technology” in order to “protect American jobs, spur economic growth, and promote a ‘Green Economy.’”
A press release issued earlier today by the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association (PCMA) explained that a new article published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) urges Congress and the White House to revisit pending biogenerics legislation that would grant biotech companies an a 12-year exclusivity period for biologics. The press release explains that the experts, who are Harvard researchers and unidentified patent experts are adding “to an emerging consensus, including the Federal Trade Commission, which has concluded that 12 years of market exclusivity for biologics is unnecessary.” I suppose anyone can say anything in a press release. I am still troubled by the arrogance on display by PCMA though. Either they do not know what a “consensus” is, or they are simply intentionally misrepresenting the facts in order to further their own agenda. In either case it is appalling that the discourse relating to patents and exclusive rights has devolved to the point where the truth no longer matters and the masses are mislead by things that simply are not true.
If you have not already read the letter from Commerce Secretary Gary Locke to Senator Patrick Leahy (Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee) and Senator Jeff Sessions (Ranking Republican Member), you absolutely need to read it to comprehend the massive changes the Obama Administration is supporting with respect to patent reform. It would be difficult to over exaggerate the magnitude of the changes being supported by the Obama Administration. Simply put, if the Obama Administration gets its way US patent laws would be completely re-written and substantively changed to a greater extent than at any time since 1790. In fact, if the Obama supported patent reforms become enacted into law it would probably be much easier to simply pass legislation withdrawing all US patent laws and putting in its place the patent laws presently in existence in the European Union. If you do not believe a European style patent system is in the best interest of the United States then you had better step up to the plate, because the stars seem to be aligning and before you know it there may not be any remaining US patent laws. The steaks are high and it seems as if the once hopelessly derailed patent reform legislation is back with a vengeance, like a resurrected Jason a la Friday the 13th.
I wish I had some inside information to pass along, but I do not. All I can seem to come up with is unsubstantiated rumor and innuendo, but the report the other day from Patently-O that Duke Law Professor Arti Rai is heading to the Patent Office to fill a long vacant policy setting position has too much of a ring of truth to completely ignore. There have long been rumors associated with Professor Rai given that she is a long-time friend of President Barack Obama, both having been in the same Harvard Law School class. What we do know is that Rai was a member of the Obama transition team, and was rumored to be on the short list for Undersecretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property, a position that also carries the title and responsibilities of Director of the Patent and Trademark Office. As practically everyone in the patent bar that came in contact with Professor Rai was kissing her ring in anticipation that she would become the new PTO Director, I heard an unsubstantiated rumor that she had been offered the position and declined. I want to make as clear as possible that I am writing about rumors, and unsubstantiated ones at that in order to distinguish from hard facts and inside information so that readers understand that this may all be much ado about nothing. Having said that, as well respected in academic circles as Professor Rai is, it would be an enormous mistake for her to be given a policy setting position within the USPTO. So allow me for a moment to buy into the rumors and make my case.
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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