Everyone views the world through a prism, and the prism I look through is different than the prism others look through. That should hardly come as a surprise given that we each find ourselves at any point in time being where we are as a result of the journey we have taken. It is, therefore, not surprising that those who are patent attorneys will recommend that you should first file a patent application, and it is not surprising that those who are business coaches or licensing executives may recommend a different first step on the path to what will hopefully be success.
I do not begrudge anyone their point of view, or suggest that there is but one right way to successfully get from point A where you have an idea or invention to point B where you dreams of commercial success are coming true, but with every choice there are associated risks. Unfortunately, many inventors still have not received the message about the importance of filing a patent application as quickly as possible. I know this to be true because every week I am contacted by inventors who either have already started selling or using their invention, or who are within a few days or weeks of the same. With the United States being a first to file system, a change that became effective March 16 ,2013, this can be a fatal mistake.
Generally speaking, an invention can be patented if it is new and non-obvious. What obviousness means these days is just about as clear as mud, thanks to the US Supreme Court decision in KSR v. Teleflex. Indeed, what is obvious is largely in the eye of the beholder, although the Patent Office has tried to articulate an objective standard reflected in the so-called KSR rationales. For now lets take a leap of faith and just pretend that there is a consensus with respect to what is and what is not obvious. At least in the first instance when determining whether an invention is patentable that is the way to proceed, because if your invention is not new we never have to ask whether it is obvious. For those interested in getting into the weeds with respect to obviousness I recommend Understanding Obviousness: John Deere and the Basics,Obviousness When All Elements are Not Present in the Prior Art, andWhen is an Invention Obvious.
The AIA is a complex bill that includes the most significant changes to U.S. patent law since at least the 1952 Patent Act, perhaps since the inception of patent laws in the United States in 1790. What makes these changes so significant is the fact that they are widespread and relate fundamentally to what is considered prior art, which at its base makes up the fabric of patent examination and review of issued patents for validity purposes. Add to it the procedural changes and the AIA easily is one of the most momentous, if not the most momentous, changes to patent law and patent practice ever. Thus, summarizing the AIA in a few pages while providing any semblance of exhaustive treatment is simply not possible. Notwithstanding, I endeavor to provide a high level overview of some of the provisions of the AIA that contain issues that could be characterized as traps for the unwary.
First, it is worth noting that the most significant changes did not go into effect right away. Rather, there were waves or phases of implementation. The first phase of implementation was relatively minor and occurred within the first 60 days. The second phase of AIA implementation became effective on September 16, 2012, and brought with it a host of new post-grant procedures, supplemental examination, changes to the oath or declaration requirement, and other various items. By any objective measure phase two ushered in massive changes to patent law and procedure.
By comparison, however, the second phase of AIA implementation pales in comparison to the third phase of AIA implementation. Effective on Saturday, March 16, 2013, the United States became a first to file country (more or less), abandoning the first to invent laws that were long the hallmark of U.S. patent law and practice. The oddity, however, is that what has been adopted is not really a true first to file system that resembles what first to file means to the international community. Thus, the United States remains an island on to itself with respect to whether a claimed invention is novel.
President Obama signs the AIA on Sept. 16, 2011, setting the stage for first to file.
The America Invents Act (AIA) was signed by President Barack Obama on September 16, 2011. The most significant changes to U.S. patent law did not go into effect right away. Rather, there were waves or phases of implementation. The second phase of AIA implementation was ushered in on September 16, 2012, which brought with it a host of new post-grant procedures, supplemental examination, changes to the oath or declaration requirement, and other various items. By any objective measure phase two ushered in massive changes to patent law and procedure.
By comparison, however, the second phase of AIA implementation pales in comparison to the third phase of AIA implementation. Effective on Saturday, March 16, 2013, the United States is now a first to file country, abandoning the first to invent laws that were long the hallmark of U.S. patent law and practice. The oddity, however, is that what has been adopted is not really a first to file system. There are some exceptions whereby a person who files second can still prevail, but those exceptions are infinitesimally insignificant, and the law surrounding the parameters of the exceptions is non-existent and unfortunately rather ill defined by the USPTO at this point.
It is also critical to understand that the new law contains traps and loopholes. For those who have not spent adequate time considering the many nuances of the law you will be surprised to learn what it really means. For example, did you know that long held and previously unpatentable trade secrets can now be patented? It seems unthinkable, but then again it is also unthinkable that the law will allow for the re-patenting of inventions, but it does that as well.
All member countries of the Paris Convention and the PCT approve the novelty of an invention claimed in the patent application going back to the priority date in the origin country. Therefore, as to the novelty of a claimed invention, all member countries treat foreign and domestic patent applications equally. Still, the member countries’ treatment of the “grace period” poses a serious issue: no patent law in any country recognizes the grace period as starting from the priority date, but only from the domestic filing date.
Thus, if a U.S. inventor publishes his invention, files a U.S. patent application within one year, and files a Japanese patent application within one year from the U.S. filing date claiming priority, he will get a U.S. patent but not a Japanese patent. This is so because the Japanese Patent Law allows a six-month grace period from the Japanese filing date, not U.S. priority date. This six-month grace period is same in the rest of world except for the United States and Korea.
The AIA broke this barrier by giving both the novelty and the grace period on an effective filing date which goes back to the original filing date, so long as there is priority claim to the original foreign application date. Thus, under AIA, both U.S. and foreign applications are completely equal with respect to both novelty and grace period.
This is extremely unusual, since no other country provides a grace period commencing from the priority date. In this respect, the AIA is the first and sole universally equal patent law in the world.
The America Invents Act (AIA) has now gone through its second phase of implementation. Initially there were few things that went into effect over the initial 90 days after President Obama signed the legislation into law. The first major wave of the AIA took effect on September 16, 2012. See, for example, Citation of Prior Art, Supplemental Examination, Oath/Declaration and Post-Grant Review et al.The most significant of the changes to U.S. patent law, namely the shift from first to invent to first to file, will not take place until March 16, 2013. This is a monumental change to U.S. patent law so it is never too early to discuss the many issues that will present with this shift.
The first and most obvious place to begin any discussion of the shift to first to file is with a very basic question: What is prior art? This is anything but an easy, straight forward question even under first to invent laws that we know so well and have been familiar with virtually throughout the entire history of the United States. The complexity in what seems an otherwise simple question stems from the fact that prior art is defined by statute. There is no common sense way to conceptualize what is, or what is not, prior art.
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.
At least over the last year there has been great debate on IPWatchdog and elsewhere about the meaning of the new grace period under the AIA. I have been explaining that under the US first to file system the inventor will still have a personal grace-period, but that the grace-period is personal and relates only to the inventor’s own disclosures, or the disclosures of others who have derived from the inventor. Further, I have explained that disclosures of third-parties who independently arrived at the invention will be used against the inventor. Said another way, there is no grace-period relative to third party, independently created disclosures.
On and after March 13, 2013, any patent application filed is subject to new 102 (and new 103) unless it fits within an exception defined by the transition provisions of the AIA. Therefore, imagine the following possibility: a continuation is filed on or after March 13, 2013, but because of the manner in which it is handled, it does not fit within the exception. Now, new section 102 (and new 103) applies to the patent application. What consequences might follow from such an occurrence?
This situation, which I describe in more detail below, has the potential to affect anyone prosecuting an application originally filed under current law, who files a continuation under the AIA to continue prosecution. Therefore, most patent prosecutors can expect to be affected and may wish to consider more carefully how best to proceed in such situations. To comprehend the issue takes some elaboration because the situation is complex, unfortunately. Several different legal threads, in effect, may come together to seemingly conspire against an unwary or unsuspecting patent prosecutor.