Greetings patent world. A very, very, important case relating to software has again made its way to the Supreme Court for decision. The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) badly muffed their chance to clearly set forth what thresholds should be implemented for software patentability and the Supreme Court now must step into the breach. Good thing too; but, not without lots of anxious handwringing on the part of true believers in the patent system who favor its worthwhile and broad applicability. Hence; this series of open letters/articles written for consumption by the Justices and their clerks as a primer for this case.
I know— it is presumptuous on my part that this would have any influence, but these pages are an important forum to air out these issues. If we can do this in a non-hysterical erudite fashion, these pages will be read and help inform on this issue. No doubt, every person with a dog/pup/minnow/free electron in this fight will file amici. Too bad they cannot all receive the same level of attention as the effort they take to write, but such are the practicable limits of time and comprehension of those who will make and write the decisions. My hope here is to write about this topic in a way that is both engaging and elucidating.
In the beginning… seriously we need to go back that far to bring perspective to the issues. Business methods were always thought to be outside what was patent eligible in the U.S. The historic practice of crony capitalism based on “patents” granted by the Crown made these business practice monopolies not something that would be useful or even acceptable to the then new U.S. The Constitution simply confined the patent system to the ”useful arts”. On occasion, various Supreme Court decisions have referenced the antipathy to monopolies that undergirds their thinking as to patents and what ought to be in or out on the patent eligibility front. This sidelining of business methods was fairly easily implemented right up until the digital revolution.
Recently it has come to my attention that there is a WikiHow page titled How to Study for the Patent Bar. I have been teaching a patent bar review course for the Practicing Law Institute since 2000, so I am something of an expert on the patent bar examination. I know a thing or two about how aspiring patent practitioners can and should proceed to study for the exam. I can tell you definitively that if you follow this Wiki advice you are guaranteed to fail!
The other principle lecturer in the PLI patent bar review course, and course creator, John White, put it like this: “If a person really follows this advice, they will be our student after 2-3 failed attempts. They will also be an emotional confused confidence lacking wreck!”
Hopefully we have your attention. You absolutely must be very careful when choosing which advice to follow. While free resources are tempting because the price is right, relying on what is free is a recipe for disaster on the patent exam.
We just wrapped up our last live Patent Bar Review Course for 2012. We were in San Francisco for the past few days, once again teaching a room of would-be patent attorneys and patent agents. This group now has the task of studying the Phase 2 implementation of the America Inventors Act, which went into effect on September 16, 2012 and started to be tested on October 2, 2012.
In the little more than a month since AIA Phase 2 became testable we have already heard from a number of our Patent Bar students who have taken the Patent Exam since the USPTO added AIA Phase 2 to it. The good news — in addition to our usual exemplary pass rate — is that the sample questions we prepared for all the supplementary materials, from KSR and Bilski all the way through AIA Phases 1 and 2, are very, very predictive of the questions you’ll see on the actual Exam. Student after student has told us that if you can handle the questions we have added to Patware (the “AIA Phase 2 Mini-Exam” was just recently added), you can handle all the questions the USPTO will ask you on the Exam.
As you may have already heard, effective — October 2, 2012 — the United States Patent and Trademark Office will be adding a significant volume of newly testable material to the Office’s Registration Exam (i.e., the “Patent Bar Exam”). Specifically, the USPTO has added six new testable documents to the Patent Bar Exam, with these newly testable documents coming in the form of six Federal Register Notices. All of this is thanks to the America Invents Act (AIA). See AIA Phase 2 Implemented.
Does this mean that the Patent Bar will become more difficult? The answer to that question isn’t a simply YES or NO. So let’s break this down into two different questions. (1) Will the questions be more difficult on the Patent Bar Exam? (2) Will it be more difficult to pass the Patent Bar Exam? While exam questions likely won’t get more difficult, it would be naive to believe the Patent Bar will not become much more difficult with the addition of complicated new rules that only add to the legal and regulatory rules administered by the USPTO.
Let’s go back to the first question about the questions on the Patent Bar. Once upon a time the Patent Office administered the Patent Bar Exam once or twice a year to thousands of would-be patent attorneys and patent agents across the country. The October 2003 exam was the last exam administered in this way. The USPTO changed the examination to an on-demand examination that is prepared by the Patent Office, but administered by Prometric. Because questions are randomly served from the database and no two people take the same exam the Patent Office had to normalize exam difficult someway, so they scored questions on a scale of 1 to 10 in terms of difficulty. This ensures that each person gets an exam that the Patent Office deems to be of the same level of difficulty. Thus, the new material will be fit into the database and appropriately evaluated. There will not suddenly be questions of 11 or 12 level of difficulty. So in this respect each question will not be more difficult, at least from the Patent Office perspective.
Recently, I was working on a patent search requiring me to look in areas of patent art relating to male underclothing (a very popular area for patenting, as you may guess) when I came across this little number: US Patent Application 12/071,878, which is titled “Scrotal Support Garment.” The primary illustration is shown to the left.
Look familiar? Yes, with the exception of adjustable straps, this is the Borat Swimsuit, the swimwear made famous by comedian Sasha Baron Cohen, a.k.a., Borat in the 2006 film Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. If you remember the movie (and how could you forget?), Borat wore this swimsuit in one very short scene at the top of the film. That short scene set the tone for the craziness that was Borat’s world.
As you may have seen, IPWatchdog.com has been named to the ABA Blawg 100, which recognizes the top 100 blogs on the Internet written by lawyers for lawyers. This marks the third year in a row we have been honored by the American Bar Association Journal as a top 100 blog.
Now the voting begins. Last year we were voted the top IP Law blog and greatly appreciate the support we received. Once again this year we are in the same category — IP Law — as is Professor Dennis Crouch’s widely popular PatentlyO blog. If you are inclined to vote for us we would once again greatly appreciate your support.
Over the years IPWatchdog.com has continued to try and add additional perspectives from a wide variety of guest contributors, ranging from well respected practicing attorneys and agents to high profile academics to inventors and pro-patent lobbyists. It is hard to imagine providing such depth of analysis on such an array of topics without having truly wonderful guest authors. So we take this moment to say a very special thank you and to shine the spotlight on them. Each deserve to share in any recognition of IPWatchdog.com. While I am loathe to single any guests out I would be remiss if I didn’t separately thank both Beth Hutchens (10 contributions) and Eric Guttag (9 contributions)!
Without further ado, here are the guest contributors in alphabetical order, along with their contributions for 2011.
No doubt you have heard about the new law that is upon us in the land of patents; it’s in all the papers and on all the blogs. The America Invents Act was signed by President Obama on September 16, 2011, and marks the largest single re-write of U.S. patent law ever. Even the 1952 Patent Act pales in comparison because that was almost completely a codification of existing case law that had developed over the decades. America Invents, however, embarks upon a new path and leads us into the great unknown in many respects.
Those preparing to take the patent bar exam or contemplating sitting for the exam at some point in time in the future likely don’t want to hear that U.S. patent law is heading into the great unknown. How can you be expected to take a pass the patent bar examination under these circumstances? First: Relax. You do not have to unlearn or forget what you are currently learning, or soon will learn, for the patent exam or for your practice life after you pass the exam. That being said, the sooner you do take the patent bar exam the better off you will be!
This morning I am sitting in the back of the conference room at PLI headquarters inNew York City. Today is day 1 of the PLI patent bar review course. John White is at the podium and going through some preliminary matters, eliciting appropriate laughter at times from the audience. Everything is fine and fun at this early morning hour, but that will soon change. After this preliminary segment we will roll up our sleeves and begin to charge through the rules and procedures that govern practice before the Patent Office. Don’t get me wrong, I do honestly believe this course is a great course, and our pass rate is extremely high, but at the start of every new class I wonder how in the name of all that is holy will we be able to make sense for these patent newbies of what has become a hopeless mess of regulatory chaos. The America Invents Act will only make matter worse, but that is another story for another day.
Thinking about what lies in front of these students is mind numbing. Even more mind numbing is that every year there are many individuals who will attempt to pass the patent bar examination without even taking any review course. What are these people thinking? Obviously, they are thinking that if they could get through a science degree surely they can get through 1 multiple guess exam. Those who have taken the exam know the danger inherent in this thinking, but how could it be possible that the rules of practice at the Patent Office have become so ridiculous and counter-intuitive? In fact, as I have told the several thousands of students I have taught over the years, the more ridiculous and counter-intuitive the more likely it will be on the exam! Scary, huh?