Today I want to update you on the progress of our satellite offices in Dallas, Denver, and Silicon Valley, locations we identified in July 2012 as part of an America Invents Act (AIA) mandate. Given current budget constraints under sequestration, our efforts to move into permanent spaces for those three locations will be delayed, but continuing to operate from the temporary spaces and striving to grow our presence in the satellite office locations remains a top agency priority.
The USPTO is getting caught up in the sequestration budget battles despite the fact that the USPTO is fully user funded. As a result the USPTO stands to lose close to $150 million in Fiscal Year 2013, which runs through September 30, 2013.
There is a legislative proposal pending in Congress that would exempt the USPTO from sequestration, which was filed by the Members of Congress that represent Silicon Valley. See PATENT Jobs Act Seeks to Exempt USPTO from Sequestration. Silicon Valley would be the home to one of the new USPTO satellite offices if the agency had the money to open.
The law as it relates to software has been in flux over the last 10 years. Many older patent applications simply do not have enough detail to satisfy the current requirements to obtain a patent, although when drafted they would have been sufficient to satisfy the requirements then in place. Describing software as a pure method claim has not worked for a long time despite the fact that in reality software is really a method. Much more than a cursory description of software as a series of steps is required in order to have hope of obtaining patent protection for software.
Indeed, ever since the Federal Circuit en banc decision in Bilski, claims have been required to be tethered to tangible components, such as data storage devices, processors, databases, controllers, servers and the like. Unfortunately, however, the Patent Trial and Appeals Board at the United States Patent and Trademark Office now has taken the position that they will ignore the tangible components within a computer implemented method claim and then look to see what remains before determining whether the claim is patent eligible. See PTAB Kills Software.
Of course, after you remove or ignore the tangible components what remains is a naked process, which is patent ineligible. Thus, deciding to ignore tangible components leads to the inescapable conclusion that no software is patent eligible. Such disingenuous reasoning has the effect of punishing applicants for writing claims as the Patent Office has mandated ever since the machine-or-transformation test was first announced by the Federal Circuit in Bilski. The test announced in SAP/Versata, which was the first covered business method review decision announced by the PTAB, cannot be the correct test, and ultimately the decision (or at least the rationale) will be reversed. Any test that has the net effect of rendering all software patent ineligible, like the SAP/Versata test, is simply not correct as I will explain more clearly below.
Earlier today Peter Pappas, the Chief of Staff at the United States Patent and Trademark Office, announced to senior management that he will be leaving the Office at the end of June 2013 to pursue other opportunities.
While perhaps not widely known by patent attorneys in the day-to-day trenches, Pappas is well known both at the Patent Office and in Washington, DC more broadly. And although Pappas is not a patent attorney, upon joining the Patent Office in 2009, he became an important and influential player in the patent community.
Pappas is an attorney with a Clinton White House pedigree, spending time in the White House Counsel’s office. He also held various communications, government relations and policy positions at the State Department and at the FCC during the Clinton Administration. He joined the Obama Administration early in the first term, first as Chief Communications Officer at the USPTO and then later as Chief of Staff at the USPTO. He remained as Chief of Staff even after Kappos left the USPTO, working closely with Acting Director Teresa Rea.
As a long time observer of the USPTO, I can attest to the positive impact Pappas has had on the Office, albeit typically behind the scenes. In fact, while David Kappos was Director it was Pappas who was his right-hand man. As such, he was a central figure on the Executive Team at the USPTO long before he became Chief of Staff.
Last week the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) announced in the Federal Register that it would modify the After Final Consideration Pilot Program (AFCP) to create an After Final Consideration Pilot Program 2.0 (AFCP 2.0). The goal of AFCP 2.0 is much the same as it was when the USPTO initially introduced the precursor AFCP. According to the USPTO, the goal of AFCP 2.0 is to reduce pendency by reducing the number of RCEs and encouraging increased collaboration between the applicant and the examiner to effectively advance the prosecution of the application. Thus, this can and should be viewed as part of the USPTO effort to continue to try and address the RCE problem.
AFCP 2.0 began on May 19, 2013 and will run through September 30, 2013. The USPTO says that any request for participation in the program must be filed on or before September 30, 2013. Of course, as is always the case, the USPTO left open the possibility that the pilot would be extended beyond that date.
The Patent Office should be estopped from raising a § 112 (a) rejection after raising a § 102 or § 103 rejection in an earlier office action. 35 U.S.C. § 112 (a) states:
The specification shall contain a written description of the invention, and of the manner and process of making and using it, in such full, clear, concise, and exact terms as to enable any person skilled in the art to which it pertains, or with which it is most nearly connected, to make and use the same, and shall set forth the best mode contemplated by the inventor or joint inventor of carrying out the invention
Logically, if the application does not describe an invention in terms that allows one skilled in the art to make and use it, then the Patent Office should not have sufficient information to suggest that the application is not novel or obvious. In order to determine something is not novel or obvious you first have to know what it is. I have no objection to the Patent Office putting a 35 U.S.C. § 112 (a) and novelty/obviousness rejection in the same Office Action, where the PTO explains that to the best of their understanding of the invention it would not be novel or obvious for the following reasons.
Judge Richard Linn, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, Feb. 8, 2013.
On Friday, February 8, 2013, I had the honor to interview Judge Richard Linn of the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Those in the industry know that Judge Linn is one of a small group of Judges who are patent attorneys. He is one of us in so many ways. He is a very real and genuine person, he is a great believer in the patent system, and he has long been a friend to patent groups and a mentor to many. Judge Linn started his a career as so many patent professionals have — as the newest patent examiner at the United States Patent and Trademark Office. We learn in the interview that his interest in patent law started well earlier, thanks to his Uncle who was a patent illustrator.
After leaving the Patent Office Judge Linn rose through the ranks to become a prominent patent attorney in Washington, DC. Ultimately, he was in the right place at the right time, and he was fortunate enough to be recognized by the right people. He was appointed to the Federal Circuit to replace the legendary Giles Sutherland Rich. Big shoes to fill no doubt, but in terms of influence on the Court and impact on the profession few can compare to Judge Linn. He has, and continues, to carve out his own legacy as one of the preeminent patent leaders in the United States.
We spent approximately 60 minutes on the record with my iPhone recorder on, meeting in his chambers at the Federal Circuit, which overlooks Lafayette Park. Judge Linn recently took senior status, and lives full-time in Florida. He returns approximately every other month, sometimes more frequent, to hear cases. He will soon be giving up this office once the President’s appointments to the Court are confirmed. Judge Linn assures me he will remain active with the Federal Circuit.
When I sit down to interview someone I sometimes have a sense where things may lead, but inevitably interesting topics arise, sometimes based off a seemingly innocuous question. In Part I, which is below, I asked a familiar question: Do you find that the harder you worked the luckier you got? Judge Linn used this to discuss the importance of practicing law with integrity while managing to be a zealous advocate and without sacrificing civility. This theme carriers over into Part II of the interview and should, in my opinion, be mandatory reading for law students and associates. In fact, it is a good reminder for more senior attorneys who sometimes might lose sight of the forest for the trees.
Washington — The U.S. Department of Commerce’s United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and the AutoHarvest Foundation today announced the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to work together to spur innovation and generate jobs in advanced manufacturing. The two organizations will collaborate on the creation of an online environment for innovators to exchange information, facilitate technical discussions, and encourage the growth of entrepreneurial activities. The USPTO opened its first-ever satellite office in Detroit in July 2012, and the MOU is part of the agency’s outreach into the community.
Through the MOU, entrepreneurs and corporate executives will have direct access to a centralized online collection of databases, information resources, software and analytical tools designed to help inventors better understand the process of obtaining, maintaining and commercializing their intellectual property (IP). Through a series of actionable interfaces, innovators will also have the ability to view, directly respond to and potentially enter into business transactions to commercialize their IP or provide their technologies to emerging companies seeking advanced manufacturing solutions.
The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has made great strides over the last several years, there is no doubt about it, but there is still work to be done. The patent system was collapsing under the crushing weight of an ever increasing demand for U.S. patents, antiquated computer systems and policies that lead to second guessing every allowance. This crippled the Patent Office. The Patent Office is better today than it was at the end of the Bush era, but the USPTO has a problem; a very big problem.
At the end of a patent application proceeding (a process known as “prosecution”) there are a number of possible outcomes. A patent can be granted on all of the claims sought, which is rare but not unprecedented. See Patent Bigfoot: The Mythical First Action Allowances. The applicant can give up and not respond to a final rejection for one reason or another, perhaps because the patent examiner has found strong prior art that will be difficult to overcome. Still further, allowed claims can be accepted, rejected claims canceled and a patent issue. In this last scenario the patent application can pay the issue fee, accept the patent and file a continuation or continuation-in-part pursuant to 37 CFR 1.53(b) in order to seek other claims on the disclosure.
But what if the patent prosecution results in no claims allowed? In this scenario, which is unfortunately far more common than either the patent bar or Patent Office would like, the procedural vehicle of choice is a Request for Continued Examination (RCE) under 37 CFR 1.114. An RCE can be filed in situations where claims are allowed, but they are far more common in the scenario where all claims are rejected because with an RCE, which is not considered a new patent application and will have the same serial number as the previous application, all claims go back into prosecution. That means both allowed claims and rejected claims are back on the table during prosecution. That can be dangerous when claims are allowed because patent examiners are known to reject previously allowed claims in an RCE.