One of the frequent claims made by those in the anti-software patent community relates to Twitter and the clearly erroneous belief that patents are not important to the company. Indeed, recently when I wrote Fairy Tales and Other Irrational Beliefs About Patents the claim arose in the comments suggesting that Twitter is proof that patents are unnecessary to succeed. Quite to the contrary. If you actually concern yourself with facts, Twitter is a perfect case study to demonstrate just how important patents, particularly software patents, are to a start-up company that has aspirations of going public.
Doubt me? Perhaps you will believe Twitter themselves. In repeated filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission since October 2013, Twitter has explained over and over again just how important their patented technology is to the company. They have also repeatedly explained that unlike other companies and competitors, even with nearly 1,000 patents, their own patent portfolio is extremely small by comparison. This poses real concerns for Twitter, which is why they warn the SEC and investors of the ramifications of such a small patent portfolio with every new filing.
Let’s begin our tale about Twitter at the start. Twitter, founded on March 21, 2006, was initially believed to be of the opinion that patents didn’t matter. Behind the scenes and unknown to many, Twitter was actively filing patents very early on in the development of the company. This is hardly shocking news given that Twitter’s initial round of funding dated back to 2007 and the near universal reality that high-tech investors not only love patents, but they demand patents. Investors love patents because if the company does not succeed at least some valuable patent assets will remain, which can be sold to recoup losses.
Editorial Note: This month’s column from Joe Allen comes from his plenary address to the Eastern regional meeting of the Association of University Technology Managers, which took place in Baltimore, Maryland, on September 18, 2014. CLICK HERE to view his PowerPoint presentation, which includes facts and figures that support the positions taken in this article.
They say when speaking that you should repeat your message at least three times. Here’s the first: Bayh-Dole has succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest imagination. It was not created to benefit universities but the American taxpayer. You are the stewards of a public trust and have an obligation to defend and protect the law in the same way as the Founders of AUTM protected it for you.
Research universities are now recognized drivers of our economy and your discoveries improve lives around the world, but that wasn’t always the case. The reason is the Bayh-Dole Act which gives certainty and predictability to the ownership and management of publicly funded inventions so they can move from the lab into the marketplace.
Last week I was speaking in Brazil which adopted a technology transfer law to spur university-industry partnerships. Unlike Bayh-Dole theirs is full of uncertainty which is undermining its impact. I explained that having clearly stated rules is an essential ingredient for success because companies are undertaking a tremendous risk when turning university technologies into useful products. The time and expense of development is borne by the business—not the government or the university. Companies cannot justify this effort when the bureaucracy inserts itself between a university and its industry partner. That was the situation in the US before enactment of Bayh-Dole and it caused the benefits from billions of dollars of taxpayer supported research to go right down the drain.
Should inventors be going solo and trying to protect their own inventions? No, at least not if you can afford to hire a patent attorney. Going solo through this patent maze would be similar to trying to remove your own appendix. If you can get to a hospital you should not be removing your own appendix! It is that simple. But there will always be inventors who will proceed on their own. Sometimes this is due to hubris, but frequently it is out of necessity.
There is nothing wrong with representing yourself if the choice is between DIY or not moving forward, but for those who will go it alone it is imperative that they become as familiar as possible with the rules, regulations and best practices. It is for these do-it-yourselfers who proceed out of necessity, but with their eyes open, that I write this and other similar articles.
One very common mistake inventors will make is that they will want to only describe their invention in the most general terms possible. Why would you want to be specific, they ask, because if you are too specific it will be easy for people to get around your patent. It is true that an unnecessarily specific discussion of the invention in a patent application can make it easy for competitors to copy your invention without infringing your patent, but if you file an application that only generally, or vaguely, describes the invention that is even worse.
We are at a point in time where the overwhelming sentiment is against the patent system. Rather than celebrating innovators the public, and our leaders, vilify anyone who has the audacity to seek patent protection. The simple reality is that without a strong patent system investment in innovation will cease. This truth should be self evident to anyone with half a brain, but sadly it is not. There are many truly ignorant individuals who actually believe that investment in research and development will continue even if the day an innovation reaches the market it can be copied without recourse by competitors. What a fairy tale!
As Dr. Kirstina Lybecker has explained: “Incentives are essential to innovation due to the expense of research and development activities, and the public-goods nature of the resulting knowledge.” Indeed, there is no business person in the world who would ever invest the hundreds of millions or billions of dollars necessary to bring ground-breaking innovations to market without the expectation of the competitive advantage provided by a strong patent. In the real world investors seek a reasonable return on investment given the risk, which is quite substantial in the high-tech, innovative world. To ignore this reality one must be firmly planted in fantasy and not the real world.
The Supreme Court’s Alice decision has introduced a dimension of uncertainty associated with the validity of many of the software patents held by operating companies today. There seems to be a consensus among some of the leading academic and judiciary experts supporting that conclusion, as seen in recent comments made by Stanford Law School’s Prof. Mark Lemley, as well as in recent comments by former Federal Circuit Chief Judge Michel. From a valuation and financial reporting perspective, there needs to be a serious examination of the post-Alice landscape implications on the value of patents as corporate assets. The results of such examination may lead to further action – which could range anywhere from additional disclosure requirements by regulators, all the way to actual corporate asset write-offs. This article highlights some of the key issues that need to be addressed by companies and regulators.
Korean Intellectual Property Office (KIPO) Commissioner Young-min Kim (left) and U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) Deputy Director Michelle K. Lee (right) today signed a Memorandum of Understanding that brings KIPO fully into the Cooperative Patent Classification system developed by the USPTO and the European Patent Office (EPO).
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Commerce’s United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and the Korean Intellectual Property Office (KIPO) today announced a major expansion of cooperation in classification activities between the USPTO and KIPO. The agreement,signed by the heads of the two offices during a bilateral meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, is designed to improve the patent granting process through streamlined access to patent documentation. Through this cooperation, KIPO will greatly expand the number of documents included in the Cooperative Patent Classification (CPC) system by fully classifying its patent applications and utility models.
“Today’s historic announcement further illustrates the usefulness of the Cooperative Patent Classification system and demonstrates the excellent bilateral relationship and spirit of cooperation between the USPTO and KIPO,” said Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Deputy Director of the USPTO Michelle K. Lee. “We hope other offices, particularly IP5 offices, will follow KIPO’s lead in increasing global intellectual property protection for innovators around the world.”
Chief Justice Warren Burger (L) authored Diamond v. Chakrabarty, while then Justice William Rehnquist (R) authored Diamond v. Diehr.
For those in the patent law world who may have been hiding under a rock, we have been flooded recently with lower court rulings on patent-eligibility under 35 U.S.C. § 101 after Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank International. Like a tsunami, these lower court rulings are uniformly sweeping away any patent in its wake as being directed to merely an “abstract idea” that doesn’t provide “something more.” Those quoted words are taken from Our Judicial Mount Olympus’ two-part test in Alice which is derived largely in part from the so-called “framework” of Mayo Collaborative Services v. Prometheus Laboratories, Inc. for separating patent-ineligible “claims to laws of nature, natural phenomena, and abstract ideas from those that claim patent-eligible applications of those concepts.” See Ignorance Is Not Bliss: Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank International*
Briefly, the two-part Alice test says: (1) “determine whether the claims at issue are directed to one of those patent-ineligible concepts”; and (2) “search for the ‘inventive concept’ —i.e., “an element or combination of elements that is “sufficient to ensure that the patent in practice amounts to significantly more than a patent upon the [ineligible concept] itself.” In every court case I’ve read so far, all of those lower court rulings have dogmatically (and restrictively) applied this two-part Alice test to rule the patent claims on systems and/or methods (all involving so-called “business methods”) to be patent-ineligible under 35 U.S.C. § 101. In fact, I’ve only seen one reported PTAB decision (U.S. Bancorp. v. Solutran, Inc.) where patent claims on systems and/or methods involving these so-called “business methods” passed muster under this two-part Alice test.
EDITORIAL NOTE: On September 30, 2014, Steve Moore will participate in a webcast with Omar Jabri, Senior Patent Counsel, Global Intellectual Property, at Apotex, and Owen Byrd, General Counsel of Lex Machina, on the new ANDA-specific capabilities of Lex Machina’s Legal Analytics platform. You can CLICK HERE to register for the webcast.
Lex Machina (emphasize the “Mach” followed by “ina”) is a legal technology platform that emerged from a collaboration between experts at Stanford’s Computer Science Department and Law School. Every day, Lex Machina captures data from PACER, the ITC’s EDIS system and the USPTO website. This data is cleansed, coded and tagged, using a proprietary natural language processing and machine learning engine, to provide information about districts, judges, attorneys, law firms and parties, as well as asserted patents. It also sets out in an easy format the outcomes of each case. The tool allows one to search briefs, motions, orders, and every other type of filing made in a litigation by judge, court, attorney etc. As an early adopter, I have seen this product move from a useful information source that provided me information that supplemented standard research tools, to a tool that I now find indispensible to my practice.
I started in patent litigation 25 years ago. At that time, the best analytics available to any patent litigator was to walk up and down the hallway seeking out attorneys who may have had a case before a particular judge or against an opposing party or counsel. Much of the information we relayed to our clients was often little more than conjecture, based on the feelings of the person whom we communicated with, and the necessary supposition we had to make that a judge today would react as he or she had 10 years earlier. Likewise, we often relayed information to our clients about opposing counsel based on the premise that the particular attorney we were facing would act more in line with reputation of their firms, then as they may actually act as an individual attorney. Out of necessity, we often made the leap that a judge viewed all patent cases as the same, and that they resolved a motion in an electrical case in a similar manner as they resolved the same in an ANDA litigation.
Broad patent coverage results from broad claims, supported by a broad specification. Neither of these factors springs from the invocation of any magic formula. Rather, breadth results from hard, careful work. This section sets out a group of signposts that a drafter can employ to gauge whether she is writing, or has written, a broad patent document.
“Broad” in this context means “broadest supportable” coverage, limited only by the technology in terms of supportability and by the prior art in terms of outer reach. A failure to achieve such breadth is generally attributable to overclaiming, where one runs afoul of the prior art; underclaiming, where the drafter stop short of claiming all he could; or faulty claiming, where the drafter attempts to achieve breadth, but support issues or drafting errors restrict claim scope. Sound principles, instilled by effective training, cannot substitute for adequate knowledge of the prior art. They can provide the knowledge and thus the confidence to claim out to the limits defined by that art.
Mariano Rivera knows something about perfection. The New York Yankees now-retired pitcher is regarded by many experts as the greatest closer in the history of major league baseball. For those who are not aficionados of America’s Pastime, the closer comes in after the game has largely been played, and his sole job is to get the last several opposing batters out. For seventeen seasons, Mariano Rivera (a.k.a. “the Sandman”) dominated at his position and was virtually unhittable.
The USPTO Director also knows something about perfection, albeit in a far different context than baseball. For six years, the USPTO Director has dominated opposing patent practitioners, who have gone hitless against the Office in cases involving reciprocal ethical discipline.
“Reciprocal discipline” is a process for disciplining an attorney in a second jurisdiction after the attorney has been ethically disciplined by another jurisdiction. A patent or trademark attorney who is publicly disciplined in another jurisdiction is subject to reciprocal discipline by the USPTO, even if the attorney’s conduct has nothing to do with their practice before the Office. And while it is theoretically possible for a patent or trademark practitioner to avoid reciprocal discipline in the USPTO, in reality they would have a better chance of hitting a Rivera cut fastball blindfolded with one arm tied. To date, the USPTO’s record in Section 11.24 cases is a perfect 77-0, and counting. Practitioners, meet the “Sandman.”