Visual Prosthesis Innovation Receives U.S. Patent No. 8,000,000

By Gene Quinn
August 16, 2011

USPTO Director David Kappos will present U.S. Pat. No. 8,000,000 at Sept. 8, 2011 ceremony at the Smithsonian.

Earlier today the Department of Commerce’s United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) today issued  U.S. Patent No. 8,000,000.  The 8 million patent was issued to Second Sight Medical Products, Inc., for a visual prosthesis apparatus that enhances visual perception for people who have gone blind due to outer retinal degeneration. The invention uses electrical stimulation of the retina to produce the visual perception of patterns of light. The product – the Argus® II – is currently in U.S. clinical trials and has received marketing approval in Europe.

The USPTO has known which patent would be No. 8,000,000 for at least three weeks, and the Office is planning for the occasion with a special ceremony to be held on September 8, 2011.   The USPTO notified Second Sight Medical Products, Inc. that it would receive U.S. Patent No. 8,000,000 via Issue Notification sent July 27, 2011.

“This kind of innovation is a driver of our nation’s economic growth and job creation,” said Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO David Kappos. “The USPTO plays a major role in serving America’s innovators by granting the intellectual property rights they need to secure investment capital, build companies and bring their products and services to the global marketplace.”

“Second Sight has 90 issued U.S. patents surrounding technology associated with sight restoration for the blind and treatment of a variety of other medical conditions,” said Robert Greenberg, president and CEO of Second Sight. “This patent protection and significant federal support for innovation have already played key roles in creating nearly 100 U.S. jobs at our company. Once the Argus II has FDA approval in the United States, we expect to create hundreds of more jobs over the next several years, while delivering a breakthrough treatment for a previously untreatable medical condition.”

But did you know that U.S. Patent No. 8,000,000 isn’t really the 8 millionth U.S. patent granted? Under the current numbering system for patents, U.S. Patent No. 1 was issued on July 13, 1836 to John Ruggles of Thomaston, Maine for his invention related to the locomotive steam engine. Prior to that U.S. patents were not numbered.

About Patent Number 8,000,000

With a provisional patent application priority date of October 19, 2006 and a subsequent nonprovisional filing date of October 18, 2007, it would have been impossible for Second Sight, or the United States Patent and Trademark Office to have had any clue back then that this application would be the one that would mature into the historic U.S. Patent No. 8,000,000.  After all, only 8 months before the provisional patent application was filed U.S. Patent No. 7,000,000 had been issued to E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company.  Yet, Application No. 11/874690 was destined for a milestone position in U.S. patent history.

In a healthy eye, the photoreceptors (rods and cones) on the retina convert light into tiny electrochemical impulses that are sent through the optic nerve and into the brain, where they are decoded into images. If the photoreceptors no longer function correctly, the first step in this process is disrupted and the visual system cannot transform light into images, causing blindness.

The system awarded patent number 8,000,000 is designed to bypass the damaged photoreceptors altogether. A miniature video camera housed in the patient’s glasses sends information to a small computer worn by the patient where it is processed and transformed into instructions transmitted wirelessly to a receiver in an implanted stimulator. The signals are then sent to an electrode array, attached to the retina, which emits small pulses of electricity. These electrical pulses are intended to bypass the damaged photoreceptors and stimulate the retina’s remaining cells to transmit the visual information along the optic nerve to the brain.

The inventors on this historic patent are Greenberg, Robert J. Greenberg, the President and CEO of Second Sight (Los Angeles, CA, US), Kelly H. McClure (Simi Valley, CA, US) and Arup Roy (Valencia, CA, US).

The signing and presentation of U.S. Patent No. 8,000,000 by Director Kappos will take place at the Smithsonian American Art Museum on September 8, 2011.

About Second Sight Medical Products

Second Sight Medical Products, Inc., located in Sylmar, Calif., is a privately held company founded in 1998 by Alfred Mann, Dr. Sam Williams and Gunnar Bjorg with the goal of creating a retinal prosthesis to provide sight to subjects blinded from outer retinal degenerations, such as retinitis pigmentosa.

The Author

Gene Quinn

Gene Quinn is a Patent Attorney and Editor and President & CEO ofIPWatchdog, Inc.. Gene founded IPWatchdog.com in 1999. Gene is also a principal lecturer in the PLI Patent Bar Review Course and Of Counsel to the law firm of Berenato & White, LLC. Gene’s specialty is in the area of strategic patent consulting, patent application drafting and patent prosecution. He consults with attorneys facing peculiar procedural issues at the Patent Office, advises investors and executives on patent law changes and pending litigation matters, and works with start-up businesses throughout the United States and around the world, primarily dealing with software and computer related innovations. is admitted to practice law in New Hampshire, is a Registered Patent Attorney and is also admitted to practice before the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. CLICK HERE to send Gene a message.

Warning & Disclaimer: The pages, articles and comments on IPWatchdog.com do not constitute legal advice, nor do they create any attorney-client relationship. The articles published express the personal opinion and views of the author and should not be attributed to the author’s employer, clients or the sponsors of IPWatchdog.com. Read more.

Discuss this

There are currently 10 Comments comments.

  1. anon August 16, 2011 3:59 pm

    Gene,

    Patents prior to 1836 were numbered. The PTO burned down in 1836 and the original patents were lost. New numbering started in 1836 and pre-1836 patents are referred to as “X” patents. There were about 9,957 patents prior to the great fire. John Ruggles (the inventor you mentioned) was a Senator who helped draft the 1836 patent act.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/X-Patent
    http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/ac/ahrpa/opa/kids/special/1836fire.htm
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Ruggles

  2. Mark Nowotarski August 16, 2011 8:39 pm

    Meanwhile Google shows why it is the big dog and files an inter partes reexam of two to the Lodsys patents.

    http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2011/08/google-android-lodsys-patent/#comments

  3. Just visiting August 17, 2011 10:13 am

    OK Gene … big Federal Circuit came down yesterday. I want to discuss without wade through the morass that is patently-o.

  4. Thomas Homkin August 17, 2011 11:02 am

    Although this patent is numbered 8,000,000, it appears that the 8 millionth patent is actually patent number 7,990,043. (Based upon number of “X” patents)

  5. Former Examiner August 17, 2011 4:30 pm

    Cool! I got to grant one of their earlier patents and I know the examiners on this patent. I’ll have to send some congrats there way.

  6. Jules August 17, 2011 5:05 pm

    What a bunch of wieners, those who keep talking about the X patents and how it should actually be patent 7,99?,???. This patent has the number 8,000,000 on it. Period.

  7. Patentology (Mark Summerfield) August 17, 2011 6:50 pm

    Obviously people love the big round numbers – we saw in the turn of the century at the start of 2000, even though technically we should have done so at the end. And it’s nice for the USPTO to have something to celebrate amidst so much criticism of its effectiveness and of the patent system generally. Actually, patent 8,000,000 is a bit unexciting. While bionic eyes are undoubtedly pretty cool, the claims in this case are directed to a rather mundane approach to saving power in a visual prosthesis. How great would it have been if patent 8,000,000 had been for a real breakthrough invention?!

    But here’s a question I wonder if anyone can answer – how many of those 8,000,000 patents are actually in-force right now?

  8. Gene Quinn August 17, 2011 8:19 pm

    Mark-

    That would definitely be worth knowing. I suspect it would also cut into the “patents are evil” arguments of many. I don’t know how you can figure it out in other than a brute force way. Factoring in maintenance fees and failure to pay maintenance fees, it seems like a daunting task.

    Any ideas anyone?

    -Gene

  9. Patentology (Mark Summerfield) August 17, 2011 9:32 pm

    Gene –

    Am I right in thinking that in 1994, US patents still had a fixed maximum term of 17 years from issue, and that such patents would not be eligible for a pharmaceutical extension of term?

    If so, then the highest-numbered patent that would be due to expire next week would seem to be US5,339,464, ‘Universal adapter for night vision system’, assigned to Litton Systems, Inc.

    So can be no more than about 2.6 million live patents! Not a very useful estimate, since the actual number is presumably much less.

    I asked our lead searcher whether any of the commercial databases he has used contain live status information. Apparently, the closest he is aware of is the Questel Orbit system, which includes links to status reports maintained by the patent offices (where available). But he does not think that the status can be used in a search query (we do not subscribe to Questel, but apparently had a recent trial period).

    There are currently 113455 Australian patents with a status of SEALED, meaning that they are granted and still live. Based on relative grant rates over the years, my guess would be that multiplying this number by 10 might get you within +/-25% of the current US figure. I am also inclined to think that it would not be an unreasonable assumption that about half of the patents issued since 1994 have since expired for failure to pay maintenance fees.

    So how would you feel about 1.3 million live US patents? 🙂

    Mark

  10. Jason C. August 23, 2011 12:09 am

    The USPTO and Kappos are lucky the 8,000,000th patent is for something technologically worthy. I can’t help but think of some of the classics, like “Apparatus for Facilitating the Birth of a Child by Centrifugal Force” (Pat. No. 3216423), or the many others out there that would have been embarrassing to present at a special ceremony!