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Posts in Patent Basics

Can You Refile a Provisional Patent Application?

The question that we receive most frequently from inventors, usually independent inventors, relates to whether a provisional patent application can be refiled with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).  Before giving the correct answer, it is critically important for everyone to understand that if a provisional patent application is refiled it may become impossible for a patent to ever be obtained, period.  Can a provisional patent application be refiled? The short, easy answer to the question is yes, of course you can refile the provisional application. The USPTO will be happy to have you refile the application, take your filing fee, and send you a new filing receipt. The problem for you, as an inventor, however, is the consequence of refiling a provisional application. So, while it may be very easy to do, and seem like you’ve just extended the life of your original provisional application, that is precisely NOT what has happened, and you may have – indeed likely have – made it impossible to ever obtain a patent anywhere in the world.

Ten Common Patent Claim Drafting Mistakes to Avoid

Drafting a patent application is a complex task that involves dealing with several critical components of the patent application. If one must ask any patent attorney about the crucial aspect of a patent draft, the answer will always be “the claims”. Even the simplest of mistakes in claims can pose risk to a patent application. In light of this, the following article highlights some potential pitfalls to avoid while drafting patent claims.

It’s All in the Hardware: Overcoming 101 Rejections in Computer Networking Technology Classes

Technologies such as computer networking, which, unlike software inventions, typically incorporate at least some hardware elements, may be less vulnerable to rejection under the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Alice v. CLS Bank. However, responding to these rejections when they are issued still requires some finesse. In these cases, rejections usually revolve around whether the hardware included in the claims serves as an improvement over existing hardware or is merely used as a tool for a mental process or other abstract idea. If the examiner concludes that the networking hardware merely serves as a tool, the claims usually fail the Alice/Mayo test. However, if you can show that the networking hardware either presents novel features or is improved by the invention to become a more effective tool, you may overcome the rejection.

Disclosure Requirements in Software Patents: Avoiding Indefiniteness

How much detail is needed in a patent application for a software-based invention? Software patents present some unique challenges that many other kinds of patent applications do not need to contend with, one of them being the level of disclosure and care in drafting needed to avoid indefiniteness issues. While source code is not required in most cases, a growing body of case law indicates that insufficient detail about the algorithms underpinning the invention could render the patent claims indefinite, meaning that the scope of the claimed invention is too ambiguous. If the patent examiner deems the disclosure to be inadequate during examination, indefiniteness could prevent a patent from issuing. In the case of an already-issued patent, indefiniteness could render the claims unenforceable.

Patent Procurement and Strategy for Business Success Part III: Prosecution – Wielding an Invisible Hand

In the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s (USPTO’s ) patent academy (or today’s version of such), patent examiners are taught that the objective of the patent examiner is to “issue valid patents promptly.” In pursuing this institutional interest, each examiner conducts examinations that they independently manage. Although patent prosecutors cannot control an examiner’s decisions, they can establish a context that encourages a favorable outcome. If first and second application drafters each drafted applications to cover the same invention (that met all of the requirements of 35 USC 112) the presentation of the content in the respective applications could engender drastically different examination processes. This is because there is a relationship between the manner in which the content of a patent application is presented and the character of the examination process that follows.

Patent Procurement and Strategy for Business Success Part II: Claims – Targeting the Right Infringers

To protect the inventions that are important to a company’s current and future success, the claims of the patents covering those inventions must accurately define the subject matter that is regarded as the invention and target the right infringers. Drafting claims that accurately define the subject matter that is regarded as the invention requires the crafting of claims to have metes and bounds that precisely circumscribe the subject matter which is regarded as the invention. This can be done by constructing independent claims such that the subject matter regarded as the invention forms the axis around which independent claims are structured. Using this approach, the content of the body of the independent claim is limited to the subject matter that has been identified as that regarded as the invention and any subject matter that is needed to support that subject matter. These subject matter parts are the elements that are needed to accurately define the subject matter protected by the patent. Organizing these elements into patent claim format with the elements recited as broadly as possible provides the fullest measure of protection to which the applicant is legally entitled. This process helps to ensure that those who engage in infringing activity related to the inventive subject matter are implicated by the claim for infringement.

Patent Procurement and Strategy for Business Success: Building and Strategically Using Patents that Target the Right Infringers and Thwart Competitive Countermeasures

Successful patent strategies for business are inexorably tied to the quality of the patents upon which the patent strategies depend. The quality of a patent depends upon the capacity of a patent prosecutor to resolve a series of non-trivial patent application drafting and/or examination challenges in order to secure the issuance of a valid patent that includes claims that provide a desired scope of protection. Such challenges can involve subjecting complex and/or unwieldy subject matter to patent form in a manner that yields an accurate, clear and complete detailed description of the invention and well-crafted claims. Moreover, they can involve managing difficult patent examiners who require the amendment of claims as a prerequisite to advancing the prosecution of the application. The detailed description and the claims are the parts of the patent that can be employed by the practitioner to imbue a patent with attributes that optimize their support of patent strategies for business.

Fit to Drive: Three Inspiring Office Action Responses from the USPTO’s Art Unit 3668

Every patent practitioner has faced the same obstacle — a client’s application is assigned to an unfamiliar art unit. This presents two challenges: unfamiliarity with the examiners and unfamiliarity with the application of the law. Here are three proven arguments that overcame Section 101 rejections in AU 3668 from which to draw inspiration.

Design Patents 101: Understanding Utility Patents’ Lesser-Known Cousin

Design patents provide powerful protections both on their own and as a complement to their more well-known cousin, utility patents. The highly publicized Apple v. Samsung lawsuits of the previous decade featured both design and utility patents, and revitalized public awareness of design patents in general. In fact, it was infringement of the design patents that resulted in the large damages awards in those litigations, with three design patents resulting in an award of $533.3 million and two utility patents only $5.3 million. Beyond the likelihood of greater money damages, as compared to their utility patent counterparts design patents are also less expensive to obtain and hold, offer simpler determinations of infringement and validity, and are less susceptible to being invalidated (whether, e.g., for non-patent eligible subject matter or via a post-grant procedure). As such, design patents are more likely to survive, potentially resulting in substantial damages for the patent holder.

Two Key Steps to Overcome Rejections Received on PCT Drawings

A large number of patent applications are rejected in the initial stage of filing via the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) route. One of the most common reasons for such a rejection is an error in the drawings appended to the patent applications. Notably, patent drawings not only enhance the visual appeal of an invention but also help in better understanding the invention. As per the PCT guidelines, patent drawings should be included wherever applicable. This implies that it is essential to submit the appropriate formal patent drawings with a patent application. Failure to do so can result in patent rejection followed by an office action (OA) from the designated patent examiner. But here are the two key steps for overcoming rejections received on PCT drawings.

Errors in Issued Patents as a Measure of Patent Quality

Companies spend considerable sums of money to develop patent portfolios that protect their valuable innovations. Given the large stakes, it behooves companies to obtain high quality patents. I’ll start this article with an example of a patent mistake that resulted in a bad outcome for the patent owner. iRobot lost a patent infringement claim against a competitor that perhaps could have been avoided. The issue was that important concepts of the claims were not described in the patent, and the meaning of the claims was not clear. The independent claims included the phrase “instructions configured to cause a processor” but the only use of “instructions” in the patent related to operational instructions for a user. Because the patent did not sufficiently describe the “instructions” in the claims, iRobot did not obtain its desired claim construction, and the Federal Circuit found no infringement. It seems plausible that better claim drafting might have avoided these errors and achieved a better outcome for iRobot.

Intellectual Property for Startups: Building a Toolkit to Protect Your Products and Design

Although it may seem like the name “startup” says it all, the reality for many inventors, engineers and companies is that it’s difficult to know where to start when what you have is just an idea for a product, a recently discovered process or an innovation. You may have the “million dollar idea,” but where do you start to move it from concept to market? While startups may be selling wildly different products, or developing different processes or innovations, one thing most have in common is a similar starting point, and a limited budget. Product design, branding and identity are always necessary, and protecting your brand, innovations and products from competition is essential.  But how do you allocate your limited resources while developing the best possible brand and product, and ensuring that your intellectual property is adequately protected?

Why the Patent Classification System Needs an Update

Patent categories were established more than 100 years ago. There are dozens of categories that reflect industry at the time: gears, sewing machines, and bicycles, to name a few. While these are certainly useful categories, the patent classification system has not kept up with the times. It leaves out many modern technologies, like inventions that are based on machine learning or blockchain. There are no categories for these innovations, which are reshaping our world in real-time. The problem? When patent classifications don’t actually classify inventions, we have no way of knowing how many inventions in these categories are being registered.

Understanding What a Design Patent is Not

You have probably heard of a company called Apple. They sell computers, watches, tablets and all kinds of accessories. You have probably also heard that Apple was engaged in a patent war with Samsung Electronics, which was fought all over the world and finally resolved after many years of litigation. What you might not be familiar with is the fact that, in the United States, it was not Apple’s utility patent portfolio that was found infringed by Samsung. Apple had to rely on design patents to prevail over Samsung. If design patents are powerful enough for Apple to use to prevail over Samsung, then it makes sense that anyone who has a unique visual presentation to their products should consider whether adding design protection to their portfolio is a wise decision— which it probably is.

Design Patents: Under Utilized and Overlooked

Once upon a time, one of the ways you could spot scams from legitimate operators in the patent industry was to look at who was directing clients to get design patents. Design patents have always been easy to obtain, indeed, far easier to obtain than a utility patent. Of course, as with many things in life and with virtually everything in the realm of intellectual property law, the easier something is to obtain the less valuable it is to own. This general rule about easier and cheaper rights has been turned upside down in recent years with respect to design patents, at least to some extent. Unfortunately, not nearly enough individuals and companies are seeking design patent protection. In 2019, for example, there were 46,847 design patent applications filed, which represents 7.01% of the total number of patent applications filed in 2019. So, although design patents are being filed in larger numbers year after year (See Figure 1), as a percentage of the overall number of patent applications filed, they are largely staying within the 50-year historical norm (See Figure 2). Data taken from U.S. Patent Activity.