The dearth of women in patenting cannot be explained completely by the lower numbers of women in STEM careers

A recent study released from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) reveals that much progress has been made to close the patent gender gap over the last four decades. Sadly, despite the fact that the number of women inventors has quintupled since the 1970s, less than 20% of issued U.S. patents have at least one woman inventor and only 7.7% of issued U.S. patents list a woman as the primary inventor. Much work still needs to be done in order to take advantage of the vast resources of creative potential in this largely untapped talent pool.

To further the discussion, I recently conducted a roundtable interview with three women who have given this matter a great deal of thought. One of them, Jennifer Gottwald (pictured left)  is a Licensing Manager in the Technology Commercialization Department at the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF). I asked her whether there are fewer women on patents simply because there are fewer women in STEM fields? Her answer: No. The lack of women as inventors who use the patent system goes beyond the mere fact that fewer women pursue STEM careers. Read the rest of this entry »

10.12.16 | Patent Issues, posts | Gene Quinn

Hearing on Examiner Fraud Leaves No Resolution

In mid-September, the House Judiciary Committee held what seemed like it was going to be an oversight hearing to address the allegations of timekeeping fraud by patent examiners made in the Inspector General’s recent report. Prepared statements released in advance of the hearing talked tough, but that was pretty much it. Insofar as getting to the root of the problems identified in the IG report the hearing turned out to be a big, fat nothing.

Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) (pictured left at the hearing) defended the Office in his prepared remarks, explaining that there were flaws with the methodology of the IG study, which make the conclusions unreliable. For example, it is entirely possible that patent examiners were indeed working while they were not logged into the Patent Office computer systems. After all, examination is a job that requires a lot of reading and contemplation, much of which might occur without being logged into the server. Of course, that, at best, means there is no way to know whether patent examiners are working or not, which is why the IG report recommended the sensible step of requiring patent examiners to log into the Office computer systems whenever they are working.

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10.11.16 | Congress, Patent Issues, USPTO | Gene Quinn

“Shark Tank”-funded inflatable, solar-powered LED company receives first patent

Earlier this summer, LuminAID issued a press release to announce that it had been issued a patent grant from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office which covers its inflatable solar-powered LED technology. The patent is U.S. Patent No. 9347629, issued under the title Inflatable Solar-Powered Light. The inflatable solar-powered light claimed in this patent has an expandable bladder and a solar-powered light assembly positioned on a plastic surface and having a circuit board, a rechargeable battery, a solar panel and at least one LED; the plastic covering the solar panel and other components is both substantially transparent and waterproof.

As the patent’s background section notes, one of every six people in this world lack access to stable electricity. Often, people without access to electricity will use kerosene, a dangerous and toxic substance that can cost up to 30 percent of a person’s income in underdeveloped regions. This solar-lighting solution achieves the favorable outcomes of being easy to transport while eliminating recurring energy costs as well as the limited resources of non-rechargeable batteries.

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09.28.16 | Patent Issues | Gene Quinn

Federal Circuit says automating 3D-animation method is patent eligible

The Federal Circuit recently issued a decision in McRo, Inc. v. Bandai Namco Games America, which found that the software patent claims at issue were not directed to an abstract idea and were patent eligible.

The patents in question related to automating a part of a 3D-animation method. Essentially, the patents cover lip synchronization of animated characters so that the lips of the animated character move in a normal fashion to the point where the animated character’s lips can be read.

After going through a two-plus page recitation of the law, Judge Reyna summarized the district court holding, that the claims were drawn to an abstract idea of automating rules-based use of morph targets and delta sets for lip synchronization in 3D animation. Reyna explained that the Federal Circuit disagreed with that determination, reminding the district court that they have cautioned courts to carefully “avoid oversimplifying the claims.” Reyna would go on to say that these claims are specifically “limited to rules with specific characteristics.”

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USPTO Director Lee testifies before House Judiciary Committee

On the afternoon of Tuesday, September 13th, the intellectual property subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee convened for a hearing on oversight of practices and procedures at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The day’s sole panelist was USPTO director Michelle K. Lee. The day’s discussion focused on recent reports from federal governmental agencies regarding issues at the USPTO surrounding patent litigation as well as time and attendance abuses among USPTO examiners.

A press release posted in advance of the hearing contained statements from both House Judiciary Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet subcommittee chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) provided a good indication of the direction the hearing would take. Both statements reflected a wariness regarding timesheet abuses among USPTO employees. “The amount of wasted man-hours that could have been spent reducing the patent backlog is astounding, not to mention the millions of taxpayer dollars that were wasted paying USPTO employees for work they were not doing,” Goodlatte’s statement read. Issa added, “If the PTO can’t even guarantee sufficient oversight of its employees timecards, how can we be assured patent examiners aren’t just rubberstamping ideas without oversight as well?”

The concerns of both Congressmen stem from an examiner time and attendance report issued August 31st by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) within the Department of Commerce. The Commerce Department’s OIG found 288,000 unsupported hours of work claimed by examiners over a 15-month period, which was equated to more than $18.3 million in potential waste. The OIG report also found multiple weak points in USPTO policy which limits the agency’s ability to detect fraud, including no requirement for teleworking examiners to log into computers during workdays as well as no requirement for workers with average or high performance ratings to provide supervisors with work schedules.

The methodology used during the OIG’s study on time and attendance abuse was also questioned by Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY). Nadler’s prepared remarks noted that the unsupported work hours identified in the OIG’s report amounted to less than 2 percent of all hours worked by examiners during the 15-month period of the study. “In fact, the IG acknowledges that after the USPTO instituted certain reforms to its telework policy, six months into the study, the percentage of unsupported hours dropped to just 1.6%, an efficiency rate that most employers would boast about,” Nadler’s prepared remarks stated. “But, the IG buried this fact in a footnote deep in the report.”

“My team and I do not tolerate time and attendance abuse,” Lee told the subcommittee. While she did note that the USPTO had taken disciplinary actions against examiners that have abused time and attendance reports, such actions ranging from counseling to expulsion and repayment for hours not worked, she added that there was evidence that instances of time and attendance abuse were not widespread. She cited a report on the USPTO’s telework program issued by the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) in July 2015. The report found that “It would appear to be unlikely that [time and attendance] abuse is widespread or unique to teleworkers, and it does not appear to reflect the actions of the workforce as a whole.”

09.19.16 | Patent Issues, USPTO | Gene Quinn

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