USPTO Issues Design Patent No. 700,000

The Department of Commerce recently had a ceremony at Langdon Education Campus in Washington, DC, commemorating the issuance of the 700,000th design patent (see main image to the left). The design patent, titled Hand-held learning apparatus, was issued to LeapFrog Enterprises, Inc. (NYSE: LF) on February 25, 2014, but the celebration ceremony was not held until March 26, 2014.

“Protecting and promoting our idea-driven economy is essential to keeping America open for business,” said U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker. “The USPTO plays a major role in serving our nation’s innovators by granting them the intellectual property rights they need to secure investment capital, build companies and bring their products and services to the global marketplace.”

The ceremony also included the launch of a new Intellectual Property (IP) Patch developed as a joint project between the USPTO, the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital, and the Intellectual Property Owners (IPO) Education Foundation.

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A Design Patent Strategy for Portfolio Development

Once upon a time, one of the ways you could separate the unsavory underbelly of the patent industry from the legitimate operators 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. But design patent rights are exceptionally weak. Nevertheless, over the past decade, design patents have continued to grow in numbers, and have proved to be an effective part of patent strategy, in some cases. If you have not considered advising clients to seek design patents, you really should consider the benefits.

Design patents applied for in green, with design patents issued in blue.

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IBM Brief: Abstract Idea Jurisprudence Is Unworkable

On March 31, 2014, the United States Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case that could determine the fate of software patents in the United States. Recently, IBM filed an amicus brief at the United States Supreme Court in the case of Alice Corporation Pty. Ltd. v. CLS Bank International. While many attorneys contributed to this brief, former Solicitor General of the United States Paul D. Clement is the Counsel of Record on behalf of IBM.

I think it is fair to say that the IBM brief can be summarized as follows: ‘The abstract idea doctrine is unworkable.’ Bravo! If the Supreme Court cannot define the term “abstract idea,” which they have never done,  how can it be at all appropriate for the Court to apply the doctrine as if it has meaning? At least with respect to software, there is also no uniform application of the patent laws, which at least conceptually should raise concerns of disparate treatment of those similarly situated.

Something needs to be done to once and for all acknowledge that software is patent eligible. Even having to say that and hope it is what ultimately happens is truly saddening in the year 2014. Software is all around us and empowers practically everything, and according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report from August 2013, somewhere between 50% to 60% of all patent applications filed deal in some way with software. Software is the very backbone of innovation and the fact that we have to wonder whether it is patent eligible more than 46 years after the first software patent issued is really an indictment of the judicial system as it relates to patent law and jurisprudence.

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CAFC: Pre-AIA 102(g)(2) Captures Reduction in US on Invention Conceived in Russia

On February 12, 2014, the Federal Circuit issued its decision in Solvay S.A. v. Honeywell International. In this case, Solvay S.A. appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit from a judgment of the United States District Court for the District of Delaware in favor of defendant Honeywell International. The district court held that asserted claim 1 of Solvay’s U.S. Patent No. 6,730,817 was invalid under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. § 102(g)(2). The question at the heart of this appeal, as dictated by the specific factual scenario, was whether an invention conceived by a foreign inventor and reduced to practice in the United States qualifies as prior art under § 102(g)(2). This was the operative question because engineers working at the Russian Scientific Center for Applied Chemistry (“RSCAC”) first conceived the invention, which was reduced to practice in this country by Honeywell personnel pursuant to the RSCAC’s instructions, and they did not abandon, suppress, or conceal it.

At trial, Honeywell argued that the invention was conceived by Russian inventors outside the United States and reduced to practice in the United States by Honeywell personnel following the Russian inventors’ instructions before the ’817 patent’s priority date. As a result, Honeywell argued, the invention qualifies as §102(g)(2) prior art. A jury ultimately determined that, as required by § 102(g)(2), the Russian Scientific Center for Applied Chemistry did disclose the invention of claim 1 in the 1994 Russian patent application, which means that they did not abandon, suppress, or conceal the invention. Based on the jury verdict, the district court entered judgment for Honeywell, finding asserted claim 1 invalid under § 102(g)(2).

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Concrete and Tangible is the Right Test for Patent Eligibility

In 1998, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, in State Street Bank & Trust Co. v. Signature Financial Group, Inc.did away with what had previously been come to be known as the business method exception to patentability. The Federal Circuit, per Judge Giles Sutherland Rich (shown left), pointed out that the business method exception had never been invoked by either the Federal Circuit or its predecessor court, the CCPA. Judge Rich explained that “[s]ince the 1952 Patent Act, business methods have been, and should have been, subject to the same legal requirements for patentability as applied to any other process or method.”

Although the United States Supreme Court did away with that test when it issued its decision in Bilski v. Kappos, it is still nevertheless illustrative and the best test that is out there. Simply stated, in order to have a patentable business method, it is necessary for the invention to accomplish some practical application. In other words, in order for a business method to be patent eligible, it must produce a “useful, concrete and tangible result.” Judge Rich was correct to point this out and the Supreme Court has made a horrible mess of the law as it applies to business methods and computer-implemented innovations because it fails to understand what Judge Rich really meant.

If you really understand what Judge Rich meant by “useful, concrete and tangible result,” you come to the inescapable conclusion that it is the appropriate test. Indeed, those drafting patent application would do well to really target the description of the invention to satisfy the test.

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