Recently, we took a look at some recent Microsoft Xbox patents over at IPWatchdog as a part of our ”Companies We Follow” series. In doing our research, we noticed an interesting innovation related to Microsoft’s digital art programs, which is included in most versions of its computer operating systems, such as Windows. This digital paint program includes more dynamic functions for the artist’s palette, such as a more realistic experience involving oil paints and worn-out brushes.
The application is U.S. Patent Application No. 20130326381, which is titled Digital Art Program Interaction and Mechanisms.
Digital applications for creating art have long been found on computing devices. From basic programs that offer the ability to draw straight lines with a mouse, to applications for mobile devices that respond to user touch through a touchscreen, digital art programs on consumer devices have greatly increased in capability during recent years. Today, graphic designers and artists are capable of using computer software to create intricate images that achieve many of the same aesthetic effects of actual paints or other materials.
Online fantasy sports games, such as fantasy football, baseball, hockey, golf, and automobile racing, are extremely popular. In fact, this past weekend marks the start of the playoffs in my fantasy football league. Unfortunately, I did not make the playoffs this year. Darn injuries and under-performing “superstars”!!!
In any event, it is not at all uncommon to file fantasy sports related patents and patent applications. I myself have had occasion to draft a patent application (soon to be allowed) on a fantasy sports invention. So, a fantasy sports-related patent or application always grabs my attention.
If you are not familiar with fantasy sports, allow me to provide a bit of a primer. A user creates a fantasy team comprised of players that are associated with real-life players. The user’s fantasy team may compete against fantasy teams of other users, with specific scoring rules. When your player does something good, such as scores a touchdown or kicks a field goal, positive points are scored. When your player does something negative in real life, such as an fumble or throws an interception, points are subtracted.
Recently U.S. Patent No. 8,515,829 (the ’829 patent) came to my attention. It is a patent issued to Google, titled Tax-free gifting. See Google Patents Tax-Free Gifting. The invention is interesting in its own right, but as I reviewed the patent, Figure 14 really caught my attention.
Figure 14, together with the associated textual discussion, is interesting because it shows rather conclusively that “software” can be described in mechanical terms. That is something that those familiar with software have always known, but it’s a nuance missed by many of the critics and judges who believe software is wholly disassociated from anything in the tangible, mechanical world.
Figure 14 from the ’829 patent is shown below.
Just over three years ago, the United States Supreme Court issued its decision in Bilski v. Kappos. The critical question presented to the Court for consideration was whether the Federal Circuit erred by creating the so-called “machine or transformation” test, which requires a process to be tied to a particular machine or apparatus, or transform an article into a different state or thing, in order to be patentable subject matter. The Supreme Court held that the machine-or-transformation test is not the sole test for patent eligibility under §101, but is an important clue, thereby overruling the Federal Circuit who had earlier ruled that the machine or transformation test was the test to determine whether an invention is patentable subject matter.
But what practical effect has the Supreme Court ruling in Bilski v. Kappos had? Truthfully, not much. at least in terms of the day-to-day approach of patent attorneys and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. (Certainly, the decision was important in that it preserved the patentability of at least some business methods and preserved the patentability of software.)
While the machine-or-transformation test is now only an important clue, it really has become a safe harbor for practitioners. The assumption has been that you satisfy the machine-or-transformation test announced by the Federal Circuit and you have a patentable invention. Fail to satisfy the machine-or-transformation test and you may have a patentable invention, but neither the Patent Office nor any court has yet found an invention that failed the machine-or-transformation test to be patentable.
The U.S. Department of Commerce’s United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) recently announced that it will host its next Software Partnership Meeting on Thursday, October 17, 2013, at the U.C. Berkeley School of Law in Berkeley, California.
The purpose of the meeting, among other things, is to allow senior USPTO officials to provide an overview of the executive actions related to patent assertion entities and U.S. innovation initiatives called for in President Obama’s executive actions on June 4th. See also, Obama on Patent Trolls — Much Ado About Nothing. Other topics open for discussion will include feedback from the previous Software Partnership roundtables held in Silicon Valley and New York; a summary of the written comments received in response to the January Federal Register notice announcing the Software Partnership; proposed next steps by the USPTO; and an interactive discussion session on strategies to improve claim clarity, such as the use of glossaries in patent applications.
If you cannot attend the meeting live, the event will also be viewable live online through the USPTO website. For those who do wish to attend live, the USPTO announcement explains that space will be quite limited and, as a result, RSVPs must be received by September 27, 2013.