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.
Last week, I published an article about inter partes review on IPWatchdog.com. Patent Office statistics for FY 2013 and FY 2014 show that there have been a total of 361 decisions on IPR petitions, with 288 trials instituted. There have been 11 cases that have been joined and only 62 petitions denied, which corresponds with an 82.8% IPR petition grant rate. Having said this, the IPR grant rate during FY 2013 was 87.2%, while so far during FY 2014, the IPR grate rate has been 77.2%.
But what about post-grant review?
Both inter partes review and post-grant review became a reality when “Phase 2″ of the America Invents Act (AIA) became effective on September 16, 2012. But you haven’t seen any post-grant reviews yet, aside from the quasi-post-grant review known as covered business method (CBM) review. That is because the post-grant review provisions apply only to patents issued from applications that have an effective filing date on or after March 16, 2013. Said another way, post-grant review proceedings are only available to patents issuing from applications subject to first-inventor-to-file provisions of the AIA.
Over the last several years, I have given the ethics lecture part of PLI’s Patent Law Institute, which grants those in attendance (or viewing via webcast, in most states) one ethics credit toward CLE compliance. This year, I will once again give the ethics presentation at the 8th Annual Patent Law Institute sponsored by the Practising Law Institute, which will take place in New York at the beginning of February 2014, and which will be reprised live in San Francisco in mid-March 2014. Materials are due early so that PLI can put everything into book form for attendees, so I have been writing to ensure enough to support one credit hour of CLE, and starting the planning of my hour-long presentation generally.
A big part of what I like to do when I give an ethics lecture is to review recent decisions of the Office of Enrollment and Discipline to see what OED has been focusing on and what trouble our fellow members of the patent bar are getting into. This not only gives us insight into the OED approach, but also gives us an opportunity to review the ethics rules practitioners are charged most frequently with violating. It also gives us an opportunity to discuss the process you will be afforded if you should find yourself on the wrong side of an OED complaint.
The Federal Circuit recently issued a decision on an appeal from the Patent Trial and Appeal Board where the central question was whether the Board and the examiner properly relied on the same articulated reasoning and factual underpinnings in rejecting a claim, or whether instead the Board made new findings and adopted different reasons to support a new ground of rejection, thus depriving the applicant of both notice and an opportunity to respond. See In re Lutz Biedermann.
Lutz Biedermann and Jurgen Harms (collectively “Biedermann”) appealed a decision of the Board affirming the rejection of claims 32, 33, 35–37, 39, and 48 of U.S. Patent Application No. 10/306,057 (“’057 Application”) for obviousness, 35 U.S.C. § 103(a). Ultimately, the Federal Circuit, per Judge Linn (with Judges Moore and O’Malley agreeing), determined that the Board rejection did constitute a new grounds of rejection. Thus, the Board’s decision was vacated and remanded for further proceedings.
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.