New article on The Patent Process

patentEverything you need to know about the patent application process!  Check out our new article on filing a patent application with the United States Patent & Trademark Office.  We discuss how to search for existing patents, register with the USPTO, efile your application, and respond to your first office action.  Stay tuned for more in depth information on the invention and patent process.

United States Patent & Trademark Office Public Discussion

The USPTO is hosting a public discussion on a new proposal to streamline patent re-examination.   The focus of the new changes is to expedite the process used to settle validity disputes between patent owners and the public.  Among the changes are new standards for submitting re-examination requests, bringing focus to the best prior art, reducing need for late submission of evidence and clarifying petition practice, ability to waive ex parte statement, and reducing briefings in inter partes appeals.  Another idea proposed is consolidating the inter partes action, closing prosecution, and right of appeal notices, .

“We recognize that patent reexamination is one of the most important functions of the USPTO, because these patents often have significant commercial value and are usually involved in concurrent litigation,” said Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO David Kappos.  “By resolving these disputes more quickly, we can make patent reexamination a better mechanism for reviewing patent validity.”

The USPTO is hoping to generate additional ideas for streamlining this process from the general public at the event.  They are of course excepting written comments for those unable to attend.  For those wishing to make the journey, the roundtable will be held on June 1, 2011 at 1:30pm at the USPTO headquarters in Alexandria, VA.

Any new changes that allow our Patent office to function more efficiently are very welcomed.  So write them down and send them in, or register for the meeting and let your voices be heard!

Recent Supreme Court Ruling Limits Class Actions

A recent case involving AT&T and a Californian couple over a $30 cell phone charge resulted in the Supreme Court ruling that arbitration clauses commonly found in consumer contracts do take precedence over any class action lawsuits.  This has profound implications for businesses nationwide as arbitration, or the use of a third part to settle disputes, is far more efficient and cost effective than a lawsuit.  The consumer generally prefers a lawsuit because of the open forum a courtroom provides, and thus typically a more favorable outcome for the individual with a legitimate complaint.  The decision comes from a 5-4 split, the more liberal justices presiding over the case feel it is up to the individual state to determine whether an arbitration agreement nulls the ability to file a class action lawsuit.

In this particular case, AT&T lawyers argued that the consumer does not lose out in arbitration, that it is a fair and efficient process for both parties.  Class actions often take more time and resources than a consumer might want to invest for most claims.

Critics of the ruling cite that class actions are an efficient way to guarantee consumer protection against fraudulent companies.  Losing the ability to hold organizations accountable on a large scale is detrimental to consumer rights and tips the scales of justice in favor of business owners.

U.S. Patent & Trademark Office to Face Budget Cuts

As a result of the 2011 budget resolved on April 15th, the United States Patent & Trademark Office has unfortunately had to tighten their belt like everyone else.  With an appropriation of only $2.09 billion,  some anticipated programs will have to be reduced or postponed for this fiscal year.  Most notably, track one of the newly proposed Three-Track program which would bring the option of expedited patent examination for new applications, has been postponed until further notice.  The new program would have given inventors whom are anxious to receive legal protection for their new ideas a means to jump ahead of more patient patentees for an additional fee.  The first track was set to go in effect on May 4th of 2011.

“Given this level of spending authority, USPTO will have to make significant reductions for the current fiscal year.” said David Kappos,  Director of the  USPTO. “We have not come by these decisions lightly; I recognize that these measures will create new challenges for our ability to carry out our agency’s mission, but we will continue seeking innovative ways to do more with less.”

Also postponed is the opening of a new satellite office in Detroit and exploring new sites for other locations.  All hiring for USPTO jobs is frozen.  No new positions or current openings will be filled.  The IT upgrades long since overdue are to be scaled back.  Funding for Patent Cooperation Treaty outsourcing will be cut back, and all current employee training and overtime will be reduced or suspended.

A small bit of good news, Trademarks will remain unaffected by the budget cuts and will maintain normal operations.

Microsoft’s Patent Case Enters Supreme Court

Microsoft patent caseMicrosoft has challenged a patent infringement case that it had previously lost in the lower courts versus i4i Limited Partnership.  The case awarded $290 million to the Canadian base company for patents on the process for editing text documents.  Microsoft’s flagship office application, Microsoft Word, allegedly infringes on i4i’s patent claims.

Microsoft claims that the patent awarded to i4i is invalid and the decision should be reversed.  The court’s ruling against Microsoft was based on a 1934 patent infringement case that set a precedent of requiring “clear and convincing evidence” to declare a patent invalid.  Microsoft’s lawyers feel that this is a heightened standard, and should only require a “preponderance of evidence,”  or just proving the patent is more likely to be invalid than not.

Seth P. Waxman, a lawyer representing i4i, defended the heightened standard in place citing that it should not be so easy to overturn a government bestowed property right, like a patent.

Presiding justices seemed to favor i4i early in the discussions, though they are still without a decision and were increasingly frustrated by the end of the arguments.  With two almost equally valid debates and an important policy with vast economic consequences in question, finding the right tool to declare the deserving victor may prove very difficult.

Space X Plans Manned Missions

SpaceX, the pioneer in privatized space missions, is currently planning on sending manned space ships to Mars within the next 10 to 20 years.  In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, claimed they will send people in space in lest than 3 years, and has colonization in the company’s long term goals.

“I want SpaceX to help make life multi-planetary,” he said. “We’re going all the way to Mars, I think. Best case, 10 years, worst case, 15 to 20 years.”

The young entrepreneur, best known for co-founding PayPal and Tesla Motors, went on to clarify that SpaceX had no political interest in expanding human interest to other planets, but rather aims to serve as simply a transportation provider. “We want to be like the shipping company that brought people from Europe to America, or like the Union Pacific railroad.” said Musk.  ” Our goal is to facilitate the transfer of people and cargo to other planets, and then it’s going to be up to people if they want to go,”

While this goal is certainly ambitious, many critics have said it cannot be achieved in the set timeline, Elon is generating excitement (and jobs)  in a field that has remained stagnant for many years.  Whether or not he makes it to Mars, he is sure to be on the forefront of innovation in space travel.

Japan Power Plant Sealed Off

The Japanese government has set a 12 mile restricted zone surrounding the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant in Futaba, Japan.  Expected to last at least for the next 6 months, evacuated residents are risking fines and jail time to return to their homes and retrieve personal belongings.  In mid March the area was quickly emptied and evacuees were told they could return in a few days.  As a result many just grabbed the essentials and have been without access to their homes ever since.

The radioactive levels in the protected zone are relatively low, the current medical risk is long term exposure.  Residents and the local mayor, Katsunobu Sakurai, are upset with seemingly arbitrary 6 mile radius around the plant.

“It feels like some outsider who doesn’t know anything about our geography sat at a desk and drew these circles. The zones have zero scientific basis,” Sakurai said. “Radiation doesn’t travel in neat circles. Just putting up circles around the plant is unreasonable.”

While plans are in development to allow short bus trips to retrieve items, the two mile area closest to the plant will remain completely off limits.  Japan’s Prime Minister Naoto Kan said they will do everything possible to expedite the cleanup and allow residents to return to their homes as soon as possible.

United States Patent & Trademark Office Trademark Event

The USPTO is holding a seminar on the process of electronically filing Trademark applications.  The event will be held on Thursday, April 28 at 9:30am in the Madison Auditorium South.   Presentations will cover the Trademark Electronic Application System (TEAS) and how to best utilize the program.  Craig Morris,  Managing Attorney of the TEAS, will conduct the presentation and will also field any questions you may have about the electronic filing process.  The seminar will not be webcast as some events in the past as technical limitations will not allow it.  To sign up for attendance, visit their online registration form at:

Oracle Vs. Google Patent Infringement Case

The patent infringement lawsuit filed by Oracle last year will go to trial by November according to U.S. District Judge William Alsup, who is presiding over the case.  Alsup says the deadline stems from his limited resources, with only one law clerk at his disposal who is leaving in November, the case needs to be resolved by then.  The San Francisco judge did not set a formal trial date yet, and the two tech giants could settle before then.

Oracle contends that the Android mobile operating system infringes on the Java patents obtained by the Sun Microsystems acquisition in 2010.  Given Google’s past approach to intellectual property and the rapid expansion of the Android platform in the mobile marketplace, we fully expect this case to go to trial.

More Informative Terror-Alert System

The current highly criticized color coded system for alerting Americans will be replaced next week.  The new program , the National Terrorism Advisory System (NTAS), will provide a more specific detail about known credible threats and can be applied to localized locations such as hotels and airports.  The system will also make the information accessible from social media and will be updated every few weeks or as new information becomes available.  The distributed information can also be used to engage the public in assisting authorities, for instance finding a specific make and model of a vehicle.

The DHS and it’s efforts have been ridiculed since it’s inception following the Sept. 11 attacks.  The NTAS is a much needed replacement for the previous terror alert system which did not involve the public and was rarely ever updated.  In fact it remained at alert level “orange” for over five years.  The DHS hopes it’s newest attempt at keeping Americans safe is more successful and improves it’s public image.