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Common Mistakes in Patenting: Paying the Wrong Price

People say, “You get what you pay for.”  The implication is that if you pay too little, you will get an inferior product or service.  Experience suggests you get less than you pay for in some cases. Who has not paid too much for a restaurant meal, a hotel room or an article of clothing?

The same considerations apply in preparation and filing of a patent application. The price by itself is not an indicator of quality. In other words, the cheapest is not necessarily the best and the most expensive is not necessarily the best.

As in any other purchase, look for obvious high overhead costs that can drive up the price. A large office in a posh building on a desirable street costs money. If you buy services from such an office, part of the price of service is paying for the office itself. The same is true of the number of employees. Every employee is paid. If you meet three secretaries and a receptionist on your first visit to an office, part of the price of service is paying for the support staff. Evaluate your financial circumstances to see if you feel comfortable spending part of your IP budget on the “prestige” of a large office.

On the other hand, if you get a price quote that seems very low, you should also be wary. Even if the quote is a flat fee, there is always an estimated number of work hours behind it. A professional that quotes you an unusually low price may be offering to do an unusually small amount of work.

Somewhere in the middle is a price that reflects a reasonable amount of work by a skilled professional working in an organization with modest overhead costs.

Identifying a skilled professional involves trusting your instincts to a certain degree. Did the person seem conversant with the technology at your initial meeting? Did they ask appropriate questions about what is new and what is standard? Did they take an interest in, and understand, your business model?  Did they raise the subject of future product development? Finally, is the person you met with the person that will actually be doing the work?

Using this approach, you can find a service provider that will translate most of the money you pay for their service into quality work product.

admin

Are patents going to become harder to get?

Many people presume that in the age of the global village patents are international. The fact that PCT applications are referred to as “international applications” contributes to this common misconception.

Those of us that represent patent Applicants are painfully aware of the fact that the procedure for obtaining a granted patent is a country by country proposition with all of the attendant fees, laws, regulations and bureaucracy.

Even the International (PCT) stage of examination can have different results depending on which International Search Authority (ISA) the Applicant selects for their PCT application.

Results differ because each ISA has a tendency to search for references in its own primary language.

For example, The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) looks primarily for English language references, most often US patents or published US applications. The European Patent Office (EPO) is nominally comfortable citing references in English, French, or German, which means they most often cite US or EPO references, with an occasional French patent or German patent or UK patent finding its way into their search results. The Chinese Intellectual Property Office (SIPO), Japanese Patent Office (JPO) and Korean Intellectual Property Office (KIPO) each tend to focus primarily on references in their own language (including PCT applications in the relevant language). The five patent offices together are referred to as the IP5.

The net result is that different ISAs within the IP5 cite different references because they are searching different databases.

Until recently, English was king in the world of patents. More recently, the Chinese government has made patenting a national priority. As a result, the number of applications filed in China each year is greater than any of the other IP5 offices.  According to WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization) in 2016, the USPTO received 0.52 million new patent applications and the SIPO received 1.26 million new patent applications. In the same year, the JPO received 0.46 million new patent applications and the KIPO received 0.23 million new patent applications. EPO statistics indicate about 0.3 million patents were filed there in the same year.

This means in 2016 there were 0.8 million applications filed in western languages (USPTO + EPO) and 1.96 million applications filed in Asian languages (SIPO+JPO+KIPO). In other words, only about 30% of new applications are in western languages.

This means that the USPTO and EPO, by searching primarily, if not exclusively, in western language databases in their role as ISA are ignoring a significant proportion of relevant references when they examine a PCT application for patentability.

As a result, many western Applicants are surprised by Asian language references discovered for the first time during national stage examination in China and/or Korea and/or Japan. Conversely many Asian Applicants are surprised by western language references discovered for the first time during national stage examination in the USPTOand/or the EPO.

In order to address this issue the IP5 have instituted a pilot program called “IP5 PCT Collaborative Search & Examination” (abbreviated as CSE). According to this program, an Applicant selects one of the IP5 offices as a main ISA. The main ISA performs a search and prepares a draft  international search report (ISR) and written opinion (WO). The draft ISR/WO and a record of the search is  shared with the other four offices  in the IP5 (peer offices).

The peer offices review the draft ISR/WO, perform additional searching as deemed necessary, and provide comments back to the main ISA. The main ISA then prepares the final ISR/WO, taking into account the peer contributions.

The following process model provided by WIPO presents the procedure schematically:

Note that at this stage participation in the CSE program is purely voluntary and you need to file a request to be included.

However, if the CSE program becomes standard, PCT applications will routinely be exposed to more references, in more languages, at the international stage. That would almost certainly make patents harder to get in specific countries during the national stage.

Alternatively, routine exposure of PCT applications to more references, in more languages, at the international stage could lead to granting of narrower claims, which consider the prior art, in the national stage. These narrower claims would presumably fare better during opposition, inter partes review and infringement litigation.

admin

Is it better to work with a solo practitioner or a law firm?

A potential client asked me the other day if his company’s interests would be better served by working with a solo practitioner legal representative like me, or with a larger firm to prepare and file a patent application.  There are advantages and disadvantages to each. If you are considering filing a patent application, consider these factors before choosing a representative. Look for advantages that are relevant to you in the present, or near future. De-emphasize disadvantages that are likely to only be relevant in the distant future.

Solo practitioner advantages

The person you speak to during your first meeting is the person that you will be working with throughout preparation and filing of the application and responses to examination reports. If there are additional applications, the same person will be handling those, and will be able to place them in context relative to the earlier application(s).

You often get more value for money working with a solo practitioner than working with a larger firm. There are two reasons for this.

The main reason you get more value for money is that overhead costs for a solo practitioner are typically lower. The money you pay is going primarily for professional services, and not to support a large staff and extensive office space. Having worked in large offices I know that only 35% to 50% of money billed to a client for professional services goes to the person that did the professional work.  As a result, the professional in a large firm is under pressure to generate sufficient billings to pay their own salary. It was a big relief to set up my own practice and have the luxury of devoting two or three times more hours to each task. Note that the billing from the solo practitioner is not necessarily lower, but the quality of the work product is potentially much greater.

The subsidiary reason you get more value for money is that your application makes up a larger proportion of the total workload in a solo practice, than in a large office. That means each task “feels” more important to the person doing it. This subsidiary reason complements the main reason to virtually insure you get more value for money working with a solo practitioner than working with a larger firm.

Large firm advantages

Larger firms can offer a wider variety of services. For example, a large firm may have separate departments for preparing patent applications (and responding to examination reports), litigation, licensing and opinions. Depending on where your company is in terms of business development, you may not need help with licensing for many years. Most firms would like to avoid litigation altogether for as long as possible, and many succeed in doing so. Consider how many of the departments at a large firm you really need.

Large firm disadvantages

Many larger firms like to bill for even the smallest of tasks, It is easy for them to do this because a half to two thirds of the money you pay them goes to overhead cost that pay for a clerical staff among other things. A client once came to me with a case that had originated at Firm X. I asked why he was transferring from Firm X.  The reply: “I didn’t mind being billed 500$ for a paper clip, but I was never really sure that I got the paperclip.” Small charges like per charge pages for photocopying and FAX transmissions can add up over time.

Many larger firms require multiple rounds of review by different people. In theory this is an advantage. In practice, if you are billed by the hour for each review, it detracts from the value for money. This is especially true if an unreasonably large number of rounds of review are implemented.

Overhead costs for a large firm are a big concern.  If the receptionist that greets you, invites you to sit in a 5000$ leather sofa and offers you a choice of beverages that puts Starbucks to shame  has a 200$ hairstyle and a 60$ manicure, you should wonder how the money you spend in that office is being used.

Many larger firms will have a partner attend the initial meeting. Is that partner the person t5hat will actually be writing your application? Has that partner written any applications in the last year? Five years? Who will actually be doing your work? Are they at the initial meeting? How much experience do they have?

Solo practitioner disadvantages

 One person does it all. If they are not qualified, this is a disadvantage. Ask yourself what impression that person made on you at an initial meeting. Did they ask relevant questions? Did they take time to make sure you understand the patent process from an administrative and financial perspective? Did they ask about your business development plans, without regard to the proposed patent application. This disadvantage may be minor, or major. Think carefully and give it the appropriate weight when choosing a representative.

If you think a solo practitioner might be right for you lets talk about whether I might be the right choice. Contact me to set up an initial consultation without cost or obligation.

admin

Bullying as a Third Millennium Business Practice

In many contexts, bullying is an unacceptable practice. However, in business a legally defined type of bullying is not only accepted, but encouraged. We are talking about patents of course. In the United States, the right of an inventor to patent their invention is established in the constitution. Thomas Jefferson, who drafted the constitution, felt that patents were so important that he served as commissioner of patents from 1790 to 1793.

Grant of a patent by the government is a license to the inventor to “draw a line in the sand”. If someone steps over the line, the inventor can “smack” them with an infringement lawsuit. As with actual schoolyard bullying, not everyone that draws a line follows through with a smack.

Sometime in June of 2018 the US Patent and Trademark Office will issue patent number ten million.  The fact that patent number ten million is being granted is not that interesting. What is interesting is that the speed with which patents are being granted is accelerating. The table below shows that both the number of years for each successive million patents, and the doubling time for granted patents are decreasing.

By graphing this data (below) we can see that the number of years to add a million granted patents is at an all time low. The doubling time of just over 27 years is lower than at any time since 1935 (when doubling meant adding only one million patents).

So what do all these numbers mean? Some would argue that the increased rater of patent grant indicates “poor quality patents”.  With respect, I have to disagree. It is widely reported that 80 to 85% of business assets are intangible. As recently as 1975, only 15 to 20%  of business assets were intangible. Intangible assets includes, among other things, patents.

As the emphasis on intangible assets has increased, the emphasis on the importance of patents has increased along with it. That is, in large part, because the best way to scare a bully is by having the appearance of a bully. While few companies actually want the incredible expense and headache of an infringement lawsuit, many companies want to give the appearance of being ready for an infringement lawsuit. Having an extensive patent portfolio provides that appearance.

If a company is making a lot of money from their technology one of two things is likely to happen:

(1)          A competitor will appear in the marketplace with similar or identical technology. In this scenario patents on the technology held by the company serve as a sword. As in actual conflict, it is often sufficient to use the sword as a threat, without actually attacking the opponent.

(2)          A competitor will appear with patents on similar or identical technology. In this scenario patents held by the company on the technology serve as a shield. Patents held by the company on the technology can be used to threaten a countersuit. This is analogous to the cold war policy of “mutual assured destruction”.  If both sides stockpile patents, neither side can really risk a lawsuit.

The sword of (1) and the shield of (2) probably explain a significant part of the acceleration in patent grants illustrated in table 1.

admin

A Good Form of Reform

An earlier post dealt with the question “What form Reform?” We now have at least a partial answer to that question. A series of amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure took effect on December 1, 2015. A number of these changes will influence patent litigation.
The first, and perhaps most dramatic,change is that Rule 84 was eliminated. Rule 84 used to say “…the forms in the appendix suffice under
pleadings1these rule
s.“ Under Rule 84, completion of Form 18 was  sufficient for filing of an infringement suit.Elimination of Rule 84 leaves rule 8(a)(2) in control. Rule 8(a)(2) requires that a complaint must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.”The Supreme Court has interpreted rule 8(a)(2) in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007) and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009). Neither of these cases is a patent infringement case.In Iqbal the Court summarized the requirements of sufficiency of pleadings that it had set forth earlier in Twombly (emphases added):

Two working principles underlie our decision in Twombly. First, the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. … Second, only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss. Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will, as the Court of Appeals observed, be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense. In keeping with these principles a court considering a motion to dismiss can choose to begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth. While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations. When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief. Our decision in Twombly illustrates the two-pronged approach.

 

In the context of patent litigation the old Rule 84 created a dichotomy between “judicial experience” and “common sense”. Elimination of Rule 84 opens the door to common sense, amd the Supreme court has defined this term to some extent by requiring “factual allegations” which must be “well pleaded”.  It is not yet clear how high the bar will be for a claim to survive a motion to dismiss, but it will undoubtedly be higher than the bar set by the old form 18.

 

Raising the bar for filing a patent infringement complaint may do more to curb dubious patent suits than all of the proposed “patent reform” bills that congress has been considering over the last few years would have done if they had all been voted into law. This is a welcome change because it will be applied to all players in the game, whether they are practicing entities or not.The second change is that procedures will move faster. The new versions of rules 4(m), 16, and 26(f) mean that due dates for various pre-trial events will be 30 to 60 days earlier. This may work to the advantage of patentees because they can get their materials ready in advance, before filing the complaint. Accused infringers will have less time to get organized to respond. discovery 2

 

 

The third change deals with the scope of discovery. Rule 26(b)(1) now limits discovery to material which  “is relevant to any party’s claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case” (amended text in italics). Under old rule 26(b)(2) proportionality limitations only applied if there was a court order to that effect. Now they are the default.

 

The proportionality analysis considers: 

  1. a) the importance of the issues at stake; 
  2. b) the amount in controversy; 
  3. c) the parties’ relative access to relevant information; 
  4. d) the parties’ resources; 
  5. e) the importance of the discovery in resolving the issues; and 
  6. f) whether the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit.

 

The new version of Rule 26(c)(1)(B) provides that “the allocation of expenses” can be included in a protective order. This means that the court can allocate the cost of discovery, or portions of the discovery, to one of the parties in the suit.

 

The net effect of these changes to the discovery rules may be more modest discovery requests and/or more judicial limitation of sweeping discovery requests.

 

In summary, the new rules seem to offer significant protection against abuse of the system by wealthy players enforcing patents with vague claims against large numbers of alleged infringers. It remains to be seen whether these measures will dampen the public outcry to “fix” the patent system.

admin

Oh Lord Let Me Drive My Mercedes Benz

Janis Joplin is famous for asking the Lord to buy her a Mercedes Benz. Presumably she would have wanted to drive the car even if she were intoxicated or otherwise impaired.

The Court of Appeals of the Federal Circuit recently decided   (in Vehicle Intelligence v. Mercedes-Benz December 28, 2015) that some claims directed to a “method to screen an equipment operator for impairment” are patent ineligible under §101 as being directed towards an abstract idea.

However, the CAFC did not invalidate slightly narrower claims in the same patent which are directed towards a “method to screen an equipment operator for intoxication” because those claims were not at issue. The difference is moot for Janis but those of us that still want to drive, and understand how §101 is being viewed by the courts have a lot to learn from this case.

Vehicle Intelligence and Safety had sued Mercedes Benz USA for infringement of US 7,394,392 in the Northern District of Illinois. The district court ruled claims 8, 9 and 11-18 patent ineligible under §101 as being directed towards an abstract idea.The CAFC affirmed that decision indicating that the “…disputed claims cover only abstract ideas coupled with routine data-gathering steps and conventional computer activity…”

The ‘392 patent contains two independent method claims, 1 and 8. They are reproduced side by side here with each step in boldface and differentiating language underlined:

 

1. A method to screen an equipment operator for intoxication, comprising:

screening an equipment operator by one or more expert systems to measure at least one type of chemical in the air in proximity to the equipment operator to detect potential intoxication;

selectively testing said equipment operator when said screening indicates potential intoxication of said equipment operator; and

controlling operation of said equipment if said selective testing of said equipment operator indicates said intoxication of said equipment operator.

8. A method to screen an equipment operator for impairment, comprising:

screening an equipment operator by one or more expert systems to detect potential impairment of said equipment operator;

selectively testing said equipment operator when said screening of said equipment operator detects potential impairment of said equipment operator; and

controlling operation of said equipment if said selective testing of said equipment operator indicates said impairment of said equipment operator, wherein said screening of said equipment operator includes a time-sharing allocation of at least one processor executing at least one expert system.  

Each of claims 1 and 8 recites three steps: screening, selectively testing and controlling operation. The preamble of claim 1 is narrow (screen… for intoxication) while the preamble of claim 8 is broader (screen…for impairment).

The screening step of claim 1 is likewise narrower (measurechemical in the air in proximity to the equipment operator to detect potential intoxication) relative to the corresponding step in claim 8 (detect potential impairment).

 

This difference in scope is repeated in the selectively testing step (claim 1 potential intoxication vs claim 8 potential impairment) and again in the controlling operation step (claim 1 indicates said intoxication vs claim 8 indicates said impairment).

 

Up to this point the draftsman of the claims has limited claim 1 to the species “intoxication” while directing claim 8 towards the entire genus of “impairment”.

 

In order to limit the scope of claim 8, that claim recites a limitation on the screening which is not parallel to claim 1:  wherein said screening of said equipment operator includes a time-sharing allocation of at least one processor executing at least one expert system.  

 

Claim 1 meets the requirements of §101 while claim 8 does not. Since the issue is abstract ideas as evaluated by the Mayo/Alice test we can infer that claim 1 is significantly more than the abstract idea of “…testing operators of any kind of moving equipment for any kind of physical or mental impairment” because (a) it recites a specific impairment type (intoxication) and/or (b) it recites a specific screening method (measurechemical in the air in proximity to the equipment operator). Inference is required because claim 1 was not reviewed on appeal.

In contrast, the Court equated the broad scope of claim 8 with abstraction:  “None of the claims at issue are limited to a particular kind of impairment, explain how to perform either screening or testing for any impairment, specify how to program the “expert system” to perform any screening or testing, or explain the nature of control to be exercised on the vehicle in response to the test results.”

Claim 11 (dependent from claim 8) is interesting in this regard because it recites a Markush Group list of physiologic parameters of the operator. However, the claim preamble indicates “…further comprising measuring…” so that the physiologic parameters are assigned neither to the screening nor to the testing of base claim 8. Under those circumstances the court did not find this claim instructive as to how to perform either screening or testing for any impairment even though one of the parameters in the Markush Group is chemical in proximity to the equipment operator which is similar to claim 1.

There are at least four lessons to be learned from this case:

The first lesson is that broad claim scope may be interpreted as abstraction.

The second lesson is that the Court reviewed the specification before rendering a decision on whether the claims contained “significantly more” than the abstract idea. This implies the degree of abstractness (or definiteness) of claim language is related to corresponding explanatory passages in the specification.

The third lesson is that the Court took a dim view of the patentee’s attempts to link the claim language to a particular machine:

“Vehicle Intelligence’s argument harkens back to our preAlice machine-or-transformation test in arguing that the claimed methods are tied to particular machines and that alone is sufficient to confer eligibility. But, postMayo/Alice, this is no longer sufficient to render a claim patent-eligible. DDR Holdings, LLC v. Hotels.com, L.P., 773 F.3d 1245, 1256 (Fed. Cir. 2014). Merely stating that the methods at issue are performed on already existing vehicle equipment, without more, does not save the disputed claims from abstraction.”

The fourth lesson is that the Court views its own earlier decision in DDR holdings as being narrowly applicable to computer networks:“The claims at issue are not “necessarily rooted in computer technology in order to overcome a problem specifically arising in the realm of computer networks” as in DDR Holdings. 773 F.3d at 1257. The claims do not address a problem arising in the realm of computer networks—they are broadly drafted to cover testing a vehicle operator for impairments, similar to a police officer field testing a driver for sobriety.”

Although this decision is marked non-precedential it is worth considering when drafting a set of claims.

 

 

 

 

admin

What Should My Patent Agent Do?

President John F. Kennedy said: “…ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you canListen Respond

do for your country.” Both the inventor meets and the patent agent should us that as a motto

from the first time they meet.

From their first meeting, the inventor and agent share a common goal: getting a patent granted on

the invention. The inventor is the undisputed expert in the technology behind the invention. The

agent has experience in the legal requirements for getting a patent granted. Together, the inventor

and agent go through a four stage process. The stages are disclosure of the invention, preparation

of a patent application, filing of the application and examination of the application.

Typically, the inventor has much less experience in the “examination” than the agent. The

agent’s experience in examination of cases relating to other inventions means they can offer

guidance to the inventor during disclosure of the invention and preparation of the patent

application. Here is a brief description of how the inventor and agent can interact during the for

stages.

Disclosure of the Invention

Since the inventor is the undisputed expert in the technology behind the invention, this is the

stage where the inventor is most active. The agent’s role at this stage is to guide the inventor in

providing relevant material in an appropriate format and with sufficient detail. During this stage

the inventor and agent should discuss topics such as how the invention differs from previous

solutions to a similar problem, which portions of the invention are new and which portions

merely employ existing technology to perform its traditional function, and how the invention fits

into a business plan. It is important that the inventor disclose the invention to the agent before

making any public disclosure (e.g. presentation at a conference or trade show; publication of an

article; advertisement; Internet site or solicitation of a production contract from an outside

source)

The inventor can save time and money by coming to an initial consultation prepared to discuss

these issues and with drawings and/or text to accompany their verbal explanation. At the end of

this stage agent and inventor should both understand what portions of the invention are essential,

and which features are optional.

Preparation of a Patent Application

During this stage, the agent is more active but the inventor still plays an active role. Together the

agent and inventor agree on a set of patent claims which define the scope of protection desired.

The agent should explain the role of independent claims and dependent claims so the inventor

can offer meaningful input at this stage. It is often appropriate to organize the claims in sets, with

each set directed to a different aspect of the invention.

Once the claims are agreed upon, the agent can proceed to write a complete application. During

writing, additional questions may occur to the agent. The inventor should do their best to answer

these questions in as much detail as possible.

The agent provides a complete draft of the application to the inventor for review. The inventor

should thoroughly review the entire application and make comments. It is the inventor’s job to

make sure that all relevant details are presented in a way that will be understood by someone that

reads the application. Any concerns the inventor has should be addressed by the agent.

Once the inventor and agent agree that the application is accurate and complete, the application

is ready for filing.

Filing of the Application

This stage is purely administrative and is done by the agent. Prior to filing the inventor and agent

should discuss whether the application is to be a provisional patent application (PPA) or a

regular utility application. Once that decision has been made, the agent will provide any

necessary forms for inventor signature. Filing is typically done online and a filing confirmation

can be provided the same day.

Examination of the Application

This is often the most frustrating stage for the inventor for two reasons.

The first reason for frustration is that it takes a long time. The average time for receipt of a first

Office Action (Examination Export) in the United States is about 17 months. If you file your

application as a PPA add 12 months to that figure. Depending on how many rounds of

examination there are, the total time to grant can be much longer.

The second reason for frustration is that it patent Examiners typically reject all claims in the first

Office Action. The inventor needs to be prepared for this. The fact that all claims are initially

rejected does not necessarily mean that no patent will be granted.

Once the Office Action is received the inventor has the opportunity to provide a written

response. The written response should point out reasons why the grounds for rejection are

incorrect.

There are two categories of reasons why the grounds for rejection may be incorrect.

The first category of reasons why the grounds for rejection may be incorrect is technical reasons.

Technical reasons are based upon an incorrect interpretation of cited references by the Examiner.

The agent will try to identify as many technical reasons as they can, but the inventor has an

important role to play here in identifying technical reasons and/or criticizing technical reasons

proposed by the agent.

The second category of reasons why the grounds for rejection may be incorrect is legal reasons.

The agent takes primary responsibility for formulating legal reasons but the inventor will have

valuable input here. Many legal arguments rest upon what a hypothetical “person of ordinary

skill in the art” (POSITA) would or would not think or understand based upon the teachings of

the application under examination or based upon the teachings of reference(s) cited by the

Examiner. The inventor is often in a better position to evaluate what a POSITA might think than

the agent.

Once the agent and inventor have discussed the rejections in the Office Action and any relevant

legal and/or technical arguments they are in a position to formulate a response strategy. The

response strategy may include amendments to the language of the claims so long as the

amendments are supported by the application as filed. Before filing claim amendments it is

important that the inventor discuss the impact of the proposed amendments on the business plan.

Once an amendment strategy has been agreed upon, the agent prepares a draft response for

approval by the inventor. As with the application, the inventor should review this response to

make sure that it is complete and accurate.

In many cases, follow up of the written response with a telephone interview can be productive. If

your agent does not suggest a telephone interview, you may want to ask about the possibility of

an interview.

If an interview is scheduled, preparation of a list of talking points can be helpful. Interviews are

typically limited to 30 minutes and it is rare to get more than one interview per office action. A

list of talking points can help the agent present arguments in a logical and convincing order.

Even though the arguments are all present in the written response, discussion can help make the

Examiner more receptive.

Summary

View your patent agent as partner in pursuing a common goal. Let their expertise complement

your own and cooperate fully with requests to provide information or review documents.

admin

Seven Things You Can Do Before Purchasing Legal Services (Part 1)

This article is written primarily for the benefit of the consumer / client. However, this is valuable information for providers of Legal Services as well. Why? Just as any defense attorney will tell you that one key to success is to completely understand your opponent, it is critical to understand the needs of the client to get to a point where an agreement will be made to engage in a mutually beneficial business transaction.

This is the first part of a two part series. Look for part 2, Seven Things You Can Do to Get Good Value When Purchasing Legal Services in the upcoming weeks.

1) Define your needs: Ask yourself, how complex is the legal matter? For example, a person that has been married once and has two children will have a much simpler time making a will than a person that has been married four times and has children from each marriage.

2) Assess the risk of future disputes: The risk may be related to complexity (e.g. the more children and spouses, the more likely that one or more of them will contest the will), or to the nature of the parties to the matter. For example, if you are selling your vacation cabin to your brother-in-law, there may be less risk than if you sell the same property to an unknown purchaser that responded to an Internet listing. For some very low risk matters, the quality of service may be a negligible factor, provided that it is above a minimum threshold. In these very low risk matters there is almost no additional “bang” for each additional “buck”.

3) Define your budget: Even if you eventually exceed your budget, starting with a budget can help you identify added value, if potential service providers try to sell it to you. For determining an initial budget, think of the legal service you are purchasing in terms what you are protecting with it. For example, if you get a ticket for driving while intoxicated (DWI), the cost of the ticket may be $500. In addition, your auto insurance premium will go up by $5,000/year for 5 years ($25,000). In addition, the judge may suspend your license for up to two months. You estimate that making alternative transportation arrangements for two months would cost you an additional $2,000. That means the total cost could be $27,500. Ask yourself how much you are willing to spend to avoid all, or most, of that cost. Then factor in the intangibles like the headache of making alternative transportation arrangements.

4) Be prepared: Prepare written material that is relevant to the task. For example, if you are making a will, a list of assets is needed, as well as a list of beneficiaries and an allocation plan. For a real estate transaction, you need the details of the property, the buyer, and the seller. Coming to the first meeting prepared makes it easier for the attorney to offer you a good price.

5) Get personal recommendations: Ask people whom you trust to recommend people whom they trust. For example, if you have a tax attorney, that attorney may be able to recommend someone that specializes in estate planning or real estate transactions.

6) Get online ratings: Look for online ratings or recommendations in the relevant field of service.

7) Make a preliminary decision and schedule an initial consultation.Make sure to ask whether you will be billed for the initial consultation, and if so, what will the cost be and will it be included as part of the overall fee for service.

After completing Items 1 through 7, you are ready to make a purchase decision. See part two in the upcoming weeks for advice on how to make that decision.

Please share your story of purchasing legal services, and why you were satisfied or unsatisfied with the experience by e-mail to: Legal.Comment.2015@gmail.com

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Seven Things You Can Do Before Purchasing Legal Services (Part 2)

 

This is the second part of a two part series. Part 1 provided practical advice on how to define your task and identify relevant candidates to provide the service you need. This installment provides suggestions for selecting the service provider that is right for you. Click on the link below to read or refresh your memory on the advice from Part 1.

1)   Based upon your evaluation of complexity and risk, start shopping for relevant service providers: Low complexity/low risk matters can often be handled by solo practitioners or small offices with relevant experience. Higher complexity/higher risk matters may be more suitable for “full service firms”. Even among large firms, there may be significant differences in approach and/or costs.

Using the DWI example from Part 1 you might find one attorney that offers to represent you for $1,500. His strategy is to plead your outstanding record in the past, your status in the community and a willingness to enter a guilty plea to reckless driving and pay the $500 fine. Total cost for this package is $2,000. He estimates your chance of success at 75%.

You might find a second attorney that offers to represent you for $3,000. Her strategy is to prove that the township where your ticket was issued has not calibrated their breathalyzer equipment in accord with legal requirements. That would make the breathalyzer results inadmissible as evidence. She says she has access to the only approved testing center in your state and she knows the testing center has not received any orders from the township in over two years, when the regulations require calibration of equipment every six months. She proposes that you not offer to plead guilty to any charge or pay any fine. Total cost for this package is $3,000. She estimates your chance of success at 99%.

2)   Remember your budget: Spending more than you expected is not necessarily bad, as long as you know why you are spending the extra money and are satisfied that the added expense is adding appropriate value. In the DWI case above spending an extra $1,000 for the second attorney increases your estimated chance of success by nearly a third. The reason is the difference in proposed strategy. There is also the tangible benefit of not having points for reckless driving on your license.

3) Ask hard questions: Ask the higher priced service providers why their prices are higher. Listen for the word “value” in their answers.   Ask the lower priced service providers why their prices are lower. Listen to their answers to see if they are skimping on value. The illustration shows how price and value are not necessarily related.

4) Be observant: If you go to an initial consultation and are escorted to a conference room with museum quality art by a receptionist with a $1,000 outfit you know that clients are covering that cost. On the other hand, if the place of business is too shabby, that may mean not enough income to meet operating costs. Look for a comfortable middle ground.

5) Define the task: Ask what is included and what is extra. Discuss schedule to completion and milestones. Ask who will be doing the work and how many people will be working on the task. Try to understand what each person does for you, as opposed to their employer.

6) Demand to be the boss: This does not mean you should try to second guess the professionals. It means you should make it clear that anyone assigned to your task is working primarily to serve your interest as a client, and not to meet billing quotas imposed on them by the firm. Of course, this has to be done in a low key way. You want the person that is doing your task to be interested in doing a good job for you. Provoking hostility will not serve that goal. Just make it clear that you are purchasing professional service, not hours.

7) Trust your gut: Your first impression is often correct. If somebody rubs you the wrong way, there is probably a reason for it. Remember though, you are choosing a professional service provider. Differences in politics, musical taste and fashion preferences are not important. Look at the candidates in their professional context.

Thanks to all who sent us e-mail after Part 1 was published. We received some great feedback on both ends of the spectrum: those who were extremely satisfied with the services that were provided to them and those who decided that price does not always equate to “value”.

Please share your story of purchasing legal services, and why you were satisfied, or unsatisfied with the experience to: Legal.Comment.2015@gmail.com

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Does the End Justify the Means

Patents page

On June 16 2015 the CAFC delivered a precedential opinion in Williamson v Citrix.The panel considering the case was expanded to en banc to consider the role of the word “means” in invoking §112; paragraph 6 (now §112(f) of the AIA).
Although issues of infringement were also considered, this post relates only to the new standards established by the Court for use of §112 paragraph 6. Only the highlighted termin claim 8 raised §112 paragraph 6 issues:
A system for conducting distributed learning among a plurality of computer systems coupled to a network, the system comprising:
a presenter computer system of the plurality of computer systems coupled to the network and comprising:
a content selection control for defining at least one remote streaming data source and for selecting one of the remote streaming data sources for viewing; and
a presenter streaming data viewer for displaying data produced by the selected remote streaming data source;
an audience member computer system of the plurality of computer systems and coupled to the presenter computer system via the network, the audience member computer system comprising:
an audience member streaming data viewer for displaying the data produced by the selected remote streaming data source; and
a distributed learning server remote from the presenter and audience member computer systems of the plurality of computer systems and coupled to the presenter computer system and the audience member computer system via the network and comprising:
a streaming data module for providing the streaming data from the remote streaming data source selected with the content selection control to the presenter and audience member computer systems; and
a distributed learning control module for receiving communications transmitted between the presenter and the audience member computer systems and for relaying the communications to an intended receiving computer system and for coordinating the operation of the streaming data module
In a footnote to the decision we are reminded that overruling of prior precedent can only be done by the court en banc, so other members of the court join the panel for part II.C.1 of the decision.
The court begins by stating that precedent has long recognized the importance of the presence or absence of the word “means.” However the judges go on to state that historically “…our cases have emphasized that the essential inquiry is not merely the presence or absence of the word “means” but whether the words of the claim are understood by persons of ordinary skill in the art to have a sufficiently definite meaning as the name for structure. Greenberg, 91 F.3d at 1583 (“What is important is . . . that the term, as the name for structure, has a reasonably well understood meaning in the art.”).”
We are reminded that it was only in 2004 that the idea that “the presumption flowing from the absence of the term ‘means’ is a strong one that is not readily overcome” (emphasis added)…” Lighting World, Inc. v. Birchwood Lighting, Inc., 382 F.3d 1354, 1358 (Fed. Cir. 2004) was put forth, although that decision cited a 1999 Federal Circuit decision.
In 2012, the court “…raised the bar even further, declaring that “[w]hen the claim drafter has not signaled his intent to invoke § 112, ¶ 6 by using the term ‘means,’ we are unwilling to apply that provision without a showing that the limitation essentially is devoid of anything that can be
construed as structure”.
Subsequent decisions in Lighting World, Inventio, Flo Healthcare and Apple established a heightened bar to overcoming the presumption that a limitation expressed in functional language without using the word “means” is not subject to § 112, para. 6.
However that era has come to an end. The court explicitly states:
Our consideration of this case has led us to conclude that such a heightened burden is unjustified and that we should abandon characterizing as “strong” the presumption that a limitation lacking the word “means” is not subject to § 112, para. 6. That characterization is unwarranted, is uncertain in meaning and application, and has the inappropriate practical effect of placing a thumb on what should otherwise be a balanced analytical scale. It has shifted the balance struck by Congress in passing § 112, para. 6 and has resulted in a proliferation of functional claiming untethered to § 112, para. 6 and free of the strictures set forth in the statute. Henceforth, we will apply the presumption as we have done prior toLighting World, without requiring any heightened evidentiary showing and expressly overrule the characterization of that presumption as “strong.” We also overrule the strict requirement of “a showing that the limitation essentially is devoid of anything that can be construed as structure.”
This “precedential” decision is actually much closer to the Supplementary Examination Guidelines for Determining Compliance with 35 U.S.C. 112 and for Treatment of Related Issues in Patent Applications from the Federal register of February 9, 2011 that the intervening CAFC decisions mentioned above.
Both the Williamson decision and the supplementary guidelines suggest that “nonce” words such as “mechanism” or “module” are not inherently structural.
Of course once a claim is deemed to be a means plus function claim (as happened in this case) the question immediately arises as to whether sufficient structure is disclosed to avoid an indefiniteness rejection (§112 second paragraph /(b) in the AIA). In this case the answer was no because there was no algorithmic structure for implementing the claimed functions in the written description. More specifically: “the claim does not describe how the “distributed learning control module” interacts with other components in the distributed learning control server in a way that might inform the structural character of the limitation-in question or otherwise impart structure to the “distributed learning control module” as recited in the claim.”
Review of the specification revealed that it “fails to disclose structure corresponding to the “coordinating” function.” of the “distributed learning control module”.
Expert testimony that one of ordinary skill in the art could easily implement the claimed function was no help:
“…the fact that one of skill in the art could program a computer to perform the recited functions cannot create structure where none otherwise is disclosed.”
Disclosed structures must correspond to the claimed functions:
Structure disclosed in the specification qualifies as “corresponding structure” if the intrinsic evidence clearly links or associates that structure to the function recited in the claim. Id.(citing B. Braun Med., Inc. v. Abbott Labs., 124 F.3d 1419, 1424 (Fed. Cir. 1997)). Even if the specification discloses corresponding structure, the disclosure must be of “adequate” corresponding structure to achieve the claimed function. Id. at 1311–12 (citing In re Donaldson Co., 16 F.3d 1189, 1195 (Fed. Cir. 1994) (en banc)). Under 35 U.S.C. § 112, paras. 2 and 6, therefore, if a person of ordinary skill in the art would be unable to recognize the structure in the specification and associate it with the corresponding function in the claim, a means plus-function clause is indefinite. Id. at 1312 (citing AllVoice Computing PLC v. Nuance Commc’ns, Inc., 504 F.3d 1236, 1241 (Fed. Cir. 2007))
One of the most puzzling things in this decision is the reference to “special purpose” computers:
The written description of the ’840 patent makes clear that the distributed learning control module cannot be implemented in a general purpose computer, but instead must be implemented in a special purpose computer—a general purpose computer programmed to perform particular functions pursuant to instructions from program software. A special purpose computer is required because the distributed learning control module has specialized functions as outlined in the written description. See, e.g., ’840 patent col.5 ll.48–64. In cases such as this, involving a claim limitation that is subject to § 112, para. 6 that must be implemented in a special purpose computer, this court has consistently required that the structure disclosed in the specification be more than simply a general purpose computer or microprocessor.
E.g., Aristocrat Techs. Austl. Pty Ltd. v. Int’l Game Tech., 521 F.3d 1328, 1333 (Fed. Cir. 2008) (citing WMS Gaming, Inc. v. Int’l Game Tech., 184 F.3d 1339 (Fed. Cir. 1999)). We require that the specification disclose an algorithm for performing the claimed function. Net MoneyIN, Inc. v. VeriSign, Inc., 545 F.3d 1359, 1367 (Fed. Cir. 2008). The algorithm may be expressed as a mathematical formula, in prose, or as a flow chart, or in any other manner that provides sufficient structure. Noah, 675 F.3d at 1312 (citing Finisar Corp. v. DirecTV Grp., Inc., 523 F.3d 1323, 1340 (Fed. Cir. 2008)).
This is puzzling because the abstract idea, expressed as an algorithm, is simply instructions to “implement it” on a general purpose computer. In cases like Alice that type of algorithm/computer combination raised §101 issues. In this case it is proposed as a solution to § 112 issues.
In this case the court made it abundantly clear that figures of user interfaces do not constitute an algorithm corresponding to the claimed functions.
Summary: For those of us working with computer implemented inventions the combination of §101; §112 paragraph 6 and §112 paragraph 2 is beginning to look like the Bermuda triangle. The only advice to offer is include lots of diagrams and text about how your algorithms work. That way if §112 paragraph six becomes an issue, you will hopefully have sufficient structure to avoid an indefiniteness rejection based upon §112 second paragraph. The interplay with §101 is not yet clear.
In a dissenting opinion, Judge Newman indicated:
The court en banc changes the law and practice of 35 U.S.C. § 112 paragraph 6, by eliminating the statutory signal of the word “means.” The purpose of this change, the benefit, is obscure. The result, however, is clear: additional uncertainty of the patent grant, confusion in its interpretation, invitation to litigation, and disincentive to patent-based innovation.
Many readers may agree with Judge Newman.

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