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Gallagher: Does USPTO favor an international model?

December 4, 2013
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gallagher Gallagher

Those who have been paying attention to United States patent law have noticed considerable changes over the past two years. These changes have even become interesting enough to periodically appear on mainstream news and media programs.

Changes abound under 2011 America Invents Act

During the last one to two years, Title 35 – the portion of the U.S. code governing patent law – has undergone its most substantial overhaul in almost 60 years (and arguably since its inception) with the implementation of the 2011 Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (also known as the AIA). Amendments to fundamental portions of U.S. patent law have changed the ability of inventors to obtain patent protection for their inventions. In many ways, these changes can be seen as a movement away from the traditional and more equity-focused U.S. model toward a more rule-based international/European model. Many of the new provisions reflect this movement.

The most notable of these new provisions changes U.S. patent law from a “first-to-invent” system to a “first-to-file” system. In the prior first-to-invent system, if two people made the same invention around the same time, the person who made the invention first would receive the benefit of getting the 20-year monopoly provided under U.S. patent law. In the new first-to-file system, the person who filed a patent application first would receive the benefit of getting the 20-year monopoly. However, there appear to be more subtle changes geared toward an international/European model that could substantially affect an inventor’s ability to obtain a patent in the United States, although these changes could be limited in duration.

Obtaining a patent

To obtain a patent, an inventor must file an application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The patent includes two parts: the description and the claims. The description uses relatively common language to describe the objects that make up at least one version of the invention. The claims are the relatively obtuse, numbered sentences that appear on the last pages of a printed patent and are what define the metes and bounds of a granted patent, much like the text that describes the borders of real property. Examiners at the USPTO read the patent, search through old patents and other printed materials for similar technology, and make a determination whether the invention is merely an obvious advance over existing technology. If the invention is an obvious advance, a patent will not be granted. However, the inventor will be given an opportunity to amend the claims – the metes and bounds of the invention – to describe something that is more than an obvious advance over existing technology.

Changing the claims of a patent

The inventor’s ability to change the claims is limited by how the invention was described in the rest of the patent application. Claim amendments cannot introduce something that was not described in the original application. Under traditional U.S. patent law (35 U.S.C. § 112), changes to the claims of a patent are allowed if a person of ordinary skill in the field of the invention would have understood that the inventor had invented the material now being included in the patent claim. In contrast, European law (Article 123(2) of the European Patent Code) requires explicit, almost verbatim support for any claim amendments, which results in a reduced ability for the inventor to change the claims after filing when compared to the U.S. system. While there does not appear to have been any specific law or rule change, there nevertheless appears to be a shift underway moving the procedures governing examination of patents at the USPTO toward the more restrictive international/European model.

The 4-legged chair: an example

Imagine that a person invented a chair with four legs, and the patent application describes two versions of the four-legged chair: a four-legged chair with a back, and a four-legged chair with armrests. If the inventor wanted to change the claims because the patent office said that both a four-legged chair with a back and a four-legged chair with armrests were obvious advancements over prior technology, the inventor would have a different result depending on whether the U.S. or the international/European model was used. In this example there is no explicit support in the description for a four-legged chair with a back and armrests, so this change to the claims would likely be denied under the international/European model resulting in the inventor being unable to obtain a patent for the invention. However, since an ordinary person reading the description would likely believe the inventor had invented a four-legged chair with a back and armrests, this change to the claims would likely be allowed under the U.S. model, enabling the inventor to obtain a patent for the invention.

The statute governing this portion of U.S. law was not substantively changed with the AIA, so the courts will likely resist shifts away from the traditional U.S. model for determining whether support exists in the specification for the claims. Moreover, many of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions related to patent law appear to prefer a more holistic approach to applying patent law instead of the more structured international/European model. The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2007 KSR v. Teleflex decision is a good example in which a more bright-line formula developed by the Federal Circuit for determining whether a claimed invention was obvious was overruled in favor of a standard that relies more on the totality of evidence. However, there is also an undercurrent in U.S. politics that appears to believe U.S. patent law is somehow broken (a viewpoint to which I do not subscribe), so this section of U.S. patent law could potentially be modified by Congress at some point.

While there has been a definite shift toward a more international/European model in certain aspects of U.S. patent law, it appears that some of the old ways of U.S. law, which include a fair dose of equity and fairness, may not wholeheartedly embrace the more formulaic approach of the international/European model. Only time will tell how this plays out.•

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Douglas Gallagher is an attorney with Bingham Greenebaum Doll LLP. A registered patent attorney with degrees in physics and aerospace engineering, he focuses his practice on assisting new and established businesses with protecting their intellectual property assets while avoiding the intellectual property rights of others. He can be reached at 317-968-5543 or at dgallagher@bgdlegal.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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  1. I have been on this program while on parole from 2011-2013. No person should be forced mentally to share private details of their personal life with total strangers. Also giving permission for a mental therapist to report to your parole agent that your not participating in group therapy because you don't have the financial mean to be in the group therapy. I was personally singled out and sent back three times for not having money and also sent back within the six month when you aren't to be sent according to state law. I will work to het this INSOMM's removed from this state. I also had twelve or thirteen parole agents with a fifteen month period. Thanks for your time.

  2. Our nation produces very few jurists of the caliber of Justice DOUGLAS and his peers these days. Here is that great civil libertarian, who recognized government as both a blessing and, when corrupted by ideological interests, a curse: "Once the investigator has only the conscience of government as a guide, the conscience can become ‘ravenous,’ as Cromwell, bent on destroying Thomas More, said in Bolt, A Man For All Seasons (1960), p. 120. The First Amendment mirrors many episodes where men, harried and harassed by government, sought refuge in their conscience, as these lines of Thomas More show: ‘MORE: And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, *575 and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship? ‘CRANMER: So those of us whose names are there are damned, Sir Thomas? ‘MORE: I don't know, Your Grace. I have no window to look into another man's conscience. I condemn no one. ‘CRANMER: Then the matter is capable of question? ‘MORE: Certainly. ‘CRANMER: But that you owe obedience to your King is not capable of question. So weigh a doubt against a certainty—and sign. ‘MORE: Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King's command make it round? And if it is round, will the King's command flatten it? No, I will not sign.’ Id., pp. 132—133. DOUGLAS THEN WROTE: Where government is the Big Brother,11 privacy gives way to surveillance. **909 But our commitment is otherwise. *576 By the First Amendment we have staked our security on freedom to promote a multiplicity of ideas, to associate at will with kindred spirits, and to defy governmental intrusion into these precincts" Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Comm., 372 U.S. 539, 574-76, 83 S. Ct. 889, 908-09, 9 L. Ed. 2d 929 (1963) Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, concurring. I write: Happy Memorial Day to all -- God please bless our fallen who lived and died to preserve constitutional governance in our wonderful series of Republics. And God open the eyes of those government officials who denounce the constitutions of these Republics by arbitrary actions arising out capricious motives.

  3. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  4. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  5. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

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