7 Patent Reform Suggestions for Congress

After being told that patent reform in 2008 was all but a done deal, once again nothing happened.  I am happy that patent reform died in 2008 because the reforms that were being proposed were largely bad ideas, and they would have done absolutely nothing to address the many real and substantial problems that are facing the US patent system and the United States Patent & Trademark Office.  I do suspect that at some point Congress will once again take up patent reform, so I want to get my thoughts out there and on the record early.  If Congress really wants to fix the US patent system some or all of these proposals will be considered and implemented.

1. Codify the Duty of Candor

Congress should codify 37 CFR 1.56 because the Federal Circuit refuses to acknowledge the Patent Office defined duty owed by applicants and representatives. This has caused tremendous difficulty with respect to getting the industry on board with Patent Office reforms, and has lead to hostility and resentment coming from the Patent Office and directed at the Patent Bar and industry. The Patent Office wants the best art disclosed only and the Federal Circuit requires everything, so Rule 56 has been mooted by the Federal Circuit because attorneys and applicants know that if a patent issues and becomes a valuable asset the Federal Circuit will have the final word on enforceability and inequitable conduct. Understandably, attorneys and applicants follow the Federal Circuit ruling, regardless of how insane it may be, which seemingly infuriates the PTO hierarchy. This has lead to the Director of the Office of Enrollment and Discipline, Harry Moatz, to threaten in speeches that he will pursue attorneys for ethical violations when they submit to much prior art, and has lead to extreme backlash against Accelerated Examination and the proposed Examination Support Document. Even Judge Rader explained during oral arguments in the PTO claims and continuations appeal that it would be insanity to file an ESD given recent Federal Circuit rulings on inequitable conduct.  For more see Patent Reform Proposal: Codify USPTO Rule 56.

2. Amend 35 USC 103 to Moot KSR v. Teleflex

Congress should modify 35 USC 103 to moot the United States Supreme Court decision in KSR v. Teleflex. In KSR the Supreme Court created a rule that allows for inventions to be patented only when the solution is counter-intuitive. If there was any reason to pursue a particular inventive path that would make the invention obvious and unpatentable, which is nonsensical. If the KSR test is faithfully applied only those that accidentally invent or stumble upon an innovation can get patents, which means that we are now back to the “flash of creative genius” standard that Congress specifically legislated out of the Patent Laws with the 1952 Patent Act re-codification. Luckily, so far, KSR does not seem to be widely used, at least to the full extent that it could be given the language used by the Supreme Court. Nevertheless, the Board of Patent Appeals has said that their reading of KSR is that “obvious to try” is now a valid rejection. It is hard to argue with the Board’s interpretation, although previously “obvious to try” was time and time again said to be a standard that was not the law and a standard that made no sense. With the Patent Office facing extreme backlogs and more than 1.2 million pending patent applications at the end of fiscal year 2008 it can be anticipated that there will be a push to increasingly rely on KSR rejections as the new PTO administration attempts to wrestle with the current patent crisis.

Amending 103 to fix this problem would really be quite simple in reality. The last sentence of 103(a), which the Supreme Court obviously did not read during its consideration of the KSR matter, already says: “Patentability shall not be negatived by the manner in which the invention was made.” One way to modify Section 103 to affect this purpose would be to simply underline that sentence, and perhaps add the parenthetical expression “(we really mean it!)” thereafter. Seriously though, the proper way to amend Section 103 would be to simply add to this last sentence of 103 as follows: “Patentability shall not be negatived by the manner in which the invention was made, and an invention shall be deemed to be obvious only where there is a teaching, suggestion or motivation within the prior art to combine references.” By doing this the Federal Circuit law would be embraced, KSR would be mooted and we would once again have an objective standard rather than a standard based on “common sense.”

3. Codify What Constitutes Unauthorized Practice of Law

Shockingly the Patent & Trademark Office refuses to enforce 37 CFR 11.5(b), which defines prohibited representation practices before the USPTO. The Office refuses to enforce Rule 11.5(b) because they do not feel they have the authority to prevent non-attorneys from representing applications in patent and/or trademark matters. It is ridiculous to have a Rule that the Office will not enforce, particularly when the Office requires those who they recognize as patent attorneys and patent agents to take a Patent Bar Examination. The Patent Office turning the other way is why the invention scam has cost independent inventors $300 million annually due to invention scams and fraud. This is an issue that should be easy to reform in Congress given it is unthinkable that any member of Congress or any lobby would have a problem really putting the invention promotion industry out of business.

Additionally, unauthorized practice of law is even more widespread on the Trademark Office side of the building. It is impossible to do any search on any search engine for trademarks or trademark applications without finding one of the many large corporations proclaiming that they can file trademark applications for less than law firms and attorneys. These entities are engaging in the unauthorized practice of law under Rule 11.5(b) and the USPTO is doing nothing to stop them. Either Rule 11.5(b) needs to be removed, the Patent Office needs to drop the requirement that only patent attorneys can represent inventors, the Trademark Office needs to drop the requirement that only attorneys can represent business owners in trademark matters, or Congress needs to force this agency to police itself.

By the way, where are the AIPLA, the ABA, State Bar Associations and the many local Intellectual Property Bar Associations? Newsflash, your members are losing significant business and no one is doing anything about it. It is time for Bar Associations to start representing those who are members. Even if no one wants to protect the public, which really ought to be the motivation here, Bar Associations need to protect members and get involved!  For more see Sadly, Invention Promotion is Alive and Well.

4. Patent Office Ombudsman

Government Officials seem to be in love with the idea of a Czar for everything. We will soon have an Auto Czar, we have a National Security Czar, and I think we ought to have a Patent Czar that takes the form of an Ombudsman. Given that the Patent Office leadership seems to so frequently lack knowledge in the area of patent practice and procedure, and given that Congress and other politicians presumably listen to these perhaps well meaning yet uninformed officials, what is really needed is an independent and knowledgeable Ombudsman-type that can comment on everything that goes on in the Patent Office. Any time that the Patent Office sends anything to Congress, anything up through the Department of Commerce or to the Office of Management and Budget a report from the Ombudsman would accompany the Patent Office information. Similarly, any time legislation is proposed that impacts innovation and/or the Patent System the Ombudsman would create an independent informational report. Of course, this Ombudsman should be required by law to be a patent attorney with a certain number of years experience. Not that this will solve the problems, but at least those who care in government could become informed of the real ramifications of their decisions should they be so inclined to listen.

5. Move to Regional Patent Offices

As only the federal government could do, they built a brand new Patent Office building that wasn’t large enough even as of the day it opened. As sad as that is it presents opportunities. The main corporate headquarters for the Patent Office stays in the Washington, DC area, and rather than the stay at home work program, which has Examiners conducting interviews with barking dogs and whining children in the background, we move to regional Patent Offices. This has enormous benefit for multiple reasons, but first and foremost is the ability to hire more people with better skills. Let’s face it, there are only so many adequately trained and educated people who are willing to live within commuting distance of Alexandria, Virginia. The price of living and the traffic alone make choosing a career as an Examiner exceedingly difficult these days even though Examiners are paid extremely well by government standards. Additionally, by locating Patent Office strategically around the country Uncle Sam could actually participate in the revitalization of certain communities, which ought to fit right in with the Obama agenda and stimulus packages that Congress will consider later this winter.

6. Legislatively Mandate that PTO Leaders be Patent Attorneys

Unfortunately, the United States Federal District Court for the District of Columbia decided in 2008 that 35 U.S.C. 3 was nothing more than an aspiration when it decided that the challenge to the appointment of Margaret Peterlin was dead on arrival despite the fact that she had no relevant experience. In effect the District Court ruled that the fact that the Director and Deputy are to have “experience” is not something that can be enforced because the standard is too vague for court review. With that in mind, Congress should amend 35 U.S.C. 3 to mandate that the Director, Deputy Director and Commissioner, at a minimum, all have a certain number of years of patent experience prior to being eligible for appointment to the Office. Section 3 needs to have a definite and concrete definition with respect to the experience that is appropriate so that district courts can determine whether an appointment is appropriate. The Patent Office can no longer function with politically expedient appointments for those who are looking to stay in government employment. The Patent Office needs top level leadership that understand the patent system and innovation. If we can require that the President be born a U.S. citizen and needs to be at least 35 years old we should be able to tighten up this statute to make sure that people running the Patent Office are actually competent and knowledgeable.

7. Legislatively Create a Non-examined Patent

Congress should enact a new patent right that is based on registration, not examination. This non-examined patent should not be entitled to the presumption of validity, or perhaps is entitled to a shallow presumption of validity (i.e., preponderance of the evidence standard). Those inventions that are likely not to be commercially viable will find themselves being subject to registration rather than examination, thereby opening up examining resources to allow Examiners more time to adequately examine those “real” inventions that are seeking the presumption (or higher presumption) that attaches to the examined patent. This more than anything will help solve the crisis created by an ever increasing backlog of unexamined applications. It will also allow the Patent Office to provide more time per application for examiners to review those applications seeking a presumptively valid patent. This will cut down on the number of questionable examined patents that issue, which ought to have extremely positive effects on cutting down on the so-called patent troll problem because those patents that issue through examination will be of a higher quality across the board. Another extremely positive aspect of this is that it would be revenue neutral and have absolutely no impact on the Patent Office budget. Fewer examiners would be able to do more work, and the work done would be of a higher quality.

Of course, I don’t really expect any of these things to happen because they are all meritorious. When Congress ultimately gets around to patent reform again it will likely once again look like special interest legislation that is aimed at helping only those in Silicon Valley, thereby making patent reform once again nothing but a pipe dream.

About the Author

Eugene R. Quinn, Jr.
President & Founder of IPWatchdog, Inc.
US Patent Attorney (Reg. No. 44,294)

B.S. in Electrical Engineering, Rutgers University
J.D., Franklin Pierce Law Center
L.L.M. in Intellectual Property, Franklin Pierce Law CenterSend me an e-mail

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Gene is a US Patent Attorney, Law Professor and the founder of IPWatchdog.com. He teaches patent bar review courses and is a member of the Board of Directors of the United Inventors Association. Gene has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the LA Times, CNN Money and various other newspapers and magazines worldwide


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Join the Discussion

2 comments so far.

  • [Avatar for stand]
    January 8, 2009 08:50 pm

    Hi Gene,
    A very interesting wish list indeed, many of which I also wish would become true… A few that stand out brightly to me are:

    #1 This wish seems to bring the issue of the duty of candor into pretty sharp focus, at a time when it might be adverse to *legislate* it, instead of just using the tried and true methods that have worked very well for a few hundred years. If the attorney or agent isn’t able to abide by being responsible for their actions, it might be well if they got dis-barred before the USPTO. If the attorney or agent isn’t capable of providing relevant art and why it is relevant, it Might very well be construed as Inequitable Conduct, which falls into another purview, unless I am mistaken.

    #6 While I very much appreciate that any new management appointed to the USPTO should be Very Experienced Patent Practitioners, I find the distinction between Patent Attorneys and Patent Agents to be somewhat beside the point. Both of the latter are reading the same laws, the main distinction being that the Attorneys are allowed to appear in court, whereas Agents are not. On the other hand, some of the most educated and intelligent practitioners I have ever met have been Patent Agents, so excluding them from consideration seems a bit short-sighted to me. For instance, I would like to propose Don Kelly as the next Director of the USPTO, as his expereience is perfect for the job, including senior management at the USPTO in years past, and him becoming the Director of the then new Independent Inventors Program at the USPTO several years ago.

    #7 This one is pure magic in my opinion, Gene, and I very sincerely hope that it becomes true! In my opinion the last few sentences of your post seem a bit too pessimistic, but then again, I have always been an eternal optimist, so who am I to say which or what?

    Best wishes, Stan~

  • [Avatar for rccpatents]
    January 8, 2009 03:56 pm

    Mr. Quinn, I have read over your blog post and have to say that I find it to be most interesting. I have always been amazed at the fact that those in charge of the United States Patent and Trademark office are not patent attorneys, nor do they seemingly have any patent experience. I will not tell you where I stand politically, but the biggest argument over Obama coming into office is that the Presidency is not a place for on the job training. I feel that the leaders of the USPTO should be subject to such scrutiny as well. If the Federal Government were to mandate that these “leaders” be patent attorneys, less time would be devoted to insignificant decisions and more would be devoted to making a dent in the backlog.

    In addition, I agree that more needs to be done in regard to unauthorized practice of law. It seems to me that the USPTO has defeated itself in trying to remove invention scams. Instead all they have done is to put more restrictions on those who are best suited to assist inventors in acquiring patents (not to mention they are the ones most likely follow the rules) and have given the invention scams the “Green light” to continue on.

    I must say that I find your blog posts very intriguing. I give you credit for taking a stand against the USPTO. Your insights, intelligence and patent knowledge is apparent in your writing. Your website is by far the most thorough of all websites in which I have researched on Patent matters. This may sound silly, but I think you, Mr. Quinn, are far more qualified to run the USPTO than those currently in said positions. I also feel that you would be the perfect candidate for an Ombudsman if ever such a position were created.