Josh Malone quit his corporate job in 2006 to take his shot at the Inventor’s Dream. Eight years later, savings depleted and kids college unfunded, he took one last swing before trudging back to the corporate world. And hit a homerun with Bunch O Balloons. His solution to the 63 year old problem of filling and sealing water balloons instantly became the number one selling summer toy. His invention was stolen by a notorious infringer who convinced the USPTO to revoke his patent under a controversial procedure of the 2011 America Invents Act. A brutal and costly legal battle combined with a anti-corruption crusade ultimately resulted in a $31 million award and restoration of his patent rights. He is now a full time volunteer with the inventor advocacy organization, US Inventor.
In early August, Senator Tillis (R-NC) proposed legislation called the Patent Eligibility Restoration Act of 2022, (S. 4734). US Inventor wrote a response to this legislation showing how it will destroy already damaged patent protection for U.S. software inventors and startups. Included in this destruction will be some of the most important inventions to U.S. technological development, economic growth and national security, like artificial intelligence, security systems, block chain, quantum computing, and much more, including anything that could compete with Big Tech’s core technology. This legislation is dangerously misguided. In a recent interview with IP Watchdog, Tillis was asked about some of the fatal concerns we identified in our response. Tillis brushed those concerns off by saying that he doesn’t want to hear complaints without solutions. Fair enough.
In U.S. government, setting public policy is the sole and exclusive domain of Congress. The laws they pass effectuate the public policy positions that Congress alone has the power to set. In law, words are everything. The precise meaning of the words in law determines whether the public policy is implemented as intended by Congress. Altering the meaning of just one word can change the entire public policy set by Congress, even turning the public policy on its head. Anyone following the debate on patent eligibility can attest to how the Supreme Court’s redefinition of the word “any” in 35 U.S.C. § 101 to have an exception called an “abstract idea” caused a significant public policy change and that change destroyed countless startups, especially those in tech. Senator Tillis’ Patent Eligibility Restoration Act of 2022, S.4734, wrongly puts the courts in charge of defining public policy because it leaves key words completely undefined.
In the late 1990s, prolific inventor David Petite invented a foundational technology for the Internet of Things. His invention drove proliferation of wirelessly networked machines and met with huge commercial success. But last month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit upheld the revocation of his patent through a byzantine and controversial administrative proceeding. This patent was subjected to a Covered Business Method Review (CBM) at the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB). The PTAB is a division of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) created by the 2011 America Invents Act that has invalided a whopping 84% of the 3,000 patents they have reviewed. Coming too late to save Petite’s patent, the “transitional” CBM program expired September 16 of this year (two other types of PTAB proceedings remain in effect). CBM was not used nearly as much as the other PTAB proceedings, which have no restrictions on subject matter. Yet, corporate interests are still trying to revive CBM, and there’s buzz that attempts are being made to reinstate the program via the fiscal 2021 spending bill this week. There’s no logical basis to do so.
Recently, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) published a Request for Comments on Discretion To Institute Trials Before the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB), seeking “focused public comments, on appropriate considerations for instituting America Invents Act (AIA) trials.” Comments are due on November 19. US Inventor provides a streamlined tool for submitting comments here. This is a big deal for inventors. We desperately need help. We simply cannot participate in the patent system until the PTAB is regulated to provide predictability with respect to the validity of our issued patents. Director Iancu has made a valiant effort to restore balance, but it has failed thus far. As it stands, we cannot use our issued patents because it is utterly impossible to predict whether or not they survive the PTAB – no matter how carefully we follow the existing laws and procedures.
Recently, the USPTO published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to change the “Trial Practice at the Patent Trial and Appeal Board,” which is contained in Part 42 of Title 37 of the Code of Federal Regulations. This is the fifth rule change since the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) was created and the second of Director Iancu’s tenure. The first rules were issued on September 16, 2012, the one year anniversary of the America Invents Act. David Kappos was Director at the time. The first rules were controversial and heavily biased against inventors.
Despite rumors that changes have been made at the USPTO to bring balance to the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB), a hard look at the data shows that it is business as usual. Astounding numbers of patents continue to be invalidated, despite many superficial changes over the past few years. Several hundred institution decisions have been issued under these changes, establishing a statistically significant sample size for evaluation. Detailed analysis of the data proves that nothing has changed at the PTAB which continues to permit abuse and invalidate an astoundingly high percentage of patents. The “death squad for patents” is as lethal as ever.
Yesterday, the Federal Circuit once again breached a fundamental boundary of our American system of law. This particular transgression has occurred only a handful of times, but each is more ominous than the last. If this is allowed to stand, we can no longer be considered a democratic republic, but will have become a banana republic. What is rapidly becoming routine to the patent litigation industry will create shockwaves throughout the other 12 circuit courts, upend the rule of law, and damage our nation. In Chrimar Systems, Inc. v. Ale USA, Inc. FKA Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise USA, Inc. (Fed. Circ. Case No. 18-2420), the Federal Circuit allowed the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) to overrule an Article III court and jury. That is, the Executive Branch of government directly and unequivocally has overruled the Judicial Branch, including a jury.
On October 25, the AIPLA Annual Meeting will host a Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) Inter Partes Review (IPR) trial to determine the fate of a pair of patents issued by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to Zaxcom for a Digital Recording Wireless Microphone. Zaxcom is a U.S. manufacturer of high-end, specialized wireless microphones and recording equipment for the film and television industries. The company was founded in 1986 by Glenn Sanders, the named inventor on the challenged patents. The Zaxcom case caught my attention for several reasons. First, this was not a patent troll asserting a stack of vague, overly broad patents, but was an inventor-owned company that was producing the invention. Second, Glenn was manufacturing his invention and creating jobs in the United States. Third, the technology has won Engineering Emmy Awards and has been honored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences with a Technical Achievement Award. Finally, Chief Administrative Patent Judge Scott Boalick was on the panel. How could the USPTO grant a patent, the claimed invention earn Emmy and Academy awards, and then the USPTO decide the patent was likely to be invalid? Especially when Director Iancu is traveling throughout the country and testifying in Congress that it is a new day at the USPTO and that he has restored balance at the PTAB?