has been practicing intellectual property law for over a decade and is registered as a patent attorney before the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Kip previously worked with multiple patent law boutiques where he assisted dozens of technology companies in preparing and prosecuting patent applications. He has extensive experience working with the following technology areas: displays, projectors, xerography, electric vehicles and batteries, digital cameras and optics, games and artificial intelligence, cellular networks, and software security systems.
Since U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) Director Andrei Iancu took office, I have observed, with admiration, how he has taken bold action to improve perceived problems in the patent system. The Director’s bold action has also caught the attention of members of the Supreme Court. Justice Gorsuch, joined by Chief Justice Roberts, observed, “[n]or has the Director proven bashful about asserting these statutory powers to secure the [policy judgments] he seeks.”
Oil States Energy v. Greene’s Energy Group, 138 S.Ct. 1365, 1381 (2018) (Gorsuch, J., dissenting).
I wonder, however, whether the law now permits Director Iancu to do something even bolder: create rules interpreting Section 101, at least within the limited context of the America Invents Act’s (AIA’s) post-grant review trials, such that courts may defer to the Director’s interpretation under Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837 (1984).
The Supreme Court’s own precedents provide overwhelming authority for interpreting § 101 broadly and, conversely, interpreting its judicial exceptions to § 101 narrowly. These precedents provide ample support for the Cluster Argument: (1) observing that the term “abstract idea” constitutes a legal term of art that, according to stare decisis, properly refers to looped mathematical algorithms and old and fundamental business practices and (2) declining to expand the set of “abstract ideas” beyond these two clusters without a signal from Congress.
What’s stunning about this list is that almost nobody talks about reforming patent law to correct these biases! In general, the only biases that are socially and politically acceptable to correct are biases in favor of patent owners. It is profoundly unfair to correct biases in the patent system to protect accused infringers if we do not also correct biases in the patent system to protect inventors. It is interesting to ask why modern patent reform overwhelmingly protects accused infringers without also protecting inventors. I worry that the patent reform asymmetry fits within a larger trend of decline in the great Western traditions of innovation, due process, meritocratic competition in the race to invent, reliance on property rights and business investments, and strong support for intellectual property as distinct from real and personal property.
The Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences did something fascinating in Ex Parte Yudoovsky. The Board sua sponte declined to consider an unauthorized new ground of rejection—even though the appellant never filed a petition. In other words, the Board refused to consider a new ground of rejection, because the Examiner failed to designate the ground as “new.”
On November 1, 2012, a federal district court (EDVA) issued an order that may have profound consequences for calculations of patent term adjustment (“PTA”). The district court believed that the PTA promised by 35 USC § 154(b)(1)(B)(i), which relates to Requests for Continued Examination, only comes into play if a RCE is filed within the three-year period from the application’s filing date. Before discussing the court’s order, let me review the law and regulations about PTA—which can be complex. In 1994, Congress altered the calculation of U.S. patent terms. Previously, Congress set the patent term as 17 years from patent issuance. After the change, Congress set the patent term as generally 20 years from the filing of the patent application.
Even if the BRI rule made sense in 1932—and it is not clear to me that it ever made sense—the rule no longer makes sense. Dramatic changes in the field of patents have undermined even the alleged reasons for the BRI rule. The solution to the problem of the BRI rule is to replace it with the only rule that is natural and makes sense. After 80 years of inventors suffering under the BRI rule, it is time for Congress or the Supreme Court to say: regardless of whether the patent application has been granted, the claims mean the exact same thing. Always.
Recently, patent scholar Mark Lemley has renewed attention to software claims under 35 U.S.C. 112, sixth paragraph. Lemley encourages strict application of the algorithm requirement to police software patents and resolve these concerns. Unlike Lemley, I am convinced that the algorithm requirement makes no sense. The problem is not that the concern about broad software claims is unjustified. The problem is that, even if the concern is justified, the algorithm requirement does not solve it. At least, the requirement does not solve the problem in an appropriate way.
The biggest myth about patent appeals is that that the examiner usually wins. The Patent Trial and Appeal Board (“Board”) posts that it reverses examiners only one out of every three decisions —33%. That number is accurate, and reflects the percentage of reversals among Board decisions. But another number is more helpful — 75%. That is the rough percentage of reversals among all appeals—not just Board decisions. The difference arises because not all appeals result in a Board decision. In fact, the vast majority of appeals (80%) never reach the Board. The Board’s 33% number has nothing to say about this invisible sea of patent appeals.