Dr. Ron D. Katznelson is the Founder and President of Bi-Level Technologies, an image and signal-processing technology company in Encinitas, CA. He is a technology entrepreneur, named inventor on 25 U.S. patents and applications and an independent scholar of the patent system. He authored the Amicus Brief to the US Supreme Court in Peter v. NanKwest on behalf of IEEE-USA, arguing the importance of Section 145 proceedings to applicants, and reporting on his historical study of Section 145 usage.
Dr. Katznelson also advises high technology startups; he served as the Chairman of the Intellectual Property Committee of IEEE-USA during 2019 and 2020. From 1990 to 2005, he was at Broadband Innovations, a San Diego digital RF technology company he founded, where he served as Chairman, Chief Technology Officer and a contributor to the DOCSIS® cable modem specifications. Prior to 1990, Dr. Katznelson was the Director, New Technology Development at General Instrument Corp. (GIC), where he directed the R&D in Advanced Television Systems that led to the MPEG standard; at GIC, he managed the Division’s intellectual property portfolio, patent litigation matters, and representation in industry groups and standards organizations. Prior to that, Dr. Katznelson was a professor of electrical engineering at the University of California, San Diego.
He received his doctoral degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of California, San Diego, CA; his Masters in Applied Semiconductor Physics, and a dual BSc. degree in Mathematics and Physics, both from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel. He is a licensed private pilot and a licensed ham radio operator.
Under the U.S. Constitution’s Appointments Clause, “Officers of the United States” generally are required to be nominated by the President “by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate.” This rule applies equally to the Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), who has an important executive role with political accountability and therefore, by statute, must be Presidentially-Appointed and Senate-Confirmed (PAS). The Vacancies Reform Act of 1998 (VRA) provides that the President (and only the President) may direct an “acting” official to temporarily perform the functions and duties of the vacant PAS office. The VRA states that its mechanisms are “exclusive” of all other mechanisms for temporarily filling a vacant PAS office. On several occasions since 2013, including most recently with Commissioner Andrew Hirshfeld, the USPTO has adopted a modality for filling a vacancy in the office of the Director, not with an Acting Director as the VRA requires, but with a non-PAS official “designated” to “perform the functions and duties” of the Director.
Since the Supreme Court decision in United States v. Arthrex, Inc., 141 S. Ct. 1970 (2021), there has been much discussion about the Court’s ruling mandating an option for users to request that the Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) review Final Written Decisions of the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) rendered in trials under the America Invents Act (AIA) on the validity of issued patents. But there has been little or no discussion on such Director’s review of PTAB decisions on institution of AIA trials.
Would you believe the following scenario could happen under our patent system? An inventor of a fundamental technology receives a patent less than three months after filing; despite the public disclosure of the patent, industry contemporaries fail to appreciate the invention’s significance for nearly two years; once appreciated, widespread adoption and infringement of the patent ensues. Commanding 50% market share in unit sales of the patented product, the patent holder prevails in patent infringement suits obtaining court injunctions against all major rivals and maintaining a strict no-licensing policy. What happens next during the patent enforcement period would defy all conventional anti-patent narratives:
In a recent Supreme Court decision in Arthrex v. Smith & Nephew, the Court held that the unreviewable authority wielded by Administrative Patent Judges (APJs) at the Patent Trial and Appeals Board (PTAB) of the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) exercises authority of a “principal officer” and is incompatible with their appointment by the Secretary of Commerce to an “inferior office.” Instead of declaring their appointment unconstitutional, the Court’s remedial ruling was aimed at making PTAB judges “inferior officers.” It did so by a ruling interpreting 35 U.S.C. § 6(c) as enabling the USPTO Director to “review decisions rendered by APJs,” subordinating them to the Director’s full supervision.
As previously reported on this blog, a bipartisan group of senators recently reintroduced a bill in Congress called the “Inventor Diversity for Economic Advancement Act of 2021,” or the ‘‘IDEA Act,’’ S.632; H.R.1723. The Senate Committee on the Judiciary is scheduled to hold its hearing on the IDEA Act this Thursday morning. Citing a report that “only 22 percent of all U.S. patents list a woman as an inventor,” the sponsor’s press release explains that the bill’s purpose is “to close the gap that women, minorities, and others face when procuring patent rights in the United States.” To advance this putative goal, the bill adds Section 124 to the Patent Act that will require the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to annually collect and report personal demographic data from patent applicants including “gender, race, military or veteran status, and any other demographic category that the Director determines appropriate, related to each inventor listed with an application for patent.” Accordingly, the USPTO Director would be granted plenary authority to collect information on “any other demographic category” such as those the sponsors have already identified in their previous version of the bill, namely: ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, age, disability, education level attained, and income level…. Unexpectedly, however, this bill would actually harm small business and underrepresented inventors. As explained below, this legislation is contrary to patent law; it proposes a dangerous method for injecting identity politics at the USPTO, where it never has nor should play any role, and where there is no evidence that the USPTO has displayed prejudice or discrimination.
Last week, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet, held an oversight hearing on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) with Director Andre Iancu as the sole witness. A particular inquiry from Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) regarding the USPTO’s allegedly lax examination quality under 35 U.S.C. § 112 caught my attention. She remarked [at 1:33:30]: “Theranos, the blood testing company whose founder is being investigated for fraud, was granted nearly 100 patents based on an invention that didn’t work; and it concerns me that a patent application for an invention that doesn’t work gets approved.” She generally questioned examiners’ attention to Section 112 requirements. Rep. Lofgren’s statement was no doubt primed by information from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) in the Ars Technica blog post titled “Theranos: How a broken patent system sustained its decade-long deception.” In this article, the author, who was introduced as holding the “Mark Cuban Chair to Eliminate Stupid Patents” at EFF, declares with no evidence or proof, that the “USPTO generally does a terrible job of ensuring that applications meet the utility and enablement standards.” The article cited no study, identified no patent, nor any claim to any “invention that didn’t work.” This outrageous, baseless allegation is outright reckless and irresponsible.
In justifying the constitutionality of the inter partes review (“IPR”) statute enacted by the America Invents Act (“AIA”), a common refrain persistently asserted is that patent rights emanate solely from federal statute and are therefore public rights, derived from a “federal regulatory scheme.” Another reprise is the remedial tenor of the IPR statute: Congress merely authorized a “narrow” post-issuance means for the agency to “correct its own errors.” My paper shows that both contentions above are without merit; that the exclusive patent right emanates from the inventor – not from Congress – and therefore the right adjudicated in IPRs is a “private right”; and that the notion of post-issuance “error correction” is fiction, as it overlooks the irreversible and uncorrectable exchange of rights upon patent issuance.
The resulting decisions reveal the Supreme Court’s holistic outlook as a generalist court concerned with broad legal consistency rather than fidelity to patent law’s underlying specialized and unique features moored in technology research, invention, and patenting processes. Unfortunately, as shown below, the adverse effects on patent rights due to the deviant patent doctrines arising out of the Court’s decisions far exceed the benefits of assimilation and conformity of the patent law with the general law… The dearth in understanding technologies and related invention processes and the lack of prior expertise in patent law pertains to Justices across the political spectrum. Patent law raises questions that have the potential to divide conservatives and liberals alike, as it pits principles of liberty and property against one another. For example, the pillars of the recent problematic jurisprudence on patent-eligibility were authored by liberal Justice Breyer (Mayo v. Prometheus) and by conservative Justice Thomas (Alice v CLS Bank).