Russ Slifer is a Principal at Schwegman Lundberg & Woesner, where his practice has focused on intellectual property law since 1994, helping a wide variety of clients build patent portfolios to help protect their innovations, including individual inventors, universities, and Fortune 100 companies.
Russ served as the Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Deputy Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office under the Obama Administration. As Deputy Director, Russ managed all day-to-day operations of the USPTO. He was also the first Director of the Rocky Mountain Region Patent Office, prior to his appointment as Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce, serving as the agency’s primary liaison with the innovation community in the Rocky Mountain Region.
Prior to his government service, Russ was the Chief Patent Counsel for Micron Technology where he managed a very large patent portfolio. Russ started his professional career as a design engineer for Honeywell.
In response to intense lobbying for patent litigation reform, Congress was convinced that a substantial amount of district court patent litigation involved “poor quality” patents that were clearly invalid. Images of extortionist patent trolls were widely portrayed as a primary threat to U.S. innovation. The high cost of patent litigation, years to reach a judicial resolution and reliance on lay juries to determine highly technical issues were cited as evidence of a broken system. In response, Congress passed the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (AIA) in 2011…. The current IPR system as implemented has caused severe damage to an important segment of our innovation community. Congress instructed the USPTO Director, in 35 USC§ 316(b), to “consider the effect of any such regulation on the economy, the integrity of the patent system, the efficient administration of the Office, and the ability of the Office to timely complete proceedings instituted under this chapter.” It is time for the Director to reevaluate the effect of IPRs.
Intellectual property (IP) made modern vaccines possible. It took billions of dollars in private and public investments in research and development to be able to create, in record time, multiple viable vaccines to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. The entire world should be celebrating the innovators that continue to push forward with new solutions to problems we will face in the future. This pandemic will end, but there will be another. We should be eternally grateful to have companies like Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson that have the capability to create and manufacture vaccines at large scale…. It has been over four months since President Biden’s inauguration. As of yet there has not been a nomination for the Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). In addition to running the USPTO, the Director is responsible for advising the President on intellectual property issues. I believe that President Biden would have benefitted from an experienced voice knowledgeable about the dangers of supporting the erosion of property rights during the discussions on whether to support India and South Africa’s proposal to the World Trade Organization to waive IP protections under the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).
The Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Intellectual Property is holding a hearing on October 30 to discuss the quality of patents issued by the USPTO. This hearing should be a great opportunity to discuss the current and future challenges facing the USPTO, including modernizing the software tools used by examiners. Unfortunately, the hearing title (“Promoting the Useful Arts: How can Congress prevent the issuance of poor quality patents?”) begins with the premise that there are poor quality patents and perpetuates the unsubstantiated position that past litigation abuse was due to patent quality. Perhaps a better start would have been to call the hearing “Promoting the Useful Arts: How can Congress help the USPTO improve patent examination?”
I recently authored an article for IPWatchdog arguing that the Federal Circuit in ChargePoint Inc. v. SemaConnect, Inc., (2018-1739) effectively overruled the new U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) patent eligibility guidance. In my opinion, the ChargePoint decision was the very case that the Supreme Court in Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank warned would swallow all of patent law. After all, the Federal Circuit had the opportunity to take the Court’s caution seriously and interpret the abstract-based eligibility decision narrowly. It did not. Hoping for the remote chance the court will correct its error, I filed an amicus brief seeking rehearing en banc. My blunt assessment of the court’s reasoning and repercussions has been called inflammatory by SemaConnect. But it was the Supreme Court’s warning, not mine.
In ChargePoint Inc. v. SemaConnect, Inc., (2018-1739) the Federal Circuit inexplicably stated in its opinion that “[i]t is clear from the language of claim 1 that the claim involves an abstract idea—namely, the abstract idea of communicating requests to a remote server and receiving communications from that server, i.e., communication over a network.” The Court further stated, “[w]e therefore continue our analysis to determine whether the focus of claim 1, as a whole, is the abstract idea. As explained below, we conclude that it is.” In reaching this conclusion, the panel rationalized that “the broad claim language would cover any mechanism for implementing network communication on a charging station, thus preempting the entire industry’s ability to use networked charging stations. This confirms that claim 1 is indeed “directed to” the abstract idea of communication over a network to interact with network-attached devices.” As an electrical engineer and patent attorney, I am truly perplexed by this statement. Claim 1 recites numerous physical electrical components, a control device (on/off switch), transceiver to communicate with a remote server and a controller to activate the on/off switch based on communications from the server. The configuration of the components may be anticipated or obvious under the patent statute based on prior art, but they are anything but abstract and do not preempt all ways of charging a vehicle using a network. Congress specifically stated in 35 U.S.C. 101 that there are four statutory categories of patentable subject matter: process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter. If claim 1 is not a machine, I don’t know what is.
The first decision issued by the new USPTO Precedential Opinion Panel (POP) tackled the difficult issues of statutory interpretation of sections 35 U.S.C. § 315(b) and 35 U.S.C. § 315(c). In sum, the Board determined that both same party and issue joinder is proper in inter partes reviews (IPRs). The Board also determined that otherwise time-barred petitions are proper when accompanied by a joinder request to a pending IPR. The Board interpreted the statute in a manner to maintain broad discretion for the Agency. The POP could have properly interpreted Section 315(c) by first focusing on the statutory language “join as a party” as being limited to any person not already a party. Instead, the decision dismissed this viewpoint and stated that “the statutory phrase ‘any person’ broadly applies to the phrase ‘join as a party’.” Although I disagree with the emphasis on “any person,” I anticipate that the Board’s reasoning on both same party and issue joinder would be upheld as proper statutory interpretations by the Federal Circuit, if appealed.
Congress created Inter Partes Review (IPR) to weed out clearly invalid patents that would not have been issued had the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) known about certain prior art. However, USPTO Director Iancu should consider limiting his delegated authority in 35 U.S.C. § 325(d) to prior art that was not presented to the USPTO during examination. As such, all references in the prosecution record would be presumed to have been fully considered by the examiner and could not form any part of a post grant petition. This change would exercise the discretion provided by Congress to its fullest, preserve USPTO resources by not reconsidering the Office’s prior decisions, and restore some predictability to the U.S. patent system.
While the changes to the Trial Practice Guide begin to move the rules in the right direction, more is needed before post-grant proceedings will be accepted as neutral to all parties. The PTAB should endeavor to adopt the time-honored burdens, presumptions and procedures used in the district courts for trying patent cases whenever reasonably possible. Petitioners should be required to prove that the art upon which they rely is not cumulative to that previously before the USPTO, a patent owner’s Preliminary Response presenting evidence raising genuine issues of material fact should be treated as it would be if presented in opposition to a summary judgment motion brought in the courts, and the presiding panel should determine witness credibility by hearing testimony and cross examination live.