It is absolutely critical to understand that this complete and full description MUST be present as of the filing date of your application. If you file an application that does not describe the invention to the required level required by U.S. patent laws the application is defective and it cannot be fixed. The only way to fix an inadequate disclosure is to file a new application with an adequate disclosure, but that means you obtain no benefit from the filing of the earlier inadequate patent application.
A claim drafted too broadly may not be enabled and hence be invalid. Yet, the temptation to claim broadly often leads the patentee to ignore this risk.
Drafters need to think both outside and inside the claims. Outside thinking aims to make the court’s task easier by providing claim terms amenable to straightforward, simple claim construction. Preferably, at least, the key terms are expressly defined, or at least explained through demonstration. Inside thinking takes up the question whether the claim construction supports the patentee’s or owner’s intention, as manifested in the claims and specification. By the time a drafter is “experienced,” she has been exposed to considerable instruction on claim drafting. Claim construction rules, claim drafting principles, claim drafting strategy—the endless seminar. Yet, the Federal Circuit regularly lectures the patent bar on its drafting practices. The difficulty is that among all of our construction rules and strategic principles, we have lost sight of clarity and precision. We need to refocus on basic principles. Indeed, we’re going to need a bigger boat.
Many times inventors fail to adequately describe their inventions because the invention is obvious to them, and they think it will be equally obvious to others. The law, however, requires that a patent application explain the invention to someone who is not already familiar with the invention. One of the best way to do this is to explain it like a child explains things when doing a show and tell at school. Children explain everything in excruciating detail, no matter how obvious. Kids do this when they describe things because they have no idea what the person listening knows, and to them it is new and interesting so they explain everything with tremendous detail (whether you want to hear it or not). That is exactly what you need to do in the application. Explain your invention with so much detail that you will bore the knowledgeable reader to death.
Not every claimed invention will be able to be re-patented, but there will undoubtedly be some that will be able to be re-patented. This is possible thanks to 35 U.S.C. 102(b)(2)(C). So, if a patent or published patent application is commonly owned it may not be considered prior art against an identical set of claims in a subsequently filed patent application. Of course, 102(b)(2)(C) does not eliminate prior art that qualifies under 102(a)(1), but 102(a)(2) makes the patent application prior art as of its effective filing date of the claimed invention. So if you keep your invention secret and file a patent application it will be secret (and not prior art) up until the application publishes 18 months after filing. If you then re-file a second application with identical claims before publication of the first application there would be no 102(a)(1) prohibition. 102(a)(2) would make that first filing prior art as of its effective filing date, but if you remove 102(a)(2) through common ownership then a common owner would be able to effectively extend their patent term by up to 18 months; longer if publication doesn’t occur at 18 months.
In reality, it is probably better to think of the description requirement as the core to patentability. If you can describe your idea with enough specificity you no longer have an idea, but rather have migrated past the idea-invention boundary, which means you have something that can be patented if it is unique. The crux of this so-called adequate description requirement is that once the first four patentability requirements are satisfied the applicant still must describe the invention with enough particularity such that those skilled in the relevant technology will be able to make, use and understand the invention that was made by the inventor. For the most part, and from a legal perspective, this requirement can be explained as consisting of three major parts. First is the enablement requirement, next is the best mode requirement and finally is the written description requirement.
In a nutshell, an invention would be obvious when someone knowledgable about the area would look at your invention and consider it to be already known; not exactly but rather known if one were to combine several references. In other words, the predictable and non-unique combination of what multiple references teach would yield your invention. The prototypical example is when you have invented A+B. A is known in the prior art, and B is known in the prior art. Upon looking at A and then looking at B, would someone of skill in the art consider A+B to be already known? If the answer is yes, then A+B is obvious. If the answer is no, then A+B is not obvious.
One of the challenges that a drafter faces when trying to satisfy the enablement requirement is with respect to describing things that can and will vary depending on the circumstances. What you want to do is follow up by explaining the various permutations to help the reader more readily understand what facts, choices or circumstances will have impact.
One thing that many individuals and professional inventors employed by corporations (i.e., “kept inventors”) have in common is that they frequently do not perceive what they have come up with as worth patenting. So many have the idea that a patent is something that gets awarded to breakthrough innovations, when in fact it is far more common to have a patent awarded to an improvement on an existing product. If you can improve upon something , there is already a market in existence for the underlying product and consumers will perceive your improvement as worth paying for then you very well may have a winning invention. Certainly, you are much farther along the path to success with that trifecta.
What I refer to as “experimental language” either explicitly or implicitly suggests that further experimentation is or will be necessary in order to: (1) realize or perfect the invention; or (2) realize or perfect an intermediate or component. Resist the temptation to have your patent application read like a diary of thoughts and/or personal observations regarding future research and goals. This type of language is usually not found in a patent application because it suggests that your invention is not yet completed, which could be used as an admission that the invention is not enabled and/or that you have not satisfied the written description requirement.
In my view, both the majority opinion, as well as Judge Dyk’s dissent, miss the real “written description” problem in Crown Packaging which has nothing to do with whether the common patent specification illustrates both solutions to the prior art problem. Instead, it relates to the follow description (see column 1, line 62 to column 2, line 5 of the ‘826 patent) at the end of the sentence stating how the claimed invention solved the problem of using less metal in the can end: “characterized [or “characterised” depending on which version of the ‘826 patent you use] in that, the chuck wall is inclined to an axis perpendicular to the exterior of the central panel at an angle between 30o and 60o and the concave [i.e., the reinforcing] bead narrower than 1.5 mm (0.060”).”
The back bone, however, is made up of many smaller bones. For example, there are seven cervical vertebrae in the necks of all mammals, and these bones together make up a portion of the back bone. Therefore, a more complete description of the backbone would point out that the neck is a part of the backbone. An even more complete description might include saying cervical vertebrae 1 (i.e., C1, which is a part of the neck) is connected to cervical vertebrae 2 (i.e., C2) and so on. The point is that the more description you provide the better, but you absolutely must have at least the big picture overview of how everything fits together, and how to make and use the invention. Therefore, be sure that you have disclosed with as much detail as possible how all the pieces of your invention connect, work together, function and interrelate.
So what information is required in order to demonstrate that there really is an invention that deserves to receive a patent? When examining computer implemented inventions the patent examiner will determine whether the specification discloses the computer and the algorithm (e.g., the necessary steps and/or flowcharts) that perform the claimed function in sufficient detail such that one of ordinary skill in the art can reasonably conclude that the inventor invented the claimed subject matter. An algorithm is defined by the Patent Offices as a finite sequence of steps for solving a logical or mathematical problem or performing a task. The patent application may express the algorithm in any understandable terms including as a mathematical formula, in prose, in a flow chart, or in any other manner that provides sufficient structure. In my experience, flow charts that are described in text are the holy grail for these types of applications. In fact, I just prepared a provisional patent application for an inventor and we kept trading flow charts until we had everything we needed. Iterative flow charting creates a lot of detail and the results provide a tremendous disclosure.
In order to have a patentable business method it is necessary for the invention to accomplish some practical application. In other words, in order for a business method to be patentable it must produce a “useful, concrete and tangible result.” Although the United States Supreme Court did away with that test when it issued its decision in Bilski v. Kappos, it is still nevertheless illustrative and the best test that is out there. If you really understand what Judge Rich meant by “useful, concrete and tangible result” you come to the inescapable conclusion that it is the appropriate test and if you really target the description of the invention to satisfy the test you will have something that is patentable under the Supreme Court Bilski v. Kappos test and the USPTO guidelines that have followed.
Last week the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit issued a ruling in Goeddel v. Sugano, which might be one of a dying breed should patent reform actually pass. The case dealt with an appeal from an interference proceeding where the Board awarded priority based on a Japanese application. The Federal Circuit, per Judge Newman, explained that it was inappropriate to say that the Japanese application demonstrated a constructive reduction to practice because the application merely would allow the skilled reader to “envision” the invention covered in the interference count. If patent reform passes (and yes that could really happen) cases like Goeddel would become a thing of the past, although priority determinations like this one in Goeddel will certainly not go away.