There is a symbiotic relationship between innovation and patents. The innovation that we say we most want is cutting-edge innovation that requires time, money and determination to bring into being.Unfortunately, paradigm shifting innovation does not come cheap. And patents are the lifeblood of this type of disruptive innovation. Those within the industry know this to be the case, and today the Alliance of U.S. Startups and Inventors for Jobs (USIJ) released a report detailing a comprehensive study that confirms the importance of patents and the consequences of a patent system in the United States that has veered away from strong protections for innovators and toward rules and laws that make it ever easier for implementers to copy the innovations of creators without remuneration.
A flash of genius hits like lightning. It shocks you into a superior state of understanding and your entire body buzzes. My flash struck in the summer of 2000, while I was asleep. Then, a New York Times article came out in October 2006 with a picture of the 20-something wunderkind who apparently “experienced an epiphany…an idea that would be worth billions and billions of dollars.” Standing next to him was my former boss who thought my invention was “brilliant.”
From the time my patent was granted to the time it expires, a company that stole my invention from my hands will have generated over $1 trillion dollars using it. When faced with a patent infringement lawsuit, they weaponized the America Invents Act (AIA), which they lobbied into law, and the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) validated their theft.
Outlined below is the story of how the America Invents Act (AIA) of 2011 made a novel 2002 invention obvious in 2018. I’m the first named inventor of the 7058524 patent, which was filed on October 25, 2002. The title of the patent is “Electrical Power Metering System”. Unfortunately, I was never able to produce, let alone market the meter. There were many barriers to entry for my essentially hardware-based invention. I was working full time and had a growing family to be concerned with. Following retirement in 2013, I decided to attempt to license the ‘524’ technology. In early fall 2014, I partnered with a Non-Practicing Entity (NPE). I received an up-front sum and had an agreement with the NPE to share (fairly in my view) in any ‘back-end’ licensing revenue. After extensive investigation and attempts at licensing, in 2016 the NPE asserted against Duke Energy in Delaware. We believed Duke’s new smart meters, particularly those using Itron’s OpenWay Riva technology, were infringing the ‘524 patent. Ultimately, we were Rule 36ed by the Federal Circuit. In my opinion, the key broken piece in the system is the way the AIA removed the probability of a jury trial from the patent holder by creating a post-grant system that allows for abuse and delay of other proceedings.
If you are an inventor new to inventing, you undoubtedly believe you’ve come up with an idea, or two or three, that could really be successful. That eternal optimism and belief in one’s self is precisely what every inventor needs to succeed. Now, if you are like the so many others who have walked in your footsteps before you, you’ve probably started researching how to patent an idea but have quickly become bombarded with information from a variety of sources. “I have no clue where to start, and I have only a limited budget,” is a typical new inventor question. “What should be my first step?” The patent process can be complex and knowing where to begin and how to approach the process in a cost-responsible manner is not always easy, particularly for first time inventors. Of course, before proceeding it is worth first asking why it is you want a patent? The road to invention riches may, or may not, include obtaining a patent, although at least filing a provisional patent application can be and usually is a wise first step for a variety of reasons.
In October, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) rejected a method for manufacturing propshafts in American Axle & Manufacturing (AAM) v. Neapco Holdings (Neapco), holding that the claims at issue were ineligible under Section 101. Judge Moore dissented, arguing that “the majority’s decision expands §101 well beyond its statutory gate-keeping function and the role of this appellate court well beyond its authority.” Several amici have now filed briefs in support of AAM’s request for rehearing of the CAFC’s decision. Former Chief Judge of the CAFC Paul Michel in his brief argues four points: 1) the opinion contravenes core summary-judgment rules and ignores evidence of a genuine dispute; 2) the ‘911 claims recite a multi-part, multi-step process for manufacturing auto parts and are not directed to ineligible matter; 3) the ‘911 claims do not preempt Hooke’s Law, confirming they are patent-eligible; and 4) the majority’s Section 101 rulings warrant en banc treatment.
During this turbulent era in the history of the U.S. patent system, many enterprises have pursued new models for IP strategy and execution. Others have taken a wait-and-see, business-as-usual tack. Change certainly is no stranger to patent systems around the world. Yet, some principles remain timeless and unassailable no matter how winds may shift. For example, we all can agree that patent filing and maintenance decisions should be sound, protecting the right technologies in the right places for the right reasons. Technology companies face patent-related decision points around seemingly every corner. The consequences of suboptimal decision-making are troubling, including wasteful expenditures, missed strategic opportunities, and diminished shareholder value. Therefore, enterprises should not hesitate to continually reflect on the quality of their patent filing and maintenance decisions, and on the framework that supports them. Cognitive bias—defined as “the collection of faulty ways of thinking … hardwired into the human brain”—can hijack patent decision processes just as it does every other area of human endeavor. As such, it can lead to suboptimal outcomes despite IP stakeholders’ sincere, dedicated participation.
My company, Chestnut Hill Sound Inc. (ChillSound), has been victimized by a U.S. patent system that for nearly a decade has been in a sorry state. Changes wrought by the America Invents Act (AIA) in 2011 and other recent developments cost my company, its investors and inventors millions of dollars. These changes have allowed a large company to reap great profits at our expense. Even more unfortunately, our story is too typical of many other inventors and small companies. Small businesses are the backbone of our economy and need to be cultivated, as they are the most dynamic source of new jobs and competitive products and technologies. There have always been reports of large corporations stealing inventions from small businesses, but it used to be possible via the courts to vindicate the patent rights of owners and obtain ultimate redress. The AIA—sold by the “efficient infringers” lobby as a measure to protect big business from the expense and nuisance of so-called “patent trolls”—has turned into a weapon of deep-pocketed big businesses that enables them to steal with impunity inventions from small businesses and independent inventors. The AIA brought with it the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) and Inter Partes Review (IPRs), a post-grant adversarial proceeding at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). As has been amply discussed here on IPWatchdog, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) recently opined that the so-called Administrative Patent Judges (APJs) were unconstitutionally appointed from the beginning. Yet these unconstitutionally appointed APJs continue to kill patents, especially when the patent owner is a small company that has sued a large company for infringement, as was the case with ChillSound.
Since inventors are rarely allowed to participate in patent discussions in Congress, I would like to submit my testimony here. In Arthrex, the Federal Circuit in effect decided that our rights are subordinate to the government, so the government has the authority to giveth them to us or taketh them away. I would like to remind the Federal Circuit, the Supreme Court, and Congress that you are tasked with the honor, privilege and duty to defend our rights. That is the very basis on which you are employed, and you have no function other than that. Our rights preexist you, supersede you, and come from sources that are above your pay grade. They exist as a matter of our birth. You have no legitimate authority to take those rights just because it is inconvenient for the huge multinational corporations that have to now deal with the illegitimate position of owning our rights because so-called judges unconstitutionally took them from us and gave them to those huge corporations.
This year has included many twists and turns for IP stakeholders, particularly on the patent side. Most recently, the Federal Circuit’s decision in Arthrex has called into question the constitutionality of Patent Trial and Appeal Board decisions, and perhaps the Board itself. Elsewhere, Congress has been—unsuccessfully—attempting to step in and clarify U.S. patent law since early in the year, while the courts have continued to muddy the waters of patent eligibility law. The Federal Trade Commission’s case against Qualcomm, and Judge Lucy Koh’s decision in the case, have further called into question the United States’ ability to compete on the innovation front going forward. And yet, there have been some wins in other areas this year, including at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), and there remain many reasons to be hopeful about the year ahead. IPWatchdog asked some IP experts to share what they have to be thankful for on the IP front this Thanksgiving, despite all the uncertainty. Hopefully, as those of you who celebrate the holiday enjoy your Thanksgiving dinners, these sentiments will inspire you to be thankful too.
On October 30, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Intellectual Property heard from five witnesses on ways to improve patent quality at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The Subcommittee subsequently posed questions to the witnesses, including professors Colleen Chien, R. Polk Wagner, and Melissa Wasserman, to supplement their testimony. Those witnesses have now submitted their responses, which expand upon their various suggestions for improving patent quality.
“It’s up to you to do the right thing and fix this,” said Professor Arti Rai of The Center for Innovation Policy at Duke University School of Law near the end of a hearing on what Congress should do in the wake of the Arthrex decision yesterday. Rai was one of four IP scholars who testified during the hearing of the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet; all witnesses seemed to agree that the courts will not fix the problem soon enough to ensure the requisite certainty for U.S. patent owners and businesses, so Congress must act. In Arthrex, the Federal Circuit found that the Patent Trial and Appeal Board’s (PTAB’s) Administrative Patent Judges (APJs) were unconstitutionally appointed and removed the civil service protections they previously were deemed to enjoy—although, as Professor John Duffy of the University of Virginia School of Law pointed out, if the Federal Circuit ruled that the APJs can’t have tenure, that arguably means they never did. “If you go back to Marbury v. Madison, courts don’t actually strike down statutes; they simply say what the law is,” Duffy said.
For weeks now I have been asking the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to confirm how many Administrative Patent Judges (APJs) are currently employed by the Office, a request that predates the Federal Circuit’s controversial Arthrex decision, but which was renewed after the decision issued. For reasons that I cannot explain, the Office refuses to provide an answer to what seems to be a straightforward and legitimate question: How many APJs are currently employed by the USPTO? Regardless of the USPTO’s reluctance to identify the number of APJs employed, it seems safe to say that the employment rights and futures of several hundred APJs hang in the balance as the result of the Federal Circuit’s decision in Arthrex, which found that the hiring of APJs violated the Appointments Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The Federal Circuit did, however, attempt to provide a gift to the Office by rewriting the section of the America Invents Act (AIA) they found to create the problem, and by so doing turned APJs into inferior officers. In order to do so, the Federal Circuit turned those uncertain number of APJs into employees-at-will, which allows for them to be fired by the Director of the USPTO. This is significant because certain APJs have not been willing to get on board with changes implemented by Director Iancu. The belief of those APJs who have not been “team players” is that they are judges and are not controlled by and do not answer to Director Iancu. Well, with the Federal Circuit’s decision in Arthrex that employment dynamic changed overnight.
It has been one year since my software patent was invalidated in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. Now, this intellectual property is considered worthless and my dream of paying off extensive student loans with the proceeds from patent licensing fees are in the past. The irony being that if it were not for these extensive student loans, this invention, most likely, would not have come to into being. My patent No. 6,769,915, issued in 2003, was invalidated under Section 101 and struck down on appeal. The patent covers “a user-interactive behavior modification system” that is in competition with technology pursued by the companies including Nike, FitBit, Apple, and Samsung. The rules that existed when I applied for this software patent in 2000 no longer guarantee myself and hundreds of other independent inventors the right to collect patent licensing fees. This right was granted to all with The Patent Act of 1790. Yet, over the last 15 years, the U.S. patent laws have been changed drastically by extremely well-financed lobbyists on behalf of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s (USPTO’s) largest customers— global corporations, including the Big Tech industry. This has relieved Apple, Google, Facebook, etc. from the necessity of having to pay independent inventors software licensing fees. With this shift in intellectual property laws, the once small startups of Silicon Valley have become the large monopolies they are now.
November 1 was the deadline for filing amicus briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court, which is considering whether to grant a petition for writ of certiorari to take up Athena Diagnostics v. Mayo Collaborative Services on appeal from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Almost every amicus filing to the Supreme Court in this case supported granting the petition or backed up the position of petitioner Athena, who is asking the Supreme Court to clarify its patent-eligibility doctrine under the Alice/Mayo framework on the subject of medical diagnostic patent claims. The appeal to the Supreme Court follows a hotly contested denial of an en banc rehearing of the Federal Circuit’s original panel decision in Athena, which produced eight opinions, including four dissents, with many judges agreeing that Athena’s invention should be patent eligible even while they disagreed over whether Supreme Court precedent allowed for patent protection of diagnostic methods.
The European Patent Office (EPO) recently published its Guidelines for Examination 2019, which came into force on November 1. Compared to previous years, the volume of changes is much smaller, and this witnesses the effort by the EPO in past years to arrive at a more stable text of the Guidelines, particularly concerning the software patentability sections. Yet some changes have been made to software patentability guidelines as well as to other important sections, such as the numerical ranges and clarity matters. Continuing the trend of past years, the Guidelines continue to be enriched with helpful examples.