Posts Tagged: "Patent Drafting"

The Key to Drafting an Excellent Patent – Alternatives

The trick to drafting an excellent patent application is to describe anything that will work, no matter how crude, no matter how defective. You want to capture everything. This is because the only power of a patent is to prevent others from doing what is covered in the patent. If you are making money there will be others who want to do what you are doing. Your patent can prevent them from doing what you are doing, but a strong patent will also prevent would-be-competitors from doing anything that is close.

The Cost of Obtaining a Patent in the US

Estimating US patent costs is a difficult matter because so much depends on the technology involved, but answering “it depends” is not particularly insightful or helpful. What follows are some general ballpark estimates, which should give at least some guidance when trying to budget for the filing of a patent application at the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

Patent Drafting: Identifying the Patentable Feature

Without a patent search you will invariably describe all aspects of the invention with equal importance, although we know from experience that there will always be certain features that deserve greater attention because they will contribute more to patentability. While it is helpful to identify any difference between an invention in the prior art, it is critical to spend the greatest amount of time discussing the features and variations that that will contribute to a patent being issued; that is where the patentable invention resides. This uniqueness will allow you to build a patent application that can lead not only to a patent, but a patent that meaningfully protects the core of what makes the invention unique compared with the prior art.

Patent Drafting: Thinking outside the box leads to the best patent

It is absolutely essential to think outside the box when describing your invention in any patent application. Stop and think about different ways that your invention can be made or used, even if you deem them to be inferior. Failure to disclose alternatives will almost certainly foreclose your ability to argue that those alternatives are covered by your claims and disclosure, which will prevent any issued patent from covering that which has been left out.

The Disclosure Revolution – A Report from the Front, 2014

The Disclosure Revolution is an ongoing process that has transformed patent law over the last couple of decades. While courts continue to say, “The claims define the invention,” decision after decision rewrites broad claim terms to conform to the scope of disclosure. A single embodiment once served as an example supporting enabled claims bounded only by the prior art; now, a single embodiment signals the inventor’s intend to limit the invention to the embodiment itself, rather than to claim terms… Overall, 2014 will likely be remembered primarily for Alice and its eventual progeny. In addition to its impact on the law per se, the economic effects may prove enormous. An entire segment of the patent community stands vulnerable to a slowdown, or shutdown, of patenting activity in the business methods and software fields. Other areas, including definiteness, will feel the effects of 2014, but in a far more incremental fashion.

The Importance of Keeping an Expansive View of the Invention

You want to capture everything you possibly can in a patent application. That means generally describing the invention, it also means specifically describing the invention and all the different versions (called “embodiments” in patent speak). The only power of a patent is to prevent others from doing what is covered in the patent. With your patent you want to prevent would-be-competitors from directly competing and from competing with substitutes, even substitutes that are inferior. Think of the patent as creating a wall around your invention. You do not have to use all of what you capture/define in your application, but having it will create the barrier to entry that can insulate you from copyists or those who want to get into your market and offer something as close as possible without actually infringing.

A Patent Drafting Checklist

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.

The Patent Drafting Disclosure Revolution: Don’t Ask Alice

No question exists that patent eligibility under Section 101 has been, and remains, the most active question in patent law. Watching the rapid flow of cases back and forth between the Federal Circuit and the Supreme Court exceeds the excitement generated by most TV shows in sheer entertainment value. The only question open for discussion is whether we are watching “Game of Thrones,” “Survivor”, or “Modern Family.” Actually, the best choice may be “Lost”.

Patent Application Drafting: Ambiguity and Assumptions are the Enemy

Explaining the function of the invention is helpful, but only explaining something in terms of function leaves many questions unanswered because it is not terribly descriptive. For example, assume you are unfamiliar with a couch. If I were to try and describe a couch by explaining that you sit on it to watch TV, would that bring to mind a couch? It might, but it might also bring to mind a chair (of various sorts), a recliner or perhaps a love seat. Maybe even a bar stool. Notice also that when describing the couch for sitting we are leaving out lying on the couch. If I were to describe the couch structurally, however, the reader would be able to understand that you could sit on it or lay on it. The description would also easily distinguish the couch from a bar stool or chair. Thus, describing function can be helpful to get the reader thinking in the right direction, but normally it does not bring the reader all the way to an unambiguous understanding.

Patent Drafting: Getting the Broadest Supportable Claim Scope

‘Broad’ in this context means ‘broadest supportable’ coverage, limited only by the technology in terms of supportability and by the prior art in terms of outer reach. A failure to achieve such breadth is generally attributable to overclaiming, where one runs afoul of the prior art; underclaiming, where the drafter stop short of claiming all he could; or faulty claiming, where the drafter attempts to achieve breadth, but support issues or drafting errors restrict claim scope. Sound principles, instilled by effective training, cannot substitute for adequate knowledge of the prior art. They can provide the knowledge and thus the confidence to claim out to the limits defined by that art.

Patent Drafting: Employing Claim Differentiation to Ensure Broad Construction

To bring this principle to bear on the problem of claim breadth, consider a patent disclosing only a single embodiment, with a main claim whose scope extends beyond that of the embodiment (yet inside the ambit of any cited prior art). As discussed at length elsewhere, without diverse claims, courts are likely to determine that the embodiment does not simply illustrate the invention; it is the invention. The court then follows promptly by reading limitations of the embodiment into the claims.

Patent Drafting: Broadening Statements vs. Boilerplate Language

Patent prosecutors have responded to the Disclosure Revolution in much the same way that clergy and medical doctors responded to the Black Death. Medieval doctors offered incantations and ritual; patent lawyers recite boilerplate. Neither is particularly effective.

Patent Drafting: Appropriately Disclosing Your Invention

It is also vitally critical for inventors to understand that the strength and breadth of your disclosure will be determined not only by the general descriptions, but by the specific descriptions that explain various embodiments.  Inventors frequently want to only describe things very generally, and that is a recipe for disaster. If you describe things so broadly it will be easy to find prior art for the invention disclosed, which means no patent may be able to be obtained. Resist the temptation to hold back on the specifics. If you don’t want to provide the specifics that is fine, but then you really shouldn’t be applying for a patent at all.

Patent Drafting: Include Alternatives and Variations to Claim Limitations

Recent Federal Circuit reasoning should make a patent drafter decidedly averse to single-embodiment patent applications, with good reason. Unfortunately, real-world constraints, principally centering on budget and time issues, have resulted and probably will continue to result in the production of a large number of applications in which multiple embodiments either do not exist or do not justify the time and effort to include them in a patent application… In most instances, the addition of a few sentences would have completely cured the cited problems.

Patent Drafting: The Detailed Description Should Include Multiple Embodiments or Examples

Along with their ABC’s and multiplication tables, patent lawyers learn two basic principles. First, claims define the invention. Second, a court should not read limitations from a single embodiment into the claims, absent a demonstrated clear intention by the patentee to do so. Don’t believe them. When the Federal Circuit brings up the principle that one should not import the limitations of a single embodiment into a broader claim, expect the opinion to show how, under the particular, specifically limited facts of the present case, the inventor actually intended to limit the claims to the disclosed embodiment.