On February 15, the House IP Subcommittee held a hearing on “The Case for Patent Reform.” All four seats at the table called for change:
- Adam B. Jaffe, Professor and Dean, Brandeis University
- Suzanne Michel, Chief Intellectual Property Counsel, FTC
- Mark Myers, National Academy of Science (Former Xerox Exec)
- Daniel B. Ravicher, Activist, PubPat
The key to more efficient patent examination is to go beyond thinking about what patent examiners do, to consider how the nature of the examination process affects the behavior of inventors and firms. To put it crudely, if the patent office allows bad patents to issue, this encourages people with bad applications to show up. While the increase in the rate of patent applications over the last two decades is driven by many factors, one important factor is the simple fact that it has gotten so much easier to get a patent, so applications that never would have been submitted before now look like they are worth a try. Conversely, if the PTO pretty consistently rejected applications for bad patents, people would understand that bad applications are a waste of time and money.
Unlike tangible forms of property, such as real estate, patent boundaries are almost always poorly defined. Many patents are written in vague or obscure language, claim construction procedures are uncertain and vary from judge to judge, existing claims are hidden in the pipeline at the Patent Office, and the use of abstract terms allows patents to cover far more technology than what was actually invented. One sign of how difficult it is for people to determine exactly what a patent does and does not cover is the fact that more than a third of all district court judges, after performing a thorough analysis of a patent’s claims, have their construction of those claims reversed by the CAFC.
If Federal Judges can’t agree on what claim terms mean, how can we expect the average American business person or individual inventor to do so. . . . .
[I]n order to address the problem of fuzzy patent boundaries, a patent’s validity should always be analyzed according to the broadest reasonable interpretation of its claims, because that is the construction of the patent that the public will generally abide by until the patent is reviewed by a court, and the currently dormant statutory prohibition against indefinite claim language should be awakened and strengthened.
High rates of technological innovation, especially in the 1990s but continuing to this day, suggest that the patent system is not broken and does not require fundamental changes. Nevertheless [we should address] . . . consistent patent quality . . . harmonization . . . publication [of all filed applications] . . . [reducing] litigation costs . . . [and] patent thickets.
The [FTC] Report recommended creation of a new administrative procedure for post-grant review and opposition that allows for meaningful challenges to patent validity short of federal court litigation. Existing means for challenging questionable patents are inadequate. Patent prosecution is ex parte, involving only the PTO and the patent applicant, even though third parties in the same field as a patent applicant may have the best information and expertise with which to assist in the evaluation of a patent application.
- I’m ignoring the HR977 that would end gene patenting because it is going nowhere. It would add the following language: `Notwithstanding any other provision of law, no patent may be obtained for a nucleotide sequence, or its functions or correlations, or the naturally occurring products it specifies.’.
- S. 316, on the other hand, may get some legs. That bill would eliminate generic reverse payments. Leahy