by Dennis Crouch
The Federal Circuit recently wrote about the GATT-Bubble in Hyatt v. Hirschfeld decision. “[I]n the nine days leading to June 8, 1995, the PTO reported that it received and processed over 50,000 applications—one-quarter of the entire year’s projected filings.” Pre-GATT applicants had a comparative incentive to keep their patent applications pending longer because patent term was calculated based upon the issue date.* This was especially true in the early days prior to creation and expansion of Patent Term Adjustment. 1995 was 26 years ago — most folks who are patent attorneys today were not yet even in law school at the time. That summer, I was working at a bacon factory in Frontenac Kansas (The $5.15 per hour was substantially above minimum wage of $4.25).
The bulk of pre-GATT applications were processed and issued/abandoned roughly as expected. However, there has been quite a long tail of pending applications. By 2010 the number was down to about 600 pre-GATT pending applications. We know now that about 380 of these were associated with Gil Hyatt; the remaining 220 were associated with other applicants.** By 2016, the number was down to 20 non-Hyatt pre-GATT pending applications, and now in 2021 there are only 2 non-Hyatt applications remaining. There will be a few more years of litigation, but if the PTO’s win on prosecution estoppel holds, this chapter will finally be closed.
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In recent years, all of the pre-GATT patents have issued to Personalized Media Communications (PMC).
- U.S. Pat. No. 10,715,835 – 2020 Signal processing apparatus and methods
- U.S. Pat. No. 10,616,638 – 2020 Signal processing apparatus and methods
- U.S. Pat. No. 10,609,425 – 2020 Signal processing apparatus and methods
- U.S. Pat. No. 10,523,350 – 2019 Signal processing apparatus and methods
- U.S. Pat. No. 10,334,292 – 2019 Signal processing apparatus and methods
- U.S. Pat. No. 9,674,560 – 2017 Signal processing apparatus and methods
In addition, a number of unclassified pre-GATT cases have also moved through. An interesting one is a patent issued to Lockheed Martin in 2020 on a “method for opening a combination padlock.” U.S. Pat. No. 10,669,742. Basically, this is a method and apparatus for figuring out the combination on the padlock. The application was filed back in 1990 and kept secret by order of the Department of Defense until 2018.
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* Applicants who beat the 1995 deadline were granted given either a patent term of 17 years from issuance or else 20 years from filing, whichever was longer as calculated at issuance. In that scenario, there were very good reasons to file before the deadline if the invention was ready for patenting.
** Note – for this essay, I’m ignoring old applications that were kept secret and denied issuance by the US Government.