Brilliant New Book on Ethics in Prosecution 2015 Edition Out Now!

By David Hricik

Proud to announce that the 3rd edition of Patent Ethics: Prosecution that I co-authored with Mercedes Meyer is now available here!  This edition adds a massive amount of new material to deal with the new PTO ethics rules and the fast-moving, roller coaster world of ethical issues in patent practice!

From the description:

Patent Ethics: Prosecution (2015 Edition), by David Hricik and Mercedes Meyer, is an essential guide to the ethical issues arising in the course of the patent prosecution process. By providing relevant rules and case law, it allows practitioners to identify ethical problems before they arise and to address them most effectively when they do. Patent Ethics: Prosecution is one of two volumes on patent ethics — the second focuses on litigation — and is the first of its kind to combine the United State Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) rules with commentary by the authors, which distills the authors’ own experience and expertise in patent prosecution into effective practice strategies.

The 2015 Edition is particularly relevant considering the significant ramifications with the United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) repealing its existing rules, the USPTO Code of Professional Responsibility, and replacing them with the new USPTO Rules of Professional Conduct. Furthermore, the 2015 Edition also comprehensively discusses ethical issues of major concern for patent law practitioners such as:
•   The increase in malpractice claims based upon patent prosecution as well as recent significant verdicts of $30 million and $70 million.

•   The USPTO’s Office of Enrollment and Discipline’s vigorous enforcement efforts, continued persistence in asserting a broad view of its jurisdiction, and resulting increase in the volume of case law and other authorities.

•   The troublesome issue of best mode and the America Invents Act.

•   The various ethical issues surrounding patent agents.

The 2015 Edition features new analysis of current client conflicts in patent practice, including when prosecution and opinion work become “adverse” to a client, the conflicts of interest created by the AIA’s approach to the best mode, and duty of candor post-Therasense. It also includes an updated PTO Code completely annotated with OED decisions on each provision.

Makes a perfect Christmas present, too!  Buy one for every lawyer in your firm!  Heck, buy two so they have one at home!

Case dismissed as sanction for misrepresentations

Judge Keith Ellison issued a scathing order dismissing a patent case after it had been tried to verdict.  Tesco Corp. v. Weatherford Int’l., Inc. (S.D. Tex. Aug. 25, 2014).  Four days into a three-week trial over infringement of some patents relating to drilling rig equipment, an inventor testified that a brochure that constituted 102(b) prior art showed his invention.  The following day, a Friday, patentee’s counsel told the court he would spend the weekend getting to the bottom of the facts about it (there was even a dispute over whether the brochure had been produced to the defendants).

Come Monday, the patentee’s lawyer said that the brochure had been rendered by someone else, Karr, not the inventor and that Karr would unequivocally, no doubt, for sure, and so on say that it was not the inventor’s device.  Trial proceeded.  There was a mixed and inconsistent verdict rendered by the jury.  Rather than enter judgment, Judge Ellison let the case proceed to other issues.

After trial during discovery relating to exceptional case and inequitable conduct, Karr testified that he had had nothing to do with the brochure and that everything the patentee’s counsel had said was false.

The defendants, not surprisingly, moved for sanctions.  Making matters worse, in opposition to those motions, the patentee’s counsel quoted portions of the deposition excerpts that, Judge Ellison felt, were at best misleading.

In this order, the judge dismissed the claims with prejudice, holding that nothing less would protect the judicial system.  It then invited motions for attorneys’ fees to be submitted.  Stay tuned.

iLOR v. Google: Rejected Claim Construction Does Not Render Case “Objectively Baseless”

By Jason Rantanen

iLOR, LLC v. Google, Inc. (Fed. Cir. 2011)
Panel: Rader, Linn, Dyk (author)

This case involved a district court exceptional case determination based a finding that the suit was objectively baseless and brought in bad faith.  iLOR, the assignee of Patent No. 7,206,839, sued Google for infringement of the '839 patent by Google's Notebook product.  In denying iLOR's request for a preliminary injunction, the district court rejected iLOR's proposed construction of the only claim term in dispute, subsequently granting summary judgment of noninfringement.  The Federal Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of the preliminary injunction, agreeing that the language of the claim, the specification and the prosecution history supported the district court's construction.  See iLOR, LLC v. Google, Inc., 550 F.3d 1067 (Fed. Cir. 2008).  Following the Federal Circuit's disposition of that appeal, the district court granted Google's request to recover its attorneys' fees and costs and expenses, finding the case exceptional on the ground that it was "not close" on the merits (i.e.: ("objectively baseless") and iLOR had acted in subjective bad faith.  iLOR appealed.

In reversing the district court, the CAFC first likened the exceptional case standard for a suit brought by a patent plaintiff (absent misconduct during patent prosecution or litigation) to that of willful infringement.  "The objective baselessness standard for enhanced damages and attorneys’ fees against a non-prevailing plaintiff under Brooks Furniture is identical to the objective recklessness standard for enhanced damages and attorneys’ fees against an accused infringer for § 284 willful infringement actions under In re Seagate Technology, LLC, 497 F.3d 1360 (Fed. Cir. 2007) (en banc)."  Slip Op. at 8-9.  Thus, just as willfulness requires an assessment of both objective and "subjective" (i.e.: known or so obvious that it should have been known) prongs, so too does the exceptional case determination. And just as for willfulness, the objective assessment "is to be determined based on the record ultimately made in the infringement proceedings."  Id. at 10.

Comment: At some points, the Federal Circuit's opinion is confusingly imprecise in its usage of "objective baselessness."  Although in some instances it refers to the "objective baselessness" standard as being identical to the overall objective recklessness standard for willfulness (which includes, according to the court, both objective and subjective elements), at other times it treats it as being identical to only the "objective" prong of the analysis.  The only reading that makes sense is that when the court indicates that "objective baselessness" is identical to the willfulness "objective recklessness" standard, what it is really referring to is the overall standard for an exceptional case determination based on a meritless case theory, while when it compares it to the "objective" prong of the willfulness analysis, it really is referring to "objective baselessness."

Applying this framework, the CAFC concluded that iLOR's claim construction was not objectively baseless, and thus it was unnecessary to consider the issue of subjective bad faith.  The CAFC pointed to iLOR's arguments supporting its proposed construction, which – although the court disagreed with them – had some merit.  The CAFC also commented on the difficulty of claim construction, "in which the issues are often complex and the resolutions not always predictable."  Id. at 13.  And the court noted that the fact that it "held oral argument and issued a precedential written opinion in the first appeal suggests that we did not regard the case as frivolous."  Id. at 13-14.  In short, "simply being wrong about claim construction should not subject a party to sanctions where the construction is not objectively baseless."  Id. at 14.

Michel & Nothhaft: Inventing Our Way Out of Joblessness

Judge Paul Michel and Hank Nothhaft (Tessera CEO) have written an important OP-ED for the New York Times. They argue that an important way for the US government to stimulate entrepreneurship and job growth is by giving the USPTO a large bolus of money ($1 billion) to put its affairs in order:

This would enable the agency to upgrade its outmoded computer systems and hire and train additional examiners to deal with the threefold increase in patent applications over the past 20 years. Congress should also pass pending legislation that would prohibit any more diverting of patent fees and give the office the authority to set its own fees.

. . . .

To be sure, not every patent creates a job or generates economic value. Some, however, are worth thousands of jobs — Jack Kilby’s 1959 patent for a semiconductor, for example, or Steve Wozniak’s 1979 patent for a personal computer. It’s impossible to predict how many new jobs or even new industries may lie buried within the patent office’s backlog. But according to our analysis of the data in the Berkeley Patent Survey, each issued patent is associated with 3 to 10 new jobs.

In addition, the pair suggests an “innovation tax credit” for each patent received by a small business:

To encourage still more entrepreneurship, Congress should also offer small businesses a tax credit of up to $19,000 for every patent they receive, enabling them to recoup half of the average $38,000 in patent office and lawyers’ fees spent to obtain a patent. Cost, after all, is the No. 1 deterrent to patent-seeking, the patent survey found.

For the average 30,000 patents issued to small businesses each year, a $19,000 innovation tax credit would mean a loss of about $570 million in tax revenue in a year. But if it led to the issuance of even one additional patent per small business, it would create 90,000 to 300,000 jobs.

Taken together, fully financing the patent office and creating an innovation tax credit could mean as many as 2.5 million new jobs over three years, and add up to 600,000 more jobs every year thereafter.

It only makes sense to help innovative small businesses make their way to the patent office and, once there, find it ready to issue the patents that lead to new jobs.

I have quibbles with the numbers used by the authors. However, I do think that they are on the right track in a few respects — especially with the idea that investing in incentives to innovate is a much more cost-effective and stable policy approach as compared with hiring folks to do government work.


  • As academic quibbles: 
    • The statement that “each issued patent is associated with 3 to 10 new jobs” cannot be derived from the Berkeley Patent Survey.  However, I don’t see that figure as unreasonable or unlikely. It would be helpful to see how the authors calculated this figure.
    • In addition, it is important to recognize that patents are just one step along the road toward job creation. The idea is that patents can provide confidence and stability in business potential ventures.  That confidence and stability leads to investment and job creation.

In re Gleave: Reference with Unknown Utility Still Anticipates

In re Gleave (Fed. Cir. 2009)

In 2008, the BPAI affirmed the examiner’s rejection of Gleave’s claims as anticipated. The claims focus on an antisense oligodeoxynucleotide designed to bind two different types of insulin-dependent growth factor binding protein (IGFBP). The prior art included a document that listed the genetic sequence of the complementary sense strands but did not identify any utility of the sequence.

On appeal, the Federal Circuit affirmed the anticipation rejection – basing its decision on the rule that anticipatory prior art does need to be functional, useful, or show actual reduction to practice. Rather, to be anticipatory, the prior art must enable the skilled artisan to make the claimed invention.

In the 1973 Wiggins case, the CCPA ruled that the “mere naming of a compound in a reference, without more, cannot constitute a[n anticipatory] description of the compound.” The Federal Circuit here distinguished Wiggins – noting that in Gleave’s case, the sequence listing was sufficient to allow a skilled artisan to “at once envision each member of this limited class.”