Patently-O Patent L.J.: Overlapping Plaintiffs in False Marking Litigation

In the newest Patently-O Patent Law Journal publication, Robert Matthews discusses the law controlling false-marking suits when multiple plaintiffs sue for the same act of false marking. Matthews extrapolates the case-law to make two primary points: (1) a false-marking defendant cannot be subjected to multiple penalties for the same act of patent false marking; and (2) based on the first-to-file tradition, federal comity, and standing principles, the second-filed suit should be dismissed.

Cite as Robert A. Matthews, Jr., When Multiple Plaintiffs/Relators Sue for the Same Act of Patent False Marking, 2010 Patently-O Patent L.J. 95 [File Attachment: Matthews.FalseMarking.pdf (234 KB)].

Guest Post: USPTO Must Amend Examiner Guidelines On Bilski

by Paul Craane of Marshall Gerstein & Borun

In the wake of Bilski, the United States Patent and Trademark Office has provided unclear, and potentially incorrect, guidance to the Examining Corps regarding the application of 35 U.S.C. 101. The guidance instructs examiners to reject claims if the claims fail to meet the machine-or-transformation (MoT) test, absent some "clear indication that the method is not directed to an abstract idea." This application of Bilski effectively ignores the guidance provided by the opinion to the effect that the MoT test is not the sole test for patent-eligible processes under Section 101.

According to existing precedent, the examiner has the burden to make out a prima facie case before the burden shifts to the applicant. Given that the examiner has the burden and given that the MoT test is not the sole test, a failure to meet the MoT test should not automatically result in rejection of a claim. In fact, if failure to meet the MoT test did necessarily result in the rejection of a claim, then the USPTO would be using the MoT test as the sole test for patent-eligibility, contrary to Bilski.

Of course, the guidance does not suggest a rejection based solely on the MoT test, in that the examiner must still look for a clear indication that the method is not directed to an abstract idea. Even though there is an additional step, this procedure would appear to shift the burden from the examiner to show patent-ineligibility to the applicant to affirmatively show patent-eligibility before the examiner has made out a prima facie case of patent-ineligibility. According to Bilski, there are only three exceptions to patent-eligibility: laws of nature, physical phenomena, and abstract ideas. In accordance with Bilski, unless one of these exceptions is shown, the examiner can hardly be said to have made out a prima facie case of patent-ineligibility, such that the burden should shift to the applicant.

Consequently, the USPTO should amend its guidance to clarify that the examiner has an obligation to show that the claim recites an abstract idea (or law of nature or physical phenomena) to reject the claim, rather than simply indicating that if they should reject after applying the MoT test if they fail to find a clear indication that it does not recite an abstract idea.

Note: As per our usual rule, this post does not necessarily reflect opinions of Mr. Craane's firm or its clients.

Patenting by Entrepreneurs: The Berkeley Patent Survey (Part III of III)

Guest Post by Robert Merges and Pamela Samuelson, UC Berkeley School of Law; Ted Sichelman, University of San Diego School of Law

In our previous post, we discussed some of the major findings from the Berkeley Patent Survey—the most comprehensive survey to date in the United States, probably worldwide, on how patents are used by and affect entrepreneurs, startups, and early-stage high technology companies. (For those interested in more information, a detailed discussion of the survey results is available here; a focused analysis on the drivers of startup patenting, here; and some background on the genesis of the survey, here.)

As we noted at the end of our last post, when asked about the role patents play in directly driving the innovation process, our respondents reported relatively weak effects. As Figure 1 below indicates, executives at biotechnology companies stated that, on average, patents provide slightly less than "moderate" incentives to invent, perform initial R & D, and commercialize products. For software companies, the responses fall to just below "slight" incentives.

Even when respondents are limited to those companies that hold at least one patent or application, the results do not change much. For these patent-holding companies, biotechnology companies report just slightly above moderate incentives and software companies report just above slight incentives for these same innovation-related activities.

Figure 1: The Role of Patents in the Innovation Process

These results are somewhat surprising for biotechnology companies, because anecdotal reports had indicated that biotech companies relied heavily on patenting to protect their investments in R & D. On the other hand, the results do generally accord with anecdotal reports from the software industry.

The authors of the 2008 Berkeley Patent Survey report are not all of one mind about how to interpret the incentive effect findings of our study. Some of us would discount these results in that they reflect the perceptions of executives about how patents work, and might not accord with economic reality. Specifically, while these executives may have understood our questions, they may not have fully comprehended the role patenting plays in the innovation process, which is often subtle. For instance, in an earlier post we noted important secondary effects of patents, such as attracting capital and enabling arm's-length transactions. These effects may contribute enough of a "plus factor" to make certain projects viable, even if executives do not think of patents in those terms. In other words, if patents are effective in garnering investment capital—which is then used to perform R & D—although executives might not view patents as the immediate cause of innovation, patents might still play an important role in the innovation process that is not fully reflected in our study results. Yet, others of us are more willing to give credence to the perception of entrepreneurs who report that patents provide weak to moderate incentives to invest in innovation. Who are we as scholars to say that they are incorrect in their assessment about the importance (or not) of patents?

We acknowledge that our analysis to date of the study results do not allow us to say one way or the other whether the views of the executives accurately reflect the economics of the patent system. Thus, it would be wrong to conclude, as one commentator has, that one of the key findings of our study is that patents "play essentially no role in fostering innovation among startup companies . . . outside biotech and other limited areas." In the same fashion, it may also be wrong to conclude that the executives taking the survey were not fully aware of the economics of patents, and the reality is that patents play a major role in promoting innovation. Rather, based on our study results, one can draw competing inferences that explain the results. As such, we come to no conclusions in this article regarding the actual role patents play in fostering startup innovation (or not).

To be sure, relying on other evidence, several of us have expressed views on the topic elsewhere. Unfortunately, even combining this additional evidence with our study data does not definitively answer the question. The data, however, present an interesting paradox: If executives believe that patents provide relatively weak incentives to innovate, why are so many startup firms seeking them? Our first post indicated that securing financing was a reason why many firms reported seeking patents.

Reinforcing that finding is another significant result. Our survey asked entrepreneurs to report their views on the importance of patents to potential funders, such as venture capitalists (VCs), angel investors, other firms, commercial banks, and friends and family. Our respondents indicate that many potential investors with whom they negotiated said that patents were important to their investment decisions. Of companies negotiating with VC firms, 67% report that these firms indicated that patents were an important factor in their investment decisions.

Interestingly, this result was not just driven by biotech and medical device firms. Broken down by industry, the figures were 60% for software companies, 73% for biotech, and 85% for medical devices. Respondents also report that substantial percentages of other types of investors, such as angels, investment banks, and other companies found patents important to their investment decisions.

In our view, this last finding may help to explain why many high tech startups seek patents, even though their executives report that patents provide relatively weak incentives to innovate. Raising money, rather than invention itself, may be the key.

Of course, this conclusion begs the question of why patents are important in the startup financing process in the first instance. Like the innovation incentives issue, the authors are not in full accord on the explanations here. One possible interpretation is that startup executives are generally unaware of the link between patents and success in the innovative process, which results in financial markets selecting those companies that patent more heavily. Another interpretation is that patents serve important functions not related to the innovation process, such as helping to prevent infringement lawsuits, providing leverage in cross-licensing negotiations, and acting as "signals" of firm competency, which drive investment. A third interpretation may be that investors want startups to patent so there will be some marketable assets if the companies fail in the market. And these interpretations are not mutually exclusive. Unfortunately, as we indicated earlier, our analysis cannot resolve this dilemma. We hope that further research by us and others ultimately will make progress in doing so. In the meantime, we believe our study offers one of the most important resources for understanding the effects and use of patents by entrepreneurs.

Patenting by Entrepreneurs: The Berkeley Patent Survey (Part II of III)

Guest Post by Robert Merges and Pamela Samuelson, UC Berkeley School of Law; Ted Sichelman, University of San Diego School of Law

In our previous post, we discussed three major findings from the Berkeley Patent Survey—the most comprehensive survey to date in the United States, probably worldwide, on how patents are used by and affect entrepreneurs, startups, and early-stage high technology companies. As we noted in that post, the survey collected responses from over 1,300 companies less than ten years old (hereinafter, "startups") in the biotechnology, medical device, software, and hardware/IT sectors. In this post, we discuss three additional major findings. (For those interested in more information, a detailed discussion of the survey results is available here; a focused analysis on the drivers of startup patenting, here; and some background on the genesis of the survey, here.)

Our fourth major result is that our respondents—particularly software companies—find the high costs of patenting and enforcing their patents deter them from filing for patents on their innovations (see Fig. 1 below). Given the reported importance of patents to startups not only in the financing process, but also for strategic reasons—especially for increasing bargaining power—these cost barriers are worrisome.

Another of our survey questions revealed that the average out-of-pocket cost for a respondent firm to acquire its most recent patent was over $38,000. This figure is significantly higher than the averages for patent prosecution reported in the literature, which vary from a low of $10,000 to a high of $30,000.

Our respondents also offer a variety of other reasons for not patenting, including the ease of competitors designing around a potential patent and the belief that the innovation was not patentable (both of which are more salient for software companies) as well as the reluctance to disclose information in a patent and a preferred reliance on trade secrecy (which are more salient for biotechnology companies).

Figure 1. "For your last innovation you did not patent, which if any of the following influenced your company's decision?"

A fifth major finding is that although many respondents report licensing in patents from others, most of them did so to acquire technology, with fewer seeking licenses to avoid a lawsuit. So, while we find that 15% of technology companies licensed in at least one patent, there are industry differences.

Specifically, among biotechnology companies, while 37% had licensed in at least one patent, for their last license, 81% did so to acquire technology, and only 30% to (sometimes also) avoid a lawsuit. Among software firms, only 8% report taking at least one patent license, with 79% taking such a license to (at least in part) gain information or know-how. In each sector, less than 10% of companies taking licenses report licensing only to avoid a law suit.

When we restrict our focus to only venture-backed companies, inbound licensing is much more prevalent, with 37% of all companies licensing in a patent. However, there is once more wide variation from one industry to another. While 89% of venture-backed biotechnology companies licensed in at least one patent, only 12% of similarly-funded software companies had reported as much. Also, while only 3% of these biotech companies that had licensed at least one patent reported licensing in their last patent only to avoid a lawsuit, 22% of such software companies reported as much.

Last, we asked how much of a role patents play in the steps of the innovation process, from invention to R & D to the commercialization of products and processes. Somewhat surprisingly, the responses on the whole are rather tepid. For instance, biotechnology companies report that patents provide closer to a "moderate" than a "strong" incentive to engage in the innovation process. Among software companies, the results are even more striking, with them reporting that patents provide less than a "slight" incentive. These findings raise questions about the importance of patents to innovation for entrepreneurs and startups. Indeed, the results have spurred some vigorous debate in the blogosphere of late, and we devote our entire next post on Patently-O to discussing them in detail.

Patenting by Entrepreneurs: The Berkeley Patent Survey (Part I of III)

Guest Post by Robert Merges and Pamela Samuelson, UC Berkeley School of Law; Ted Sichelman, University of San Diego School of Law

Why do entrepreneurs and startup companies file for patents? Why not? How often do startups acquire patents from others? How important are patents in fostering innovation at startups? In helping them raise financing? In providing leverage in cross-licensing negotiations? Are entrepreneurs and startups subject to patent thickets?

These and many related questions were the subject of the Berkeley Patent Survey—the most comprehensive survey to date in the United States, probably worldwide, on how patents are used by and affect entrepreneurs, startups, and early-stage high technology companies. Funded by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation—and conducted by us, along with Robert Barr (Executive Director of the Berkeley Center for Law & Tech and former VP of IP at Cisco) and Stuart Graham (then a professor at Georgia Tech's College of Management, and currently Chief Economist of the USPTO)—the survey collected responses from over 1,300 companies less than ten years old (hereinafter, "startups") in the biotechnology, medical device, software, and hardware/IT sectors.

In this first post of three, we briefly review three major findings from our initial analysis of the survey about the frequency of patenting among high-tech startups, why startups seek patents, and how they rate patents and other strategies for attaining competitive advantage. In the next post, we'll discuss some reasons startups give for not seeking patents and why they sometimes license-in patents from other companies. In the last post, we'll specifically address startup perceptions about the incentives that patents provide for engaging in innovation as well as the perceived importance of patents in securing outside investments. The investment incentive role of patents has been not only a subject of enduring interest in the patent field generally, but also an important topic of interest of late at the Department of Commerce and PTO. (For those interested in more information, a detailed discussion of the survey results is available here; a focused analysis on the drivers of startup patenting, here; and some background on the genesis of the survey, here.)

First, startups hold many more patents and applications than previously believed. Instead of asking companies how many patents and applications they actually hold—like we did—earlier studies solely used the PTO databases to determine portfolio size. Unfortunately, these databases are unreliable, because the assignee records—particularly for patents acquired from founders and third parties—are incomplete. Our more complete data shows that about 40% of our respondents hold patents or applications, with the figure rising to about 80% for startups funded by venture capital firms.

As expected, this figure varies widely by industry—for example, 97% of venture-backed biotechnology companies hold patents or applications, while only 67% of venture-backed software startups do. And among the general population of software startups responding, the rate was only about 25%. In terms of raw numbers, among biotechnology companies, those with patents and applications have about 13 on hand, with the number rising to about 20 for medical device companies, and falling to about 7 for software companies. In sum, many startups are filing for patents and hold greater numbers than previously believed, though most software companies have never filed for patents.

Second, startups report that they primarily file for patents to prevent against copying of their innovative products and services (see Fig. 1 below). This holds true across all industries and by a variety of other company characteristics, such as age and revenues.

Respondents also note that filing for patents to improve their chances of securing investment and generating a liquidity event (such as an IPO or being acquired) are between moderately and very important reasons to file. In addition, the respondents state that a moderately important reason to file patents is for strategic reasons, such as defending against and preventing patent lawsuits as well as increasing negotiating leverage.

Figure 1: Reasons to File for Patents

Our third major finding concerns startup executives' perceptions of the effectiveness of patents and other methods of providing competitive advantage. Interestingly, responses vary widely (see Fig. 2 below). Biotechnology companies rate patents as the most effective means of capturing competitive advantage, more effective than first-mover advantage (though the differences are not statistically significant), trade secrecy, reverse engineering, copyright, and other means. Software companies, on the other hand, rank patenting dead last in providing competitive advantage.

Figure 2: Measures of Capturing "Competitive Advantage" from Inventions

In sum, the 2008 Berkeley Patent Survey has found that startups are patenting more than previous studies have suggested; that patents are being sought for a variety of reasons, the most prominent of which is to prevent copying of the innovation; and that there are considerable differences among startups in the perceived significance of patents for attaining competitive advantage, with biotech companies rating them as the most important strategy and software companies rating them least important.

Our next post will delve into reasons high tech entrepreneurs gave for not seeking patents for recent innovations and for licensing of patents from other companies.

Advanced Magnetic Closures v. Rome Fastener

By Jason Rantanen

Early this week, I wrote about Leviton, former Chief Judge Michel's last opinion on inequitable conduct before leaving the bench.  Advanced Magnetic Closures brings another perspective on the issue – this time in the form of a comment from the new Chief Judge about issuing inequitable conduct opinions while Therasense v. Becton, Dickinson is pending en banc.

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Fastener Advanced Magnetic Closures, Inc. v. Rome Fastener Corp. (Fed. Cir., June 11, 2010)

In Advanced Magnetic Closures, the court reviewed a district court determination that U.S. Patent No. 5,572,773 is unenforceable due to inequitable conduct by the alleged inventor.  The panel also reviewed the district court’s entry of attorney fees against both the patent holder (AMC) and its attorney. 

Inequitable conduct: The focus of the inequitable conduct determination was on the district court’s finding that the alleged inventor falsely claimed to the PTO that he was the inventor of the claimed magnetic fastener when, in fact, he was not.  Applying the Star Scientific standard, the panel concluded that the district court did not err by finding that “the single most reasonable inference able to be drawn from the evidence is that [the alleged inventor] intended to deceive the PTO.”  Slip Op. at 19 (internal quotations omitted). 

Attorney’s Fees: After concluding that the exceptional case determination was appropriate on the basis of both inequitable conduct and litigation misconduct (an issue that the appellant waived by failing to include it in its briefs), the court addressed the attorney sanctions entered against AMC’s attorney under 28 US.C. § 1927.  Applying Second Circuit law, the Federal Circuit concluded that the district court abused its discretion by sanctioning the attorney.  The court noted that attorney sanctions under 28 U.S.C. § 1927 require a finding of bad faith, as opposed to objective unreasonableness, and concluded that the district court’s single statement that the attorney “should have been aware” of the deficiency of AMC’s patent infringement claim was insufficient to rise to this level.  

Chief Judge Rader’s Concurrence: The most notable aspect of the opinion comes at the end, in the form of the new Chief Judge’s concurrence.  While Judge Rader agreed with the outcome of the appeal, he wrote separately to stress that “absent extreme facts such as those found in the present case, this court should refrain from resolving inequitable conduct cases until it addresses the issue en banc.”  He also provided the following interesting comment regarding Therasense:

“In Therasense, this court has been asked to address the transformation of inequitable conduct from the rare exceptional cases of egregious fraud that results in the grant of a patent that would not otherwise issue to a rather automatic assertion in every infringement case. The exception has become the rule. Generally, I would hold inequitable conduct cases until after this court reexamines whether to put the doctrine back into the exception category.”

Although no Federal Circuit decisions involving inequitable conduct have issued since Advanced Magnetic Closures, only a short time has passed.  It remains to be seen whether the Chief Judge’s proposed policy on inequitable conduct determinations will be followed for the coming months.

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For the sake of full disclosure, I note that I previously represented Abbott Laboratories in connection with the Therasense litigation.  I no longer represent clients, including Abbott.

Guest Post: Why Bilski Benefits Startup Companies


I asked Professor Ted Sichelman to provide his thoughts on how the Bilski decision impacts start-up companies and their incentive to innovate. DC

By Ted Sichelman, University of San Diego School of Law

Before practicing law and becoming a professor, I founded and ran a small software company that sells speech recognition software to taxicab companies. After my company designed its technology, we filed for patents. Later on, when raising financing from angel and venture capital investors, they reviewed our pending applications carefully and considered them a way to stop potential competition. Indeed, in a recent survey of startup firms, the Berkeley Patent Survey—which I conducted with Robert Merges and Pamela Samuelson of UC Berkeley School of Law and Stuart Graham (now Chief Economist at the PTO)—startup executives reported that nearly 70% of venture capital firms and 50% of angel investors said that patents were important to their investment decisions. Relatively broad patentable subject matter assists startups in raising needed funds. As I have argued elsewhere, another reason for broad subject matter is that startups engage in substantial amounts of post-invention—but pre-commercialization—innovation that is not always technological in nature. For instance, many startups generate marketing, financial, legal, and other types of non-technological innovations during the costly commercialization process. Providing IP protection for these innovations not only can produce more of them, but also can help drive technology commercialization.

Assuming the Federal Circuit and the PTO do not go astray in implementing Bilski—which admittedly leaves many doors open to do so—the opinion will allow startups to continue to use patents to garner financing and will, hopefully, set an appropriate balance on the patentability of non-technological inventions. In particular, as I urged in an amicus brief with Professors Mark Lemley, Michael Risch, and Polk Wagner—Bilski rightly adheres to the 150-year old tradition that as long as the claimed invention is a machine, manufacture, composition of matter, or a process, only natural phenomena, laws of nature, and abstract ideas should be excluded from eligible subject matter.

One might contend that by allowing business methods—as well as software and other “intangible” innovations—to be patented, startup firms will encounter a greater “thicket” of patents, making it more difficult for them to enter particular markets. For example, an amicus brief in Bilski filed on behalf of “entrepreneurial and consumer advocates” argued that “if the PTO is permitted to grant broad business and service process patents, small start-up businesses would face an entirely new regime of business regulation – essentially requiring businesses to request private permits to operate from their competitors who have patents, independent of whatever technology the new business uses to compete.” Justice Stevens’ echoed this view by writing in his concurrence that business methods patents “can take a particular toll on small and upstart businesses.”

In actuality, under the Federal Circuit’s previous State Street Bank opinion, in operation for a decade prior to Bilski, the PTO regularly granted “broad business and service process patents” and there is little evidence that these patent-holders required startups to license them in any significant numbers. The Berkeley Patent Survey found that only 8% of the population of respondent software companies and 12% of venture-backed software companies had licensed-in even one patent. In sum total, a relatively low percentage, 0.6% and 3%, respectively, reported licensing a patent solely to avoid a lawsuit. And while Bilski ultimately holds that business methods are not per se unpatentable, the practical effect of the outcome will be to place unapplied business methods into the precluded “abstract idea” category. If implemented properly, such an approach will ensure that startups—and, indeed, larger and more established companies—are not unnecessarily subject to overly broad patents while maintaining robust incentives to innovate.

Ted Sichelman is an Assistant Professor at the University of San Diego School of Law, where he teaches patent law and other intellectual property courses.

Bilski, Kenny Rogers and Supreme Court Rule 46

by Professor John F. Duffy, George Washington University Law School

You got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em
Know when to walk away, know when to run                       
                                       — Kenny Rogers in The Gambler

Kenny Rogers’ hit song The Gambler provides some wise strategic advice, valid not only in cards and but also in law and perhaps in life generally:   If “fold ’em” is an option, sometimes it is the best one. Supreme Court Rule 46 on “Dismissing Cases” provides petitioners in Supreme Court cases the opportunity to “fold ’em,” and in the days remaining before the Supreme Court delivers an opinion in its Bilski v. Kappos case, the most puzzling question in the case has become this: Why won’t the petititoners in Bilski fold?

From the perspective of the petitioners, the case for seeking dismissal seems overwhelmingly strong. In the months since the oral argument in Bilski, every Justice save Justice Stevens has delivered an opinion from the set of cases argued in the November sitting. Bilski remains the only case not decided from that sitting. Because only one case remains undecided and only one Justice has yet to deliver an opinion from that month, there is widespread agreement among those familiar with Supreme Court practice that Justice Stevens is writing the Court’s opinion in Bilski. Thus, the petitioners are now reduced to hoping that Justice Stevens, who once argued in dissent that all software should be outside patentable subject matter, will author an opinion that will be more pro-patent than the positions taken by all but one of the Federal Circuit judges.

But there’s more. Not only do petitioners have no realistic hope of winning anything in the case, they also have much to lose by persisting in the appeal. Petitioners—the named inventors in the application, Bernard Bilski and Rand Warsaw—and their firm WeatherWise have other patent claims, some issued and some pending, that pass the machine-or-transformation test but that may not pass whatever test Justice Stevens is busy constructing.

That’s a quick summary of the case for the petitioners seeking dismissal of Bilski. The details only make the case stronger. Then again, there is also a distinct possibility that petitioners’ side of the case may want to lose.

The Petitioners’ Chances for Victory: Nil.

Any rational consideration of persisting in a legal case should begin with a frank assessment of the chances for gain and loss.   I’ll begin with the chances for gain, for they are as close to zero as can be imagined.

Good poker players learn to read other players’ “tells,” subtle clues which give hints about the likely outcomes if the hand is played to completion. In Bilski, the Supreme Court has also given some awfully clear “tells” that do not bode well for the petitioners.

Most importantly, the assignment pattern of the Court’s opinions strongly suggests that Justice Stevens is writing the opinion. The assignment of opinions in the Court is typically done with two goals in mind: (1) to give each Justice the chance to author at least one majority opinion from each sitting; and (2) to average out the number of majority opinions written by each Justice. Twelve separate cases were argued in the November sitting, including Bilski. (This counts two cases—Graham v. Florida and Sullivan v. Florida—as effectively one case, as the two cases involved the same issue and were eventually decided the same day.) Every Justice has delivered a majority opinion from that month, with the exception of the Justice Stevens. Thus, most Supreme Court watchers would predict that the one remaining opinion from the month—Bilski—was assigned to Justice Stevens.

There is some uncertainty about this result, however. Pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 46, one of those twelve cases (Pottawattamie County v. McGhee) was dismissed two months after the oral argument, so the Justice assigned to write the opinion in that case is not publicly known. Still, Stevens still remains the most likely candidate to have been assigned the Bilski opinion because of the larger pattern of assignments from the Court’s first three sittings (September, October and November). During those three months, 26 cases were argued. If the Court were trying to average out the workload among the Justices, then every Justice save one should have been assigned three majority opinions to write.

By now, all Justices have delivered three majority opinions from those first sittings with the exception of Justices Stevens and Sotomayor. Justice Stevens has delivered only one majority opinion (a case argued in October); Justice Sotomayor has delivered two majority opinions (one each from October and November). It seems highly likely that Justice Stevens was assigned only two majority opinions to write from the first three sittings because Stevens was also writing the principal dissent in Citizens United v. FEC, the hugely important campaign finance case to which the Court gave expedited consideration.   (If, however, Justice Stevens was originally assigned three majority opinions, then he would have definitely been assigned Bilski.) Assuming Justice Stevens was assigned only two majority opinions, then the assignments to write majority opinions in Bilski and the now-dismissed Pottawattamie County case would have been distributed to Stevens and Sotomayor. Sotomayor would seem like the natural for Pottawattamie County, which involved the immunity of state prosecutors from civil liability, because Sotomayor served as a state criminal prosecutor under New York City’s Robert Morgenthau. Stevens, by contrast, was an antitrust lawyer before becoming a judge, and he has shown significant interest in patentable subject matter.

Another clue to the authorship of Bilski comes from the lengthy delay in announcing the opinion. As previously mentioned, Justice Stevens wrote the principal dissent in the Citizens United case, which was heard and decided on an expedited basis by the Court because of the case’s importance to the spring primary season. Stevens’ impassioned dissent in that case ran for 90 pages, and that opinion seems to have delayed the release Stevens’ other majority opinions. Indeed, for two months after the January decision in the Citizens United case, Justice Stevens was the only Justice on the Court not to have delivered any majority opinion during the entire Term.

If, as seems likely, Justice Stevens is writing the majority opinion in Bilski, that is an awful omen for the petitioners. Justice Stevens wrote the majority opinion for the Court in Parker v. Flook (1978), which created the enigmatic rule that certain forms of “post-solution activity” cannot transform an unpatentable principle into a patentable process. Justice Stevens is also one of the few Justices ever to attempt to draw bright-line rules for excluding whole fields from the patent system. His dissent in Diamond v. Diehr, 450 U.S. 175, 193 (1981), sought to promulgate “an unequivocal holding that no program-related invention is a patentable process under § 101 unless it makes a contribution to the art that is not dependent entirely on the utilization of a computer.” 450 U.S. at 219.

In addition to the Court’s fairly clear “tell” that Justice Stevens will deliver the opinion of the Court, there are other signs that the petitioners’ chances for ultimate success are nil. The oral argument did not go well at all for petitioners’ counsel (to put it mildly), and a significant portion of the government’s argument was devoted to arguing that the Court should not impose a more restrictive rule than that sought by the PTO (e.g., a complete ban on business method patents, whether machine implemented or not). See Transcript of Argument at 40-50. In addition, at the Federal Circuit, even Judge Rader—one of the two judges willing to take a more comprehensive view of patentable subject matter—stated explicitly that he would agree the petitioners’ claims were unpatentable as abstract ideas.

Finally, if more evidence were needed, there is the PTO’s extraordinary record of success at the Supreme Court in patent cases. Two recent articles, one by Colleen Chien of Santa Clara University and one of my own, have independently noted that, since the creation of the Federal Circuit, the government’s substantive positions on patent law have always prevailed at the Supreme Court. See Colleen Chien, Patent Amicus Briefs: What the Courts’ Friends Can Teach Us About the Patent System (2010); John F. Duffy, The Federal Circuit in the Shadow of the Solicitor General, 78 G.W.U. L. Rev. 518 (2010).   The petitioners in Bilski must hope that the Supreme Court will finally rule against the government, and in an opinion by Justice Stevens, stake out a much more pro-patent position than every judge on the Federal Circuit save one.

The Value of Dismissal.

The impossibly slim odds of winning would not matter to the petitioners if they had nothing to lose from persisting in the appeal. But petitioners Bilski and Warsaw have at least two pending patent applications on business methods for hedging risk. See U.S. Pat. App. 200030233323 A1 (Dec. 18, 2003); U.S. Pat. App. 20040122764 A1 (June 24, 2004). Furthermore, Petitioner Warsaw also is the named inventor on several issued claims in a patent assigned to the firm WeatherWise.   See U.S. Pat. No. 6,785,620 (2004). Many of the claims in that patent would seem to pass the machine-or-transformation test, as the claims cover “system[s]” that include various modules for storing and manipulating data. Some claims are also directed to a “computer-readable medium having stored thereon instructions,” which is a form of claim for covering business software that the government currently views as permissible but that could be jeopardized by an unfavorable Supreme Court opinion in Bilski.   

If the Bilski case were dismissed, a decision about patentable subject matter would be left for the future. From the standpoint of petitioners, the future would better for two reason. First, Justice Stevens would be replaced by a new Justice, likely Elana Kagan. That change has to favor those on the side of the petitioners since Justice Stevens takes a more restrictive view of patentable subject matter than many of the other Justices on the Court. By contrast, the Solicitor General’s Office under Kagan expressly endorsed the position (stated during the Bilski oral argument) that the Federal Circuit had correctly decided State Street Bank v. Signature Financial. See Transcript of Oral Argument at 44. The future also presents the possibility of a different case, with perhaps more attractive facts.

Dismissal: Still Time?

Supreme Court Rule 46.1 allows any case to be dismissed, even after the oral argument, by agreement of the parties. The Rule directs that, upon filing of such an agreement, the Clerk of the Court, “without further reference to the Court, will enter an order of dismissal.” Furthermore, Rule 46.2 allows petitioners unilaterally to seek dismissal by agreeing to pay all the court costs and fees due. (Such costs and fees are not attorneys’ fees but merely the minor costs associated with the appeal that are paid by the losing party in any case.) The grounds on which respondents may object to such a filing are strictly “limited to the amount of damages and costs in this Court alleged to be payable or to showing that the moving party does not represent all petitioners or appellants.” The Clerk of the Court is directed “not [to] file any objection not so limited.”

The Rule reflects a very clear policy that the Court will not plunge ahead to decide a case if the petitioners have decided to “fold ’em,” and that policy makes perfect sense from the Court’s perspective. The Supreme Court has plenty of cases to decide, and important issues eventually percolate back up to the Court if they really need to be decided. Indeed, in the November sitting alone, the Pottawattamie County case was dismissed even though argument had been heard two months earlier and the case involved an important issue about the scope of prosecutors’ immunity.

True, if the Solicitor General’s Office were unwilling to agree to the dismissal, it is unclear what would happen. At oral argument, however, the advocate for the Solicitor General’s Office emphasized that the government thought the Court should never have taken the case because it was an “unsuitable vehicle” to decide questions of patentable subject matter. Transcript of Argument at 48. Moreover, the Solicitor General’s Office is very much a repeat player at the Supreme Court, and thus the Office tends to be willing to follow not just the letter but also the spirit of the Court’s rules. Since those rules reflect a fairly clear policy that petitioners’ dismissals should not be opposed unless the petitioner either is not willing to pay costs or does not represent all petitioners, the Solicitor General’s Office seems unlikely to attempt to thwart dismissal where the petitioners comply with the conditions of Rule 46.

A Final Point: A Desired Defeat?

All of the above makes the crucial assumption that the petitioners in Biski want to sustain the patentability of business method patents such as their own. But that assumption may be wrong. The patent application at issue is no longer owned by Bernard Bilski, Rand Warsaw or even WeatherWise, the small start-up company that holds similar patent claims on hedging energy consumption risks and is merely a licensee of the patent application at issue in the case (see Paul Schaafsma news article noting the licensing relationship). As the petitioners’ briefs in the Supreme Court disclose, the real party in interest in the case is Equitable Resources Inc., renamed EQT Inc. during the pendency of the case. See Petitioners’ Reply Brief at (i). That corporation has market capitalization of $5.4 billion (see EQT Financial Report). A quick search of the PTO’s database does not show any issued patents owned by this corporation, and the company’s most recent annual report filed with the SEC makes no mention of patents or intellectual property. It is not at all clear that such a company really wants to have patent protection for innovative ways to manage energy costs or risks, or for any other form of business method. Large companies are often the targets of patent infringement litigation, and start-ups often see patents as a means to compete against established firms. Indeed, the Warsaw patent on hedging risk—which is assigned to WeatherWise, not EQT—could itself provide a reason why the petitioners’ side of the case would welcome defeat.

It remains a puzzle why the petitioners in this case are persisting in an appeal that seems not only doomed but also capable of establishing new and unpredictable restrictions to the scope of patentable subject matter. I had previously thought that “irrational exuberance” provided the best answer—that the Bilski petitioners were likely to remain unrealistically optimistic about their chances for success right up to the end. But the presence of a multibillion-dollar corporation controlling the litigation decreases the chances that the strategy is due to simple inventor over-optimism. Perhaps the entity controlling the petitioners’ side of the case is really quite wily, for there would be no cause to “fold ’em,” if the petitioners’ side would view thorough defeat as victory. That would explain much.  

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.”


Independent Inventors: Five Ways to Reduce the Cost of Patenting and Get a Better Patent Application

Patent Attorney Mark Bergner provided the following five points that may help independent inventors control the cost of their patent application.   

Many small inventors contact me for preparing a patent application and asking that costs be kept to an absolute minimum. Recognizing that most such inventors do not have a great deal of money, I usually offer the following advice:

1) Provide me with the best write-up that you can up front with some illustrative (even hand-sketched) diagrams, along with any design documents you may have.

Often, inventors will provide a one-page summary or a sales brochure of their invention that leaves out a significant amount of detail. It is going to drive up costs if I have to drag each and every relevant aspect of the invention out. Additionally, there may be ample design documents that are provided to me after a significant amount of work has already been done. It will take much more effort for me to integrate this newly added information with a nearly complete draft specification than it would have taken if all information had been provided up front.

2) Try to do as much of the work as you can yourself.

I tell clients that I am knowledgeable in patent prosecution, but generally not knowledgeable about the subject matter of the invention. It will cost considerably more if I am required to do extensive research in the field of the invention in order to fill in a sparse invention disclosure. I will often point inventors to a patent in their general field and suggest that the detailed description and figures shown in the patent provide roughly the level of detail needed for their patent application. While I am not expecting draftsman-quality drawings and use of the words “wherein” and “said” in their description, I am expecting something more than a 3-block single figure illustrating a complex client-server architecture.

Also, there are many inventors who are wonderful technical people, but simply cannot communicate well in writing (that’s why they majored in physics and not journalism). It might be a good idea for such an inventor to work with someone (under a confidentiality agreement) who can write well to prepare an initial description. I had an inventor who enlisted the support of a graduate student at a significantly lower hourly rate than I charge. Although I can get all of the relevant information by talking with the inventor in person and over the telephone, if that is the sole means that I have of obtaining descriptive information, it is going to cost more. If the inventor has difficulty in communicating ideas and concepts both in writing and orally, it is going to be a very expensive patent application–no two ways about it.

3) Provide me with a nearly completed concept of the invention.

Nothing drives up costs more than to have the inventor continue to invent as the application is being drafted. One common issue: if a patent attorney does a good job with the subject matter, the draft of the patent application may be the first time the inventor has ever seen his idea expressed in such a clear and organized manner. This may spawn the inventor to come up with alternate embodiments or to provide other features that might prevent a design-around. While I generally expect some minor refinement of an inventive concept during the course of preparing the application, the addition of completely new or different embodiments will substantially increase costs.

4) Answer any questions provided in a draft clearly and completely.

Often I will prepare a draft application with a number of questions or comments, requesting clarification or additional detail. Some questions are intended to solicit lengthy responses, but only a bare minimum is provided or, worse, the information provided is completely non-responsive. Example: “You indicated that a series of messages flow between the client and server in order to implement the invention, but you have not provided any description as to what these messages are or what they contain. Can you please provide me with a detailed description of these, possibly with a table or diagram?” The entire reply received back: “The messages contain information that allows the server to act on client requests.” Very often I have an inventor who promises to do most of the work themselves, only to put forth a minimal effort when asked to provide additional information.

5) The costs of obtaining a patent, even a relatively complex one, pale in comparison to the costs you will encounter in trying to commercialize your product.

I know I’m in trouble with an inventor if I throw out a fair cost estimate for preparing an application and the inventor breaks out in a cold sweat and starts suggesting a cost that is 50% of the estimate. It’s one thing for an experienced business professional to haggle for lower costs, but in most situations involving the individual inventor, there is a significant lack of appreciation for what it will cost to do prototyping or pilot production runs, legal costs associated with non-disclosure agreements, trademarks, production and supply agreements, Underwriters Laboratories certification, FDA approval, etc. In the vast majority of cases, it is very expensive to bring an inventive idea to the marketplace, and the patent costs are typically a minimal part of those costs. If the inventor is not prepared for the entire undertaking, he is probably not going to willingly and cheerfully pay the bills, regardless of the quality and efficiency of the work done.

Book Review: Patent Interferences as High Drama!

By Charles L. Gholz

Patent interferences are intellectually stimulating and often a lot of fun–at least for the attorneys involved. However, I've seldom thought of them as "capable of producing a hell of a good story," which is the author's assessment of the story he tells in Taylor, LASER: The Inventor, The Nobel Laureate, and The Thirty-Year Patent War. Of course, the laser was unquestionably one of the great inventions of the Twentieth Century, and the fact that the issue of who invented it (Prof. Charles Townes or his grad student, Gordon Gould) provided gainful employment for patent attorneys for thirty years certainly commends this book to the readership of this publication.

Actually, "gainful employment for patent attorneys" better describes the situation of those who supported Prof. Townes's claims than the situation of those who supported Mr. Gould's claims. (Tellingly, Gordon Gould never did get his doctorate.) However, the fact that those who worked for Mr. Gould "on the cuff" for many years were ultimately amply rewarded makes it a heart-warming story for most of us.

Moreover, the professor/grad student controversy is a familiar one–and one that is usually difficult for even the best intentioned objective observers (including members of the interference bar) to sort out. Just as "mistakes were made" during the Reagan administration, an "invention was made" while Gordon Gould was working for Prof. Townes. But who made it? According to this book (and according to the final judicial determination), Gordon Gould made at least part of the overall invention of the laser—a part which was essential to the commercialization of lasers. However, I've been involved in enough of these disputes to suspect both that the final judicial determination could have gone the other way and that, if that had happened, an equally plausible (and interesting) book could have been written about Prof. Townes.

What made this book particularly entertaining for me was the fact that many of the principal players in the drama (judges, Patent Office officials, and lawyers) are still alive or have been within recent memory. It's always fun to read about folks you know and to realize that they were involved in a truly historic controversy.

In addition, the parts of the story concerning Gordon Gould as a prickly, overly suspicious "basement inventor" rang true for me. Most of us have dealt with some of those in our time at the bar, and it's never easy.

On the negative side, however, I should warn prospective readers that the manuscript was apparently not read by a patent lawyer—let alone by an interference specialist. It is replete with legal howlers! However, if one reads it with the proper attitude, noting those howlers is part of the fun.

Gholz: Linking Post-Grant Review with Interference Procedure

Guest Post by Charles ("Chico") Gholz. Gholz is the head of the Interference Section at Oblon Spivak, a former chair of the Interference Committee of the AIPLA, and a frequent author on interference law and practice. I asked him to provide some thoughts on the proposed post-grant review proposals in the Patent Reform Act of 2009, telling him that I was especially interested in whether we should try to use the interference procedural structure for the new post-grant challenges.

It is my understanding that "the PTO" (actually, the PTO officials directly involved in administering interference matters—by which I mean Chief Administrative Patent Judge Fleming, Vice-Chief Administrative Patent Judge Moore, and Senior Administrative Patent Judge McKelvey) have expected the cancellation proceedings to be a species of the genus contested case and that, accordingly, they would be governed by Part 41, "Practice Before the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences," Subpart D, "Contested Cases," of 37 CFR. To those of us in the interference bar, that makes perfect sense, since the cancellation proceedings will be very, very similar to the first phase (formerly known as the "preliminary motions phase") of patent interferences—except that only one party will be filing substantive motions.

However, proposed 35 USC 326 in both bills provides that "The Director shall prescribe regulations…" governing the post-grant review proceedings (what I'm referring to herein as "cancellation proceedings"). Apparently the drafters of the bills (who I suspect are not members of the patent bar, let alone members of the interference bar!) either were unaware of 37 CFR 41 Subpart D or felt that either additional or different rules would be required for the cancellation proceedings.

Whether the cancellation proceedings are to be governed by Subpart D or by a different set of rules is not an insignificant point. Proposed 35 USC 326(a)(3) in both bills would require the Director to prescribe regulations "setting forth procedures for discovery of relevant evidence, including that such discovery shall be limited to evidence directly related to factual assertions advanced by either party in the proceedings, and [that] the procedures for obtaining such evidence shall be consistent with the purpose and nature of the proceeding." However, while that language could be read as mandating real discovery (i.e., discovery similar to the discovery available in district courts), the bills then go on to mandate that, "In carrying out paragraph (3) [i.e., in providing the rules for discovery], the Director shall bear in mind that discovery must be in the interests of justice," which might be read a giving the PTO room to provide for only the extremely limited kind of discovery that is currently available in interferences. See Gholz, Patent Interferences – Big Ticket Litigation With No Effective Discovery, 4 Intellectual Property Today No. 9 at page 10 (1997).

Similarly, proposed 35 USC 326(b) in both bills would provide that "Regulations under subsection (a)(1) [including the regulations governing discovery]…shall provide for discovery upon order of the Director [actually, it would presumably be upon order of the APJ handling the proceedings]," indicating that, in contrast to district court procedure, the burden of showing entitlement to discovery would be on the party seeking discovery, rather than imposing on that party's adversary the burden of showing why discovery should not be obtained.

Proposed 35 USC 326(b) in both bills would also require the Director to issue regulations providing "for filing under seal exempt from publication requirements" and providing for "protective orders governing the exchange and submission of confidential information"—both of which would be sharp departures from current interference practice. See Gholz, Compelled Testimony, Testimony Abroad, and Protective Orders in Interference Proceedings Under the New Rules, 67 JPTOS 239 (1985). However, 35 USC 326(b) then goes on to say that the Director's regulations "shall ensure that any information submitted by the patent owner in support of any amendment entered under section 329 is made available to the public as part of the prosecution history of the patent." Since the "confidential information" is more likely to be submitted by the patent owner than by its adversary, I wonder how often a protective order will actually issue. Or is the point that the protective order will automatically expire upon conclusion of the cancellation proceeding?

Both the House version and the Senate version of proposed 35 USC 334 govern the effect on cancellation proceedings of decisions in other proceedings (only an infringement action in the Senate version, but either an infringement action or an ITC action in the House version). Surprisingly, both versions seem to assume that the decisions of the courts (or the courts and the ITC), on the one hand, and the decisions of the Board, on the other hand, are of identical issues—despite that fact that the party attacking a patent has a lower burden of proof before the Board and therefore might win before the Board even though it would lose before a court or the ITC on identical evidence.

In sum, I'd like to express my hope that the drafters of the two bills will consult with experts on interference law and practice, both in the PTO and in the private bar, before passing either version of the bill.

Guest Post: Hot Topics in US Patent Reexamination

By Robert Greene Sterne. Rob Sterne is a founding director of the IP firm Sterne Kessler Goldstein & Fox. I asked him to write about current ‘hot topics’ in patent reexamination.


The marked increase in the use of reexamination has naturally caused more frequent and closer evaluation and scrutiny of its unique procedures by involved parties and the courts. In FY2008, according to official USPTO (PTO) statistics, 168 inter partes reexams and 680 ex parte reexams were instituted. Compare this to FY2005, where 59 inter partes reexams and 524 ex parte reexams were instituted just three years ago. In short, it is becoming one of the faster developing areas of intellectual property law and, in the words of top PTO officials, it is a true “work in progress.”

Developed in conjunction with the Sedona Patent Litigation Conference and a team of my colleagues (and incorporating feedback of dozens of sources including judges, senior officials from the PTO, patent litigators, patent prosecutors, academics, bloggers, and interested members of the public), a comprehensive and neutral white paper overview of this subject matter provides an in-depth review of hot issues currently confronting parties that find themselves in the “parallel universe” of patent reexamination and concurrent litigation in the district courts and USITC. The hot topics addressed include (A) impact of PTO decisions on stock price, (B) reexamination pendency, (C) substantial new questions of patentability, (D) real party in interest, (E) duty of disclosure, (F) protective orders, (G) stay of litigation in view of reexamination, (H) appeals from the Central Reexamination Unit to the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences, (I) the impact of reexamination on settlement, and (J) page and time limits in reexamination proceedings.

Here is a closer look at three of these topics:

  • Litigation Stays: Reality or Myth – The percentage of reexams that are in the ‘parallel universe’ of district court or USITC patent litigation continues to climb. For example, in FY2008, 62% of current inter partes reexams and 30% of ex parte reexams were in parallel litigation. Judges have wide latitude in granting or denying stays and litigants must carefully evaluate prior stay decisions from their judge and the court they are in to effectively prognosticate how the judge will rule. Especially with respect to inter partes reexams, the grant of a stay can effectively be “game over” for the patent owner.
  • Stock Fluctuation: Impact of PTO and Court Decisions on Stock Price – The practical impact of reexam on patent owners can be enormous. There are recent celebrated examples of stocks dropping 40% in hours after the release of a non-final office action rejecting claims in a suit, even though this development is not controlling on a court case because the reexam is not final. Third party requestors engage in litigation in the press by issuing inflammatory press releases that spin the truth. Patent owners need to be prepared for this media battle to protect their stock price. Moreover, the PTO mails decisions to parties in the reexam, putting the patent owner at a real disadvantage in dealing with the potential reexam media war.
  • Reexamination Pendency: So How Long Does it Take? – The stated goal of the PTO CRU is 24 months from the time the reexam is instituted to a Final CRU office action or action closing prosecution. By statute, the CRU must handle reexams with “special dispatch.” However, there are no definitive statistics on how long it takes for a reexam to be handled to completion by the CRU and then through appeal at the BPAI. Our current best estimate is that it takes approximately two to four years for the CRU to complete a reexam, typically a little faster for ex parte reexams, and two to four years for the BPAI to complete a reexam appeal. Thus, the reexam process could take four to eight years before it arrives at the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit on appeal. This is a significant amount of time and requires additional strategy and tactical decisions by the parties.

For additional insight into patent reexamination, download recent podcasts – “2008 Patent Reexamination Trends” (Episode #1) here and “The Parallel Universe of Patent Reexamination and Litigation” (Episode #2) here.Download the latest version of the Sedona Conference related paper referenced above here, where you can read in-depth about the full list of hot topics identified above.

Guest Post: Monsanto Company’s View on Patent Reform – Protect Innovation:

PatentLawPic699 David Snively is Monsanto's General Counsel. He read Google's calls for patent reform and penned the following response. Monsanto's business model relies heavily on its ability to protect its innovations through intellectual property and contract in the US and Globally. Monsanto has also been the defendant in numerous patent battles.

Dr. Alan Greenpan's keynote speech on "Markets and the Judiciary" noted that "critical to economic growth is a rule of law, particularly protection of the rights of individuals and property". His remark that for IP law, the constancy of the protection afforded under the Constitution of the United States and our fully-functioning legal system is the basis for the U.S. economy's sustaining lead – even in difficult economic times with broken markets. Our patent system is the envy of the globe and while capable of thoughtful adjustment should not be hijacked by international pirates or corporations seeking to dilute legitimate protection that breeds investment and jobs. This is why Monsanto Company, as a global leader for innovation and technology in agriculture, is joined by trade unions and countless other groups who strive to assure Greenspan's voice is not lost in the din from hedge funds, offshore interests or others seeking short term gain by weakening our great patent system.

I respectfully disagree with the recent blog post by Google's Head of Patents and General Counsel, commenting on the perceived risks from damage awards in patent cases. Monsanto has faced billion dollar damage claims as a wrongly sued patent defendant and also knows the true benefits from avoiding the encouragement of willful infringement based on a smaller party's calculated gain in the face of limited risk of a meaningful award of damages if infringement is established. With full knowledge of all these issues and our substantial alignment with Google and the information technology industry over the legitimate need to curtail patent trolls and a myriad of other concerns – we encourage thoughtful reform. Last year Congress passed without public objection Public Law 110-403 the "Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property Act of 2008" which was designed to significantly enhance government law enforcement resources for combating certain kinds of intellectual property (IP) theft, e.g. criminal counterfeiting and infringement of computer software. The law helps protect investments in the research, development and marketing of certain kinds of innovative American products and services. The information technology industry was rightly bothered that its intellectual property rights were being trampled on by "pirates".

But, according to the financial sector and the information technology industry it seems that too many other people have too many patents that get in the way of too much "innovation" that is being marketed by an industry that doesn't own the rights to the "innovation". Some say that innovation can't stand still while somebody does a patent search to make sure that the "innovation" that is being marketed won't infringe any of those too many patents. So the complaint is "we are getting sued too much by these innovators who are stifling our innovation". Unlike the solution for rampant copyright infringement the perverse solution for rampant patent infringement is to propose "reforms" that would both reduce incentive to invest in research, development and marketing of innovative American products and services and provided impediments for improving patent quality. Dr. Greenspan's Georgetown keynote aptly recalled the copyright situation when he quoted Stephen Breyer from the Harvard Law Review decades prior to becoming a Justice "the case for copyright…rests not upon the proven need, but rather upon the uncertainty as to what would happen if protection were removed. One may suspect the risk of harm is small, but the world without copyright is nonetheless [in the words of Hamlet] 'undiscover'd country' which 'puzzles the will,/And makes us rather bear those ills we have/Than fly to others that we know not of.'

The problems posed by the patent reform bill are many:

  • It would change the calculation of damages that an infringer (pirate) would pay as compensation for trampling on patent rights, encouraging only more callous disregard of patent rights and piracy.
  • It would change the venue provisions in a way that would impose a substantial burden and inconvenience on patent owners by limiting access to the judicial system, encouraging only more callous disregard of patent rights and piracy.
  • "Technical" changes would weaken protection and encourage piracy via removing the estoppels provisions and expanding the prior art basis for engaging in inter partes re-examination, in effect providing a system of post grant review that will serve only to harass patent owners by effectively taking patents out or service for the duration of unlimited re-examinations, encouraging only more callous disregard of patent rights and piracy.

Transparency is critical to society today yet the patent reform bill would not require publication of all patent applications at 18 months reducing the public knowledge of prior art making it harder to avoid investment in patent-free technology and reducing the likelihood that quality patents will issue.

Thoughtful patent reform is needed. There are things to support in the House version of the patent reform bill. For example, the House bill while strangely modifying the damages calculation would authorize a study to see if such a modification is needed. Such studies are available and do not support the anecdotes that say damage awards are out of control.

Patent Reform that discourages investment in research and development and the job growth and economic stimulus that is spawned by thousands of small companies as well as large companies that rely on a robust and strong patent system is bad for America. Monsanto invests over $2M every day in research and is committed publicly to helping double food yield in corn, soy and cotton by 2030 while using 1/3 fewer natural resources and improving the lives of farmers globally. Accomplishing this task of sustainable agriculture requires a patent system and rule of law that Dr. Greenspan says has always been found in the Constitution of the United States.