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!

Alleged Copyright Infringement by Patent Prosecutors

By Dennis Crouch

American Institute of Physics and John Wiley & Sons v. Schwegman Ludberg (D.Minn)

Publishers John Wiley & Sons and American Institute of Physics have asked the Minnesota District Court for leave to amend and narrow their complaint against the Schwegman law firm. The amendment would drop any allegation that submitting copies of copyright works to the USPTO constitute copyright infringement. The plaintiffs write that the amended complaint

does not allege that this unauthorized copying includes (i) making such copies of a copyrighted work for submission to the PTO as may be required by the rules and regulations of the PTO, (ii) transmitting such copies to the PTO, or (iii) making an archival copy of that work transmitted to the PTO for Defendants’ internal file to document what has been transmitted.

To be clear, however, the plaintiffs have not dropped their case, but continue to allege that other copies and transmission do constitute copyright infringement. Further, because Wiley does not have any proof of those other activities, it argues that the now unchallenged submission to the PTO serves as “evidence of broader use and circulation” sufficient to permit the complaint to move forward.

The newly amended complaint thus recites no factual basis other than the fact that Schwegman is a law firm that prosecutes patents and that, because Schwegman submitted copies of certain articles to the USPTO that it must have also made unauthorized copies. The complaint:

14. Upon information and belief, Defendants have engaged in Unauthorized Copying with respect to the copyrighted articles from Plaintiffs’ journals, including but limited to the articles identified on Schedule A.

15. Plaintiffs cannot know the full extent of Defendants’ Unauthorized Copying without discovery.

The amended complaint also adds a further list of obscure scientific articles that were submitted to the PTO by Schwegman and were allegedly copied internally in an unauthorized manner. The plaintiffs have not yet filed any proposed amendments in the MBHB case.

The USPTO intervened in these cases supporting the law firms. It appears that this amendment is meant to appease the USPTO so that it will fall out of the case – making the defendants look much less sympathetic.


The Impact of Patent Reform on Filing Strategy (I)

The new law defining prior art would become effective 18–months from the date of enactment of H.R. 1249.  Patent applications filed after that date would be bound by the new first-to-file rules. The major exception is that old invention-date rules will also apply to any application having a claim having a proper priority filing date of prior to the change-over. 

That date will likely be a filing bonanza, much like the what occurred in the lead-up to the June 8, 1995 change in patent term as shown in the chart below.


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.

When the new deadline comes, I suspect that the current regime will look more favorable than the new because of the new limits on swearing-behind prior art based upon a prior invention date and claiming a grace period for third-party disclosures. One reason an applicant might delay is because of the new “micro-entity” status that offers lower fees, but even then the best course of action would be to file a provisional application early followed by non-provisional at the lower fee.

Are there reasons why a patent applicant would choose to delay filing an application until after the new deadline?

A Modest Proposal?: Identifying the Invention within the Patent Application

Well known patent attorney Hal Milton recently published a new article in John Marshall’s Review of Intellectual Property Law (RIPL) that argues for the presentation of a “new result” within every patent application.  The majority of newly drafted patent applications do not follow Milton’s approach and instead seem to obscure the innovative elements of the claimed invention and fail to identify the problem being solved by the invention.  Milton writes:

Fifty years of examining, drafting, and prosecuting patents, including the patent at issue in KSR International Co. v. Teleflex, Inc., coupled with the KSR opinion and the lessons therefrom, led the author herein to the objective standard of a new result.  Inventors should be counseled that a new result should be sought out to justify the exclusive right of a patent.

Milton’s approach builds upon Paul Cole’s 2008 post-KSR article also published in RIPL. In that article, Cole reiterated that that evidence showing a new result is “necessary” under the European Patent Convention (EPC).

Milton’s approach also complements Ron Slusky’s approach to claim drafting that focuses a claim drafter’s attention first on the problem being solved by the invention. A major difference, however, is that Slusky does not explicitly advocate identifying the new result as part of the application itself.

Milton again:

In addition to identifying the new result or function to justify the exclusive right
of a patent, … that new result [should be] systematically recited throughout all sections of a patent application.  Because a court may interpret a patent based upon the intrinsic patent alone, without regard to extrinsic evidence presented in advocacy outside the patent document, extreme care should be exercised in preparing the original patent application with consistency throughout.  It is important to realize that patent offices, for the most part, grant patents based upon claims whereas the courts enforce patents based upon the entire patent.

Patent Term: Comparing 17-years-from-issue to 20-years-from-filing

One of the most important attributes of a patent is its term or duration of enforceability.  In 1995, the US patent system began calculating patent term based on the priority filing date of an application rather than a patent's issue date. Under the prior rule, a patent would remain in force for 17 years from the date of issue. Under the “new” system, the term is 20–years from the priority filing date. The three extra years were intended to account for a typical prosecution delay of three years. In addition, Congress added a patent-term-adjustment (PTA) provision to lengthen the patent term in instances where the USPTO unduly delayed in issuing a patent.

Study: For this study, I wanted to consider how the change has actually impacted patent term. To do this, I created a database of 50,000 recently issued patents and calculated the term under both the old and new system.  For the calculation under the new system, I added 20–years to the earliest priority date (excluding provisional and original foreign filing dates) and then added any patent-term-adjustment.  To calculate the term under the old system, I added 17–years to the issue date unless the patent had a family member (e.g., continuation application) with an earlier issue date. In that case, I added 17–years to the issue date of the family member based on an assumption that a terminal disclaimer would have been filed in the case. Because of some potential data discrepancies, I excluded the extreme 1% of results and also patents on applications filed proir to the 1995 change-over. 

Results: Most patents (64%) have a longer term under the new system than they would have been entitled under the older system. Under the new system, the median patent has a term of about 8–months longer than if the term had been calculated under the old system. For 43% of the patent, the terms are are within 1–year of what would have been calculated in the old system; and 89% are within 2–years. Of course, there are some extremes. As you might imagine, patents that benefit most under the new system are those that have the greatest patent term adjustment (PTA).  Patents in TC 1600 (Biochemistry and Organic Chemistry) comparatively fared the worst.  Those patents on average lose 11–months of patent term in the new system as compared to the old system.

How Effective are Pre-Appeal Brief Conferences?

As part of its appeal rules package, the USPTO has released further information on the role of pre-appeal brief conferences in the prosecution process. As its name suggests, the pre-appeal brief conference program involves a meeting that occurs before an applicant files the formal appeal brief. The "conference" is an internal meeting between examiners and does not actually include the patent applicant or its representative. Rather, the applicant submits a short (5-page) memo that is reviewed at the conference. The program was introduced in FY2005 as a mechanism for helping to avoid unnecessary appeals.

The table below shows that the number of pre-appeal brief conference requests has been steadily rising since being introduced. The results have stayed relatively steady. During the five-year reported period. 56% of the pre-appeal brief conferences resulted in a decision by the conference members that the examiner's rejection was proper and that the case should proceed to the BPAI. 38% of the conferences resulted in the examiner withdrawing one or more rejections and then re-opening prosecution. 4% of the conferences resulted in a decision that all claims were patentable. And, 2% of the conferences rejected the pre-appeal brief conference request as defective.


Number of Pre-Appeal Brief Conference Requests

Percent of Appeals

Proceed to Board

Reopen Prosecution

Withdraw Rejections

Defective Request




































Prior to the pre-appeal brief conference program, a majority of appeals cases never reached the Board because the rejections were withdrawn after the applicant filed its formal brief. The pre-appeal brief conference program appears to have shifted that decisionmaking process forward. Now, examiners are much less likely than before to withdraw their rejections after an applicant files its formal appeal brief. That decision is made at a separate conference termed the appeal brief conference. In FY2010, the appeal brief conference resulted in a decision to file an examiner answer in 59% of cases. That is up from 39% in FY2005. Thus, the pre-appeal brief conference program does not seem to actually reduce patent examiner workload. However, it does help speed prosecution and allows a substantial number of applicants to avoid filing the formal appeal brief.

In an e-mail, Foley partner Stephen Maebius focused on the relative rates of re-opening prosecution. Pre-appeal brief conferences are relatively more likely to determine that prosecution should be re-opened (and presumably a new rejection issued). As compared with the pre-appeal brief conference results, appeal brief conferences are much more likely to determine that all rejections should be withdrawn. Maebius writes that "re-opening prosecution may increase the chance of lengthening a patent term adjustment, depending on the dates associated with earlier periods of the prosecution history. This may be an advantage where immediate issuance is not an objective and patent life is more valuable at the end of the patent term as in the case of pharmaceuticals. . . . On the other hand . . . filing a full appeal may be a better strategy when gaining immediate allowance is the objective."

PDF of Rules with Data:

Discussion: Patent Prosecution Rates

A Patently-O Reader e-mailed with the hope of starting a discussion on the topic of patent attorney and agent fees for patent prosecution. 

He writes “large clients have … pushed down their rates, some in 2009 and some in 2010. In at least two cases, these are clients flush with incredible amounts of cash. Thus, this is not a problem of client-liquidity.” His clients have created rules that would block both a partner and an associate from billing on the same response. “To some clients, this appears to be two attorneys doing work that can be finished by a single attorney.” In addition, his clients are “unwilling to allow their prosecution to be used as a type of training exercise. They want the work done quickly, at the lowest cost. Being part of a training exercise does not achieve this purpose.”  In the background is the reality that there are “many unemployed or underemployed patent attorneys willing to do this work and do it effectively, at [under 2007] rates.”

Cancer Research Technology v. Barr Laboratories: Prosecution Laches and Inequitable Conduct

By Jason Rantanen

Cancer Research Technology Ltd. v. Barr Laboratories, Inc. (Fed. Cir. 2010)
Panel: Newman, Lourie (author), Prost (dissenting)

Although overshadowed by the en banc Federal Circuit arguments in TheraSense v. Becton Dickinson this morning, Cancer Research Technology v. Barr Laboratories may provide a preview of what the opinions in TheraSense could look like – although it doesn't necessarily indicate which view of inequitable conduct will ultimately prevail.  In Cancer Research, Judges Lourie and Newman reversed a district court finding of prosecution laches and inequitable conduct, while dissenting Judge Prost would have reached the opposite result.

The patent at issue (the '291 patent) involved a set of thirteen tetrazine derivatives that the original 1982 specification identified as possessing anticancer activities based on animal studies.  During the first nine years of prosecution, the examiner repeatedly rejected the claims due to lack of utility; rather than file a response to the office actions, the applicant instead filed continuation after continuation.  In 1991, Cancer Research obtained ownership of the patent application and shortly thereafter responded to the examiner's arguments.  The patent issued in 1993 and expires in 2014. 

Following Cancer Research's clinical testing, the FDA approved one of the compounds covered by the '291 patent (marketed as TEMODAR) for the treatment of one type of cancer in 1999 and a second in 2005.  In 2007, Barr Laboratories filed an Abbreviated New Drug Application ("ANDA") for a generic form of TEMODAR.  Cancer Research sued Barr for infringement four months later.  During the district court proceedings, the parties stipulated to validity and infringement and, after a bench trial, the court found that the patent was unenforceable due to prosecution laches and inequitable conduct. 

Prosecution Laches
Given the nearly ten-year delay before any meaningful response to the examiner's rejection was filed, Barr contended that the patent was unenforceable due to prosecution laches.  The district agreed, concluding that the delay in prosecution was unreasonable and unexplained.

On appeal, the majority reversed the finding of prosecution laches, holding that the doctrine requires not just unreasonable delay, but also a showing of prejudice.  The majority further held that "to establish prejudice, an accused infringer must show evidence of intervening rights, i.e., that either the accused infringer or others invested in, worked on, or used the claimed technology during the period of delay."  (Slip Op. at 9).  Here, there was no evidence of intervening rights during the prosecution period, such as evidence showing that someone other than the patent holder attempted to develop the claimed compounds.  Even Barr itself waited until 2007 – four years later than required – before filing its ANDA.  The majority also noted that there was no public harm: in the absence of the patent, Cancer Research likely would not have been incentivized to develop TEMODAR at all. 

Writing in dissent, Judge Prost rejected the notion that prosecution laches requires prejudice, let alone intervening rights; rather, under her reading of the precedent such a requirement is not part of the laches determination.  Furthermore, in her opinion, both Barr and the public were harmed by Barr's inability to market a generic version of TEMODOR.

Comment: I'm unconvinced by Judge Prost's argument on this point.  If she is correct, then the '291 patent was never enforceable – be it in 2007, when Barr filed its ANDA, or 1993, when it issued.  Yet without an enforceable patent, Cancer Research would never have developed TEMODOR, let alone engaged in the expensive Phase III clinical studies necessary to demonstrate its safety and efficacy.  Thus, the "harm" to the public would been greater in the absence of the '291 patent, not less.

Inequitable Conduct
The majority also rejected the district court's finding of inequitable conduct, while the dissent reached the opposite conclusion.  Both opinions focused on the subject of intent to deceive. 

The inequitable conduct issue in this case revolved around an extensive series of articles by an inventor on the '291 patent that presented data from post-application clinical trials of the claimed compounds.  These articles included conclusions indicating that some of the claimed compounds demonstrated high toxicity and low anticancer activity, which the district court found to be highly material to the patent claims because it directly contradicted statements in the '291 patent regarding the compounds' utility in treating cancers, as well as the patentability of a broadly written claim.

The majority, following the "intent cannot be inferred from materiality" line of thought, concluded that the district court's only basis for finding intent was its determination that the withheld articles were highly material.  "Because the district court did not rely on any other evidence to support its finding of deceptive intent beyond that used to find the withheld data material, the court in effect relied solely on its materiality finding to infer intent to deceive."  Slip Op. at 17.  The majority also concluded that the inference of deceptive drawn by the district court about the inventor's publication of data was not the only reasonable inference; rather, the broad publication of this data in multiple articles is inconsistent with an inference of intent to deceive.  Thus, an equally reasonable inference is that the inventor did not appreciate the potential importance of the published data to the patentability of the patent claims.

Judge Prost, again writing in dissent, would have affirmed the district court's determinations.  In contrast to the majority, which required independent evidence of intent, her view of inequitable conduct is that it does not require separate evidentiary bases for materiality and intent; rather it is appropriate to cite to the same evidence for materiality and intent.  Furthermore, here there was additional evidence of intent in the form of the district court's credibility findings, "which are virtually unreviewable by this court."  Thus, under her approach to intent in inequitable conduct, "[w]e should not draw inference that the district court has already excluded based on its own credibility findings."

Comment: The majority and dissent's views on intent can be partially reconciled under the position that, although an intent to deceive may be partially based on evidence of materiality, materiality cannot be the sole basis for the finding of intent to deceive.  Here, in the majority's opinion, the finding of materiality was the sole basis for the intent to deceive determination, because the only additional factor – the credibility determination – was based on an erroneous inference.  On the other hand, in the dissent's view credibility determinations are unreviewable and are sufficient to provide the "beyond the materiality" support for an intent to deceive finding.

Percentage of Patents that were Initially Rejected

This relates to my statements regarding the percentage of applications that receive at least an initial rejection. The graph below shows the percentage of patents issued (2000-2006) that were initially rejected by the PTO broken up into groups of art-units. Thus AU 1630 group actually includes AU 1630 – 1639. Close to 95% of the patents issued through the AU 1630 group during that period were initially rejected before being eventually allowed.


As with the design patent discussion yesterday, the rejection rate above is for applications that eventually issue as patents. For any given application, the effective rejection rate was likely higher because abandoned applications are probably more likely to have been rejected.

This data is now getting a bit old – but it is what it is. This data came from public PAIR before researchers were blocked from accessing it in any substantial way. Since 2006, applicants have complained of increased rejections. My perception that this change is not a shift toward more first office action rejections, but rather a shift toward sustaining more of those rejections in the second and subsequent office actions.

Design Patents: Sailing Through the PTO

Over eighty percent of utility patent applications are initially rejected during prosecution. Some areas of technology – such as semiconductors – have a lower rejection rate while others – such as electronic commerce methods – have an even higher rejection rate.

I wanted to compare the result for utility patents with design patents. I pulled up information on 1000 of the most recently issued design patents (all issued in March, 2009) and parsed through the file histories to see how design patent prosecution compares. As the graph below shows, in my sample, only 25.6% of the recently issued patents received an initial rejection during prosecution. To be clear, this 25% rejection rate is for applications that eventually issue as patents. To get an overall picture of design patent rejections, we need to also consider the applications that are abandoned and never issue as patents. Recent PTO statistics show that a bit under 20% of design patent applications are abandoned. Because design patent file histories are kept secret unless a patent issues, we cannot know why any individual case is abandoned – However, the two most likely situations are that the applicant (a) failed to respond to a rejection or (b) failed to pay the issue fee. Even if we assume that 100% of the abandoned cases are initially rejected, that only pushes the initial rejection rate to about 40%.

As the graph below shows, of the 1000 issued design patents in my sample, only 4.1% received a final rejection during prosecution; and only 0.2% cases (2 out of 1000) included a notice of appeal. None of the 1000 cases included an appeal brief.

The design patents in the study had an average pendency of 15.3 months calculated by finding the number of months between the filing date and the issue date. As may be expected, applications that included at least one rejection took considerably longer to issue (21.5 months) as compared to those that were never rejected (13.2 months). (These means are different at 99.9 CI).

Most design patents (58%) in my sample have only one inventor. However, 69% of the inventors are listed as joint inventors. A number of the muliti-inventor patents included trans-national inventorship with inventors originating from two or more separate countries. About 1% of the applications listed at least one inventor from the US & Great Britain. Another 1% listed at least one inventor from both the US and China.

Tuesdays with Aaron

12:01 am on Tuesday morning is a special time for patent attorneys. That is when the USPTO releases the newest batch of issued patents. Usually, over 3,000 issue each week.

Patent Attorney Aaron Feigelson (Leydig Voit firm) has started a great new blog: covering PTO events. Aaron writes with an eye toward patent prosecution and does a good job of finding examples from recently issued patents that raise important practice issues. He has also been closely following the aftermath of Bilski. Aaron describes his project as follows:

I started regular weekly monitoring of issued patents a few years ago for some particular client-related matters, but my intrigue grew after stumbling upon certain patents, unrelated to client matters, with stories that were too interesting to keep to myself. Like U.S. Patent No. 6,097,812 and its 67-year prosecution history (thanks to a very long lasting secrecy order). Or U.S. Patent No. 7,472,070 for a seemingly innocuous grain aeration system — but granted to Microsoft, that well-known player in agricultural technology. Or trends, like the trickling-off of issuances to applications filed the first week of June 1995 (when there was a pre-GATT filing surge). Or Jerome Lemelson being granted U.S. Patent No. 7,343,660 more than a decade after his death, with priority going back over fifty years to 1954.

Lately, my attention has turned to the fallout from the Federal Circuit’s recent decision of In re Bilski and its effect on patentable subject matter under Section 101. In particular, I was curious (to aid my own practice) to see what sorts of claims had been allowed pre- and post-Bilski, and what techniques applicants had used to address or circumvent the machine-or-transformation test. I began sending my weekly findings internally to a few attorneys in my firm. Then to a few more. Then to a few more..

After a few months of these “Bilski Watch” emails, this blog was created.

I enjoyed Aaron’s recent post regarding patents issuing from applications filed in early June 1995 – just before the patent term reference was switched from the issue date to the filing date.


  • For those of you who don’t know, the IP blogging community is rather inter-connected. For instance, Aaron Feigelson was a 2L at UChicago Law when I started there as a 1L. He was also a summer clerk at the MBHB firm. I started at MBHB soon after Aaron left and actually took over his desk and sat next door to his classmate Aaron Barkoff of the Orange Book Blog. Also at the MBHB firm are the PhD’s who blog at Patent Docs (both Aarons hold PhD’s as well). I interviewed at Matt Buchanan’s (Promote The Progress) former Chicago firm, which is just across the Chicago River from Feigelson’s office. Matt has participated in several business ventures with Steve Nipper (Invent Blog) and Doug Sorocco (PHOSITA). Matt and I are also working on a project for this fall. My old firm also paid for my patent bar review course with PLI partially taught by Gene Quinn (IPWatchdog). I could continue…

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.

References Cited

I compiled a list of the over five hundred thousand reference citations in the almost eighteen thousand utility patents issued in the past two months. (Jan 1, 2009 – Feb 18, 2009, excluding reissues and reexaminations). In this sample, the average patent issued with 31 cited references. This is a skewed average – the median patent only cites 15 references. The vast majority of references (77%) are introduced by the applicant during prosecution while less than a quarter (23%) are cited by the examiner.

Patent documents (including US & foreign issued patents and published applications) represent 82% of the cited documents while non-patent literature represents 18% of the total. As was noted in the comments regarding PTO search tools, PTO searches are overwhelmingly focused on patent documents. Thus, 95% of references cited by PTO examiners are patent documents. (See pie chart aside).

Although – on average – applicants submit most of the prior art, Applicants submitted absolutely no references (zero) 15% of the patents in my study, and the median number of references cited by the applicant is only 7. Applicants cite over 200 references in only 2% of cases. The PTO’s stalled IDS rules give the applicant 20 ‘free’ references that can be cited without payment of a fee or further description. About 23% of the issued patents in my sample include more than 20 references cited by the applicant. The chart below is a histogram of applicant submitted references. About 12% of patents are “off the chart.” In those cases the applicant cited more than 40 references.

Take-away: First, the data shows that applicant submitted references are substantially different from those cited by examiners. Non-patent literature is an important category of prior art that is largely missed by examiners, and the current information disclosure system does a pretty good job of getting more of that type of art in front of the examiner than he or she would otherwise see. A second point is that most of the time, examiners are not being swamped by reference submissions. It is surprising that 15% of patented cases include absolutely no applicant cited references. On the other hand, folks who submit over 200 references are deliberately choosing to do so. Generally, the very large reference volume comes in cases where the applicant knows that the innovation is important and is looking for more assured protection. In those cases, I don’t see the harm in making the applicant somehow pay for the additional resources required to review those references. [Of course, in that case, the PTO should allow more examination time as well]

The next graph shows the average number of applicant-cited references for various top-patenting companies. The size of the blue bar reflects the number of applicant cited reference on average, for that assignee’s Jan-Feb 2009 patents. (Scale at bottom). The graph is sorted so that companies with the greatest average number of cites are shown at the top. Although this is not strictly true, the difference between companies is largely a difference in areas of technology. Thus, companies patenting electronics generally cite less prior art than others. You may also notice in this list that US based companies tend to cite more prior art. The final chart in the series shows that – on average, US assignees submit over three times as many prior art references as do their foreign counterparts or patents without an assignee.

Percent of Patents Discussing “Microsoft,” part II

In an earlier post, I introduced some data relating to patents that discuss Microsoft somewhere in the patent document. That post showed that almost 5% of newly issued patents refer to the software giant in some way. That data also showed a strong upward trend over time. The post received a few interesting comments as well as a few suggestions. [LINK] In response, I have added some additional data to the graphs. The first graph below shows the percent of patents that discuss Microsoft (in blue) and now also includes the percent of patents that are assigned to Microsoft (in red). Several years ago, Microsoft publicized their intention to obtain a large number of patents. That intention is becoming a reality, and Microsoft recently obtained its 10,000th patent. However, only about 20% of patents that discuss Microsoft are actually assigned to the company.

The next graph compares the patents discussing “Microsoft” with other products/companies. Here, I include patents that discuss “Microsoft” (blue), “UNIX” (green), “LINUX” (red), and “Apple” (tan). UNIX has seen some growth, but not much since the mid 1990’s. In the past couple of years, the number of LINUX patents have grown dramatically, but still pale in comparison to Microsoft patents. Although the absolute numbers for LINUX related patents are still small, they are surprisingly high based on the anti-patent lore of LINUX developers. Apple has remained steady over the years. Of course, my results for Apple should be tempered by the false positive results that actually refer to the fruit rather than the computer company or its products.

An issue in all these graphs is time lag. The time lag of issued patents may be easily seen by searching for patents that discuss “Google.” – The result is only 1342 patents but 4682 published applications.

Ron Slusky: Five Prescriptions for Broader Claims

Ron Slusky is back with more insight from his 2007 book Invention Analysis and Claiming: A Patent Lawyer’s Guide (ABA). This fall, Slusky will be hosting a series of two-day claim drafting seminars. See The following are five of Slusky’s “Prescriptions for Drafting Broader Claims.”

1. Define, Don’t Explain

Patent attorneys love to explain things. This is a valuable trait when writing the specification. But it can get in the way when drafting claims. It is hard to resist the urge to liven up a claim’s dull litany of elements by explaining that the claimed subject matter is an automobile floor mat; or an optical system with improved output efficiency…That urge to explain must be resisted nonetheless.

A claim’s function is to define the boundaries of the parcel of intellectual property being sought—not to explain or to help readers to understand something. An explanatory-type limitation may seem harmless enough, but every extra word in a claim is a potential loophole for infringers to exploit.

Limitations should be suspected of explaining rather than defining if they recite:

  • The advantage of the invention or what it is “good for;”
  • How the recited combination can integrate with the external environment;
  • Motivations (e.g., for doing a particular step or including a particular element);
  • How to carry out a recited function where the recitation of the function itself imbues the claim with patentability;
  • How inputs get generated;
  • The source of something that the claimed method or apparatus works on.

A limitation that meets any of these criteria should be scrutinized as a candidate for deletion. If the claim distinguishes over the prior art without the limitation, the claim is probably well rid of it.

2. Scrutinize Every Modifier

Beware the insidious modifier, particularly adjectives. Most of them are unnecessary in a broad claim, serving to explain rather than to define. Each modifier in a claim should be scrutinized to see if the claim will support patentability without it.

Here are some examples: automobile floor mat; very-large-scale integration; high-resolution filter; decoding a transmitted video signal by…; rapidly removable label; block copolymer. (As to the latter, see Phillips Petroleum Co. v. Huntsman Polymers Corp., 157 F.3d 866 (Fed. Cir. 1998) (affirmed summary judgment of non-infringement).)

Another potential problem with certain modifiers is their potential for being declared indefinite. The terms “very-large-scale,” “high-resolution” and “rapidly” in the above examples are problematic in this sense.

3. Assume That Input Signals and Data/Parameter Values Are Already In Hand—Don’t Generate Them in the Claim

A method or apparatus often operates on input signals and/or may use data values, parameters or counts of things. When claiming the broad invention, it is usually desirable to treat such things as already existing rather than explicitly generating them within the claim.

For example, suppose the invention is the idea of adjusting the output rate of a widget-manufacturing process once the number of widgets produced within the previous hour reaches a certain limit. The invention could be defined in two steps—a counting step and an adjusting step:

1. A method for use in a machine that manufactures widgets, the method comprising

counting the number of widgets manufactured in an hour’s time, and

adjusting the output rate of said machine when the count reaches a predefined limit.

However, it is irrelevant to the inventive concept how the number of widgets manufactured in an hour is determined. Indeed, the potential infringer might use the cumulative weight of an hour’s output to determine how many widgets were produced and, in so doing, avoid a literal infringement of this claim

By assuming that the widget count is already known—handed to us by a genie, perhaps—and available to the adjusting step, the entire counting step can be eliminated:

2. A method for use in a machine that manufactures widgets, the method comprising

adjusting the output rate of said machine when the number of widgets manufactured within an hour’s time reaches a predefined limit.

4. Write the Claim Out of Your Head, Not Off the Drawing

Looking at the drawings is useful when intermediate- or narrow-scope claims are being drafted since such claims intentionally incorporate certain embodiment details.

However, the drawings may interfere with the conceptual thinking that is so desirable when reaching for breadth. It is all too easy for the drawings to draw our attention away from the abstract, exposing us to the siren song of the embodiment and its tangible details—details that can unduly narrow a claim.

It is much harder to be attracted to embodiment details when they are not staring up at us from the drawing. Thus the broadest claims should be written directly out of the claim drafter’s head. The mind’s eye should be able to so clearly see those few functionalities and interrelationships that define the broad invention as to make it unnecessary to look at the drawings.

If we find ourselves unable to write the claim with the drawings put away, it may be time to stop and re-engage the invention conceptually, returning to the claim drafting only when a crystal-clear answer to the question What is the Invention? is fully in hand.

5. Strive for Simplicity

Simplicity is a key to clarity. Convoluted interrelationships or claim language that is difficult to read through can signal that the invention has not been captured at its essence. Often buried in such a claim are ambiguities or unduly limiting recitations that aren’t necessary to the invention.

The architectural philosophy of form follows function applies here. A claim whose form is clean and simple is more likely to serve the function of defining the invention cleanly and simply (read “broadly”). The hallmark of a well written claim is one that an inventor can understand without a lot of attorney explanation.

Once it becomes apparent that a claim-in-progress is evolving into an awkward mess, it is best to stop and rethink the approach. Often the culprit is that the limitations are introduced in a less-than-optimal order. Indeed, limitations that had seemed so necessary may fall away completely once the claim elements are rearranged. Or certain limitations in the preamble might be better put into the body of the claim or vice versa.

There is little point in fighting a recalcitrant claim. Better to look for some underlying assumption about the claim structure that is getting in the way and to start over. It can be hard to put on the brakes and abandon a claim in which a lot of time has already been invested. It’s good, then, to stay alert to the possibility that things are beginning to deteriorate and to regroup sooner rather than later.

Copyright © 2007-2008 American Bar Association. All rights reserved. Adapted with permission.


Evidence Based Prosecution: More Claims Filed Equates with Longer Time in Prosecution

I am looking generally at how the contents of a patent application may impact the prosecution process. In this study, I looked at a sample of 50,000 original patent applications (excluding continuations) that have issued as patents in the past few years. This first graph shows the average time in prosecution (filing to issue) as a function of the total number of claims in the original patent application. The result is that the claim count positively correlates with time in prosecution. This correlation is strongest when the claim count is less than 30. As an example, patent applications with 30 claims took about 33% longer to issue than those with only 2 claims. The correlation makes sense: more claims would generally mean more work for the PTO to reject each claim, and more work for the applicant to respond in kind.

The second graph shows a similar pattern for independent claims.

Patently-O Bits and Bytes

  • Bilski is coming (OCTOBER LIKELY)
    • Chief Judge Michel is quoted: “One of the most important cases pending with the [Federal Circuit] today is In re Bilski…. ‘It’s a very interesting case and I thought all the judges worked very hard on it,’ says [Chief Judge] Michel. He adds: ‘I think it will be a very significant decision. It probably will have broader scope than either In re Comiskey or In re Nuijten”
  • FEES: I’m looking for the PTO fee schedule (filing fees, exra claim fees, extension fees, appeal fees, etc.) for the past decade.
  • PTO Allowance Rate – depends on whether the PTO counts an RCE as an abandoned application. (which it should not…). The chart below is from a presentation by the PTO’s General Counsel James Toupin. Greg A posted a link to the whole file:

Evidence Based Prosecution: Why are Deadlines Driving Response Timing?

  • I have compiled some data on the timing of initial non-final office action and the ensuing response for 400,000+ patents with patent numbers ranging from 5,800,000 – 7,100,000.  The graphs below show that office action responses are strongly deadline driven. About 60% of responses are filed by the initial three month deadline. However, 2/3 of those early responses are filed within only a couple days of the three month deadline. Similar “rushes” are seen to meet the four, five, and finally the six month date.

PTO Fees are the explanation for the deadline push. Missing the initial three month deadline requires payment of a  $120 fee – not a steep fine – but something that some clients are now refusing to pay. Subsequent monthly surcharges rise more dramatically: first $460 then $1050.  For clients on more of a fixed prosecution budget, attorneys would rather money go toward their fees rather than to the PTO.  Of course, the six month date has the significant legal ramification of abandonment.

The  immediacy of the deadlines hides an important fact in today’s prosecution: Each day of by the practitioner results in one less day that the patent is in force.  The fact that very few responses come quickly (apart from the deadline) indicates a latent demand for delayed prosecution — It seems that most clients do not care whether the patent issues now or six-months from now. Why not eliminate these deadlines or push them back considerably? Applicants with important or easily patentable inventions would continue to respond quickly.  Those who could care less or who need time to build a patenability case could wait. 

Now, there are several reasons to strive for compact prosecution timing. Perhaps most importantly is the notion that both the applicant and examiner will work better and more efficiently if they have seen the case recently.  The tradeoff, however, is that applications sit much longer awaiting initial consideration.

A note about the data below: Responses that appear below to be just after a three, four, five, or six month deadline are typically ‘on time.’ My measurement is from the date the OA is entered in PAIR to the date the response is entered in PAIR (not the mailing dates). This typically adds an extra week or so.


  • Jeff Steck, a patent attorney at MBHB LLP, examined the small ‘ripple’ in the histogram and explains that it can be explained by the fact that (most) OA’s are sent out on weekdays and responses are received on weekdays. This ‘weekend effect’ causes the ripple overlay. My original postulation that the ripple is caused by the PTO’s bi-weekly counts is not sufficient since the ripple clearly has a one-week wavelength.

Outsourcing of Patent Preparation: PTO Says Beware

In a recent notice, the PTO has indicated that it may be illegal to outsource invention information to a foreign county for the purposes preparing a US patent application.

  1. A foreign filing license from the USPTO does not authorize the exporting of subject matter abroad for the preparation of patent applications to be filed in the United States.
  2. Applicants who are considering exporting subject matter abroad for the preparation of patent applications to be filed in the United States should contact the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) at the Department of Commerce for the appropriate clearances.


How long does a BPAI appeal take?

PatentLawPic037In the first two weeks of September 2007, the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences released over one hundred opinions. I looked at the file wrapper histories of thirty of these recent BPAI decisions to get some picture of the timing of BPAI appeals.

On average it took just under 18 months (542 days) from the filing of the appeal brief until a decision was reached by the BPAI.  The mean hides a wide range of delay: From a minimum of 9 1/2 months to a maximum of 44 months. (Standard Deviation 255). 

Most of the time delay is not attributable directly to the BPAI. Rather, most of the delay occurs between the date that the appeal is filed and the date that the case is submitted to the BPAI.  On average, it took about 11 months (328 days) to ‘complete briefing.’ Typically, that time period involves the applicant’s brief; followed by an examiner’s answer; and finally a reply brief. Once the case is submitted to the BPAI, the average decision time was seven months (214 days).

If you win an appeal, the Examiner may reopen prosecution with an additional rejection, although the more common approach is to issue a notice of allowance.

Based on this information, you can advise clients that an appeal – pushed through to the end – takes an average of 18 months, but that there is a wide variance.  As I noted earlier in 2007, only fewer than of appeals are pushed-through to the end. [Link].  In many cases, Examiners withdraw rejections or applicants file RCE’s with new claims. These calculations also do not include time delays associated with BPAI rejections for improper appeal brief form. Instead, I only began counting once a ‘proper’ brief was filed. In an earlier study, I showed that approximately 25% of appeal briefs are rejected on procedural grounds as either defective or incomplete. [Link].

The prosecution history of a patent application typically includes at least two substantive rejections prior to the appeal brief. In this sample, the average application had been in process for over three years (39 months) before the appeal brief was filed. 

As with essentially every other area of patent law, we can expect that BPAI timing and results will vary by technology area.