Patents Issuing with No Assignee

This is a follow-up post from a recent discussion of assignee-applicants. About 40% of recently filed patent applications are filed without listing any particular assignee in the patent document. One comment queried what percentage of those cases are actually assigned. To start on an answer to that question, I pulled up data on patents issued over the past 10 years and identified the percentage of patents that issue with no assignee designated at the time of patent issuance. The chart below shows that this percentage is now well under 10%.


One aspect of the America Invents Act of 2011 was to allow patent owners to directly file patent applications as the named “applicant.” Under the prior rule, only inventors could be applicants except in unusual circumstances where the inventor was proven to be unavailable or unwilling to cooperate with the rights-holder. This change simplifies the process for corporate patent owners — especially in dealing with continuation applications and former employees. The chart above shows information gleaned from recently published patent applications and shows that most assignees are now naming themselves as the applicant rather than the inventors.

Patently-O Bits & Bytes by Lawrence Higgins

Where Will the Patent Satellite Offices Open!

  • There currently is a lot of lobbying going on by politicians to bring the USPTO to their state. Lawmakers from Silicon Valley, Colorado and Texas are trying to win one of the two satellite offices, since Detroit already is entitled to an office under Leahy-Smith. Colorado Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, sent a letter to David Kappos trying to sell him on the Rocky Mountain State. Also California lawmakers Anna Eshoo and nine other from sent a letter to Obama making their pitch for Silicon Valley. [Link]

Beacon Navigation Files Suit Against Car Makers

  • On October 11th Beacon Navigation filed patent infringement suits against all the big name automobile manufactures. Beacon claims that automobile manufactures infringed either all or some of their patents including 5,819,201, 6,163,269, & 5,878,368. Beacon claims that because the GPS navigation systems in their products are specially adapted for an infringing use of each patent, and embody a material part of the inventions claimed in each patent. As noted by PriorSmart, Beacon is the first plaintiff to file a high volume of individual cases since the new joinder restrictions were enacted. [Complaint]

Mark T. Banner Scholarship

  • The Richard Linn American Inn of Court is proud to offer the Mark T. Banner Scholarship for law students. This scholarship is part of The Richard Linn American Inn of Court's commitment to fostering the development of intellectual property lawyers of high ethics, civility and professionalism, and especially those from diverse backgrounds. [Link]

Patent Jobs:

  • Harman International is seeking a patent attorney with at least 8 years of experience. [Link]
  • Klarquist Sparkman is searching for lateral patent associates or patent agents with at least 1-4 years of experience. [Link]
  • Klarquist Sparkman is searching for a patent attorney or patent agent with 3+ years of experience. [Link]
  • Lee & Hayes is looking for patent attorneys with at least 3 years of experience. [Link]
  • Withrow & Terranova is seeking patent attorneys or patent agents with at least one year of experience. [Link]
  • Trading Technologies is searching for a patent agent with 3-5 years of experience. [Link]
  • Trading Technologies is seeking a patent attorney with 3-5 years of experience. [Link]
  • Volpe and Koenig is looking for a Japanese patent paralegal with prior experience as a patent paralegal. [Link]

Upcoming Events:

  • The 2011 AIPLA Annual Meeting will be held October 20-22, in Washington, DC. The Annual Meeting will bring nearly 2,000 IP professionals together to meet, share, and connect with one another and provide insight into some of the most pressing issues facing our profession today! Over 100 IP Professionals, from corporations, law firms, universities, the courts, federal agencies, with expertise both domestically and internationally will be presenting on a varied landscape of IP issues. [Link]
  • American Conference Institute will be holding a FDA Boot Camp Device Edition conference on October 25th-October 26th in Chicago. (Patently-O readers can register with code PO 200 for a discount) [Link]
  • Licensing Executives Society (LES) will be holding their annual meeting on October 16-19 at the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego. Guest speakers include, Martha Ries, VP of IP Management, The Boeing Company and Barbara Dalton VP, Venture Capital, Pfizer. [Link]
  • The University of Texas at Austin will hold its 16th Annual Advanced Patent Law Institute on October 27-28. The program will cover: recent developments in claims construction and claims drafting, cost savings in litigation, inequitable conduct after Therasense, and many other topics. [Link]
  • IPMI is holding the IP Law & Management Institute on November 6th – 8th at the Rancho Las Palmas in Palm Springs, CA. Hailed as "One of the few programs geared to experienced in-house IP Counsel", the Institute is a CLE-accredited program designed to provide time-starved Heads of IP with the Opportunity to meet and network with their peers, learn from the best practices and validate solutions and services. [Link]
  • World Research Group, an official Patently-O Jobs sponsor, is hosting the 3rd Annual Social TechNet Intellectual Property Forum Nov. 16-17 in New York. This conference provides solutions to the most prevalent in-house software and online IP protection and management issues. (Patently-O readers can save $200 by using promo code ABY668) [Link]
  • IBC will hold a Standards and Patents Conference in London on November 16th & 17th. The conference will analyze the interplay between standards, intellectual property and competition law. There will be 28 speakers representing various organizations, such as, the European Commission, Mr. Justice Floyd, IBM, Qualcomm Europe, Nokia, GE Healthcare and Intel. (Patently-O readers receive a 10% discount) [Link]
  • IBC will hold a US Patent Reform Congress Conference on November 18th in London. The conference will focus in the impact of the Leahy-Smith America Invents for the European practitioner, with expertise from the EPO, AIPLA, USPTO and more. (Patently-O readers receive a 10% discount) [Link]
  • The American Conference Institute's 2nd Annual Forum on: Paragraph IV Disputes will be held in San Francisco on December 7th. Experienced faculty of renowned litigators and judges will guide attendees through every stage of a Paragraph IV challenge to help them formulate offensive moves and defensive plays. (Patently-O readers can receive a discount by registering with code PO 200) [Link]

Contact with leads for future Bits and Bytes.

Bits and Bytes No. 116

  • Comments on Patently-O: I have updated the commenting software. Now there are threaded comments, so it is easier to reply directly to a prior comment. If you sign-up for a free Typepad account then you can personalize the image associated with your moniker.
  • Law Firms as Patent Owners: Photo site SmugMug recently filed a declaratory judgment action against the patent holding entity VPS, LLC. VPS previously settled with Pictage earning a “multi-million dollar fee” as well as with Kodak Gallery and Shutterfly. VPS’s ownership is interesting. Its managing partners are all patent attorneys: Carl Moore (patent attorney at Marshall Gerstein); Timothy Vezeau (patent attorney at Katten Muchin); and Nate Sarpelli. The VPS patents were originally assigned to Monet, Inc. but subsequently assigned to the Marshall Gerstein firm. In 2002, the law firm assigned the rights to VPS. (See Pat. No. 6,321,231). SmugMug Complaint for Declaratory Judgment.pdf
  • Design Patent Customs Registration: The IPO has voted to support a statutory change that would create a design patent registry within the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) bureau of the Department of Homeland Security. The CBP already keeps a registry of trademarks and copyrights to assist customs agents in preventing infringing importation through any of the 317 official ports of entry into the US. [CBP E-Recordation System] (No bill has been proposed.)
  • Tivo v. DISH and EchoStar: $190 million.
  • Update Your PTO Registration Data Online: Link. Before you can use the system, the OED will first send a letter to you with a User ID. After you respond, you will be sent a password.

Bits and Bytes No. 113: PTO Director

  • Nothing to report on the quest for a new PTO director. Although the Obama administration’s “fast start” has been reported by the media, he is now slower than President Clinton who nominated Bruce Lehman in April of his first year in office. President Bush nominated Jim Rogan in May of his first year in office. President Obama has two more days to match that benchmark. (My prediction of a May 8 nomination has come and gone…)
  • Albritton v. Cisco: The Patent Troll Tracker case continues. Trial in the defamation case is set for September 14 in Tyler Texas. Defendants include Cisco, Richard Frenkel (the Patent Troll Tracker) Mallun Yen, and John Noh.
  • Ward v. Cisco: Johnny Ward Jr. (son of Judge Ward) has a parallel case running against Cisco in Texarkana (Arkansas). Ward voluntarily dismissed Frenkel from the lawsuit after Cisco “admitted agency.” Discovery is ongoing and the parties have asked for trial to begin December 30, 2009.
  • Speaking of EDTX: Last week, the Canadian company i4i won a $200 million verdict for willful patent infringement against Microsoft. Apparently i4i’s xml editing software was completely undercut when Microsoft included xml editing software in MSWord. The patent is here. Joe Mullin has more.
  • Voting continues for the “best patent blog.” (I don’t like this survey, but it is still nice to make a good showing.)
  • Singulair Patent Reexamination: Earlier this year, ArticleOne asked for prior art on Merck’s Singlair patent and two of its “community members” offered seemingly important references. ArticleOne then filed for reexamination of the patent, which was granted on May 20. Today ArticleOne issued press releases related to the reexamination. Peter Ludwig (Darby & Darby) is representing ArticleOne before the PTO. Singulair garnered $4 billion+ in sales last year.
  • Information Query: The Singulair patent’s reexamination number is 90/009,432. If you were an investor, how would you go about closely following the prosecution history in that case?
  • Patent Jobs:

Patently-O Bits and Bytes No. 97

  • Patent Reform: Senator Kyl Introduces the alternative Patent Reform Act of 2009; This bill is more patent-holder friendly than the Leahy bill. The Leahy bill may see some action in Committee on March 26, 2009.
  • Patent Reform: Inequitable Conduct: Although a co-sponsor of the Leahy Act, Senator Hatch has suggested that the reforms should include reforms of inequitable conduct proceedings.
  • ITC: The res judicata effect of ITC Section 337 Decisions: Nil.
  • ITC Theory: John Marshall’s IP Law Journal has a nice set of articles focused on ITC patent Litigation
  • Personnel: Gov. Gary Locke is President Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Commerce. Barring some unknown tax snafu or AIG relationship, is expected to be confirmed quickly. In his Senate testimony he mentioned the politically correct goal of reducing the PTO backlog along with creating a foundation for long-term economic growth; improving weather forecasting, and managing our fishing industry.
  • Personnel: The PTO needs three new members of its Patent Public Advisory Committee (PPAC). Current members include Kevin Rivette (Rembrandts in the Attic), Louis Foreman (CEO / Inventor), Scott Kieff (Conservative Law Professor), Damon Matteo (PARC innovation & licensing chief), Doug Patton (inventor & industrial designer at PattonDesign); David Westergard (IP guy at Micron – Looking to water-down patent rights), Marc Adler (former Chief of IP at Rohm & Haas), Steve Pinkos (former Deputy to Jon Dudas), and Maureen Toohey (Solo practitioner; former GC of a Dean Kamen’s DEKA company). I believe that Rivette, Patton, and Westergard will have reached the end of their terms this year and will be replaced.
  • The Economic Downturn: Diane Bartz has taken over writing all about patent law for Reuters. In a recent interview with John Doll, she uncovers that the PTO is projecting a 2% drop in applications in 2009. Others expect a 10% decline. The problem for the PTO is that their funding is entirely fee driven, and the agency had budgeted for a 5% increase. Along with most law firms, according to Doll, the PTO has “stopped hiring at this time.”

Patently-O Bits and Bytes No. 96

  • Upcoming Event: ACI’s 3rd Annual Paragraph IV Disputes on April 27-28, 2009 in New York City (Downtown Marriott). . This is a good event because it is well attended by both the innovators (brands) and the generics. On the wednesday following the class, several speakers will walk through a brand-generic settlement agreement and work on mechanisms to avoid FTC & antitrust problems.  
  • PCT Search Offices: The PTO is warning PCT applicants to make sure that the selected International Search Authority (ISA) is certified for your particular type of claims. One problem, the EPO is not ready to handle business method claims. [Notice]
  • Court Report: 2,875 patent lawsuits were terminated in the year ending Sept 30, 2008. Of those, only 3.8% (109) reached trial. Although 3.8% appears low, patent cases reach trial more often than many other claims brought in Federal Court. The same statistic for Copyright and Trademark cases shows 1.3% and 1.7% reaching trial respectively. During the past year, only six patent cases were filed in the Court of Federal Claims alleging infringement by the US Government. Read the Report.

Patently-O Bits and Bytes No. 95

  • Injunctive Relief: I re-read Michelle Lee’s (Google) statement about the need for patent reform. One issue that jumped-out this time: No mention of injunctions. Money is still at stake, but Google appears confident that it won’t face a shut-down even if it loses a patent case. In that sense, Google is lucky that it is being sued by non-practicing entities who as a de facto rule don’t get injunctive relief against infringers who have a major market share.
  • Benefit of Trade Secrets: Avoid Charges of Infringement. In some senses, google is very public. Yet, its actual operation is quite secretive. One benefit of that type of operation is that it helps avoid charges of patent infringement. If patentee’s can’t tell how you operate, it makes it much more difficult to assert charges of infringement.
  • Warranties and Copyright: My colleague Marc Roark has an interesting new paper: Limitation of Sales Warranties as an Alternative to Intellectual Property Rights: An Empirical Analysis of Iphone Warranties’ Deterrent Impact on Consumers.
  • The BPAI Watchdog: So far, Leigh Martinson is focusing on the BPAI’s application of Bilski.
  • European Bilski: The Enlarged Board of Appeal of the EPO is looking for third-party input on four issues:
    1. Is it only proper to exclude patents covering computer programs as such when explicitly claimed as a “computer program”?
    2. Does a claim avoid the computer program as such exclusion by mentioning a computer or data storage medium? (If not, what technical effect is needed?)
    3. Can a technical effect be non-physical? Is it sufficient if the physical entity is an unspecified computer?
    4. Does the activity of programming a computer necessarily involve technical considerations?
  • Input on the European questions are due by the end of April.
  • Application for the job of PTO Director (by Prof Morris) I maintain that it is possible to find an excellent nominee who is not a patent attorney. However, any nominee who does not have extensive experience with the patent prosecution process will face an uphill credibility battle from day one.

USPTO Maintenance Fees

A large portion of PTO revenue comes through applicant’s payment of maintenance fees. Under the current fee structure, three post-grant maintenance fees must be paid in order to keep a patent from prematurely expiring. A large entity pays $980 3.5 years after issuance; $2,480 7.5 years after issuance; and $4,110 11.5 after issuance. If the fee is not paid then the patent will expire at the next 4, 8, or 12 year mark. In FY08, the PTO reported over $500 million in revenue from maintenance fees.

I wanted to look at how maintenance fees are being paid, so I downloaded the past decade of OG Notices and parsed-out notices of patent expiration. The chart below shows some results.


The chart shows survival rates for the four (red), eight (blue), and twelve (green) year marks. Each datapoint represents the average survival rate for patents that would have expired on that date. For instance, of the 2229 utility patents that issued on December 31, 1996, the first fee was paid for 84% of the patents, the first two fees were paid for 63% of the patents, and all three fees were paied for 49% of the patents. (Note – I did not yet add-back cases that were revived due to unintentional abandonment.)

The median patent has an ordinary enforceable term of about 17 years. This is based on the twenty year term which begins at filing of the non-provisional application minus three years of prosecution. If prosecution takes longer than three years, then the term will likely be extended under the PTA provisions.

However, this data shows that the median patent term is actually cut short by about five years because applicants decide not to pay the large final fee.

A third feature to recognize from this chart is that the percentage of patents whose fees are being paid is increasing over time. However, the PTO has indicated that it expects a drop in maintenance fee payments due to the economic slump.

Judge Moore looked at expiration data for patents issued in 1991 in her paper on “Worthless Patents.” Her result is that patents were more likely to “survive” (i.e., have their maintenance fees paid) when they have more claims, more art cited, more related applications, and longer prosecution times. US corporate owners were more likely to pay the fees than individual or foreign owners. She also found that Semiconductor and Optics patents were the most likely to survive. Amusement patents were unlikely to survive.

Patently-O Bits and Bytes No. 91

  • PatentLawPic666Statistics on the Use of Means Plus Function Language: Thus far in 2009 (1/1/2009 – 2/8/2009) the PTO has issued 17,206 patents. Of those, only 12% (2060) have a “means for” clause in the claim language.  Looking back one decade, 24% of patents issued in January 1999 included a “means for” clause in the claim language. Looking back two decades, 34% of patents issued in January 1989 included a “means for” clause in the claim language. Looking back three decades, 40% of patents issued in January 1979 included a “means for” clause in the claim language.
  • New Funny Blog: by appellate attorney David Mills
  • Watch The Symposium: The hardworking folks at Santa Clara’s Computer & High Technology Law Journal (CHTLJ) have posted materials and video from their conference two weeks ago. Those of you who have practiced before Judges Whyte or Ware will certainly enjoy the tribute video. [LINK] [The best portion begins at 11:20 in the Whyte video].
  • PTO Transparancy: Readers submitted two additional suggestions for PTO Transparancy
    • The PTO should calculate and publish the expiration date of each patent.
    • The PTO should publish reexamination certificates so that they are searchable. [Via NIPPER]