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Sunday, December 25, 2011

Considerations when Evaluating the Validity of a U.S. Patent

Considerations when Evaluating the Validity of a U.S. Patent:

1. Is the patent expired?  In the United States, utility patents are enforceable for a period of twenty (20) years from the filing date, if the maintenance fees have been paid.  Design patents are enforceable for 14 years after the grant of the patent.  Utility patents require three (3) maintenance fees to be paid to prevent the patent from being abandoned, at periods of 3.5, 7.5, and 11.5 years after issuance.  If the fees are not paid, then the patent is abandoned, and no longer enforceable.

2.  Have the maintenance fees been paid?  An inquiry with the proper division of the United States Patent and Trademark Office will allow you to determine if the maintenance fees have been paid.  If not, then the patent is abandoned, and not enforceable.

3.  Is the patent invalid under 35 United States Code, section 102?  For example, this code prevents a patent from being valid if:
     (a) the invention was known or used by others in this country, or patented or described in a printed publication in this or a foreign country, before the invention thereof by the applicant for patent;

     (b) the invention was patented or described in a printed publication in this or a foreign country or in public use or on sale in this country, more than one year prior to the date of the application for patent in the United States;

     (c) he has abandoned the invention, or

     (d) the invention was first patented or caused to be patented, or was the subject of an inventor's certificate, by the applicant or his legal representatives or assigns in a foreign country prior to the date of the application for patent in this country on an application for patent or inventor's certificate filed more than twelve months before the filing of the application in the United States.;

     (e) the invention was described in - (1) an application for patent, published under section 122(b), by another filed in the United States before the invention by the applicant for patent or (2) a patent granted on an application for patent by another filed in the United States before the invention by the applicant for patent, except that an international application filed under the treaty defined in section 351 (a) shall have the effects for the purposes of this subsection of an application filed in the United States only if the international application designated the United States and was published under Article 21(2) of such treaty in the English language...

     The above statutes has a few other provisions that may cause a patent to be invalid.

     These considerations are only a starting point and a proper evaluation many times requires a thorough review of the applicant's filings, and office actions from U.S. Patent and Trademark Office .

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

How does the new America Invents Act change the patent laws?

The America Invents Act was signed into law on 16 September 2011, however many of the key provisions do not become effective until 16 March 2013.
For example, for patent applications filed on or after 16 March 2013, he law will switch U.S. right to the patent from the present "first-to-invent" system to a "first-to-file" system.

The law also redefines the definition of prior art. Acts and prior art that prohibit a patentee from obtaining a patent will include public use, sales, publications, and other disclosures available to the public as of the filing date, other than publications by the inventor within one year of filing whether or not a third party also files a patent application.

Applicants that do not publish their inventions prior to filing will receive no grace period. The proceedings at the U.S. Patent Office for resolving priority contests among near-simultaneous inventors who both file applications for the same invention will be repealed.  These are currently called “interference proceedings.”

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Patentability of Computer Programs -

What kind of computer programs are patentable?
A case decided 16 August 2011 provides some guidance.  In the case of CYBERSOURCECORPORATOIN v RETAIL DECISIONS, INC., the court stated,

 “to impart patent-eligibility to an otherwise unpatentable process under the theory that the process is linked to a machine, the use of the machine “must impose meaningful limits on the claim’s scope.” 545 F.3d at 961. In other words, the machine “must play a significant part in permitting the claimed method to be performed.” SiRF Tech., Inc. v. Int’l Trade Comm’n, 601 F.3d 1319, 1333 (Fed. Cir. 2010).”

            This means that one cannot patent a process simply by claiming that the process is performed by a computer.


Saturday, June 18, 2011


                A recent precedential decision from the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, In re Klein, discusses the obviousness of U.S. Patent Application No. 10/200,747 under 35 U.S.C. §103.  Inventor, Arnold G. Klein (“Klein”), appeals the final decision of the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences (“Board”), which rejected certain claims provided in the patent application.  The invention, titled “Convenience Nectar Mixing and Storage Devices,” provides a means to easily proportion water to sugar ratios for hummingbirds, orioles, and butterflies.  While the ratios are not claimed as novel, the primary claim at issue is

[a] convenience nectar mixing device for use in preparation of sugar-water nectar . . . comprising: a container that is adapted to receive water, receiving means fixed to said container, and a divider movably held by said receiving means . . . .

The Board made five separate rejections under 35 U.S.C. §103 based on references to five prior U.S. patents.  The Board defines the issue Klein is seeking to solve with his device as a “compartment separation problem.”  The Board contends that keeping things separated is not novel to nectar mixing and storage devices, and “nothing about the prior art with adjustable, removable dividers is unique to their particular applications.”  Finally, the Board argues that nothing more than ordinary skill is required to solve the particular problem Klein is trying to solve; essentially, the invention is obvious.

35 U.S.C §103(a) provides:

[a] patent may not be obtained . . . if the differences between the subject matter sought to be patented and the subject matter as a whole would have been obvious at the time the invention was made to a person having ordinary skill in the art to which said subject matter pertains.

            The Court states that a determination of obviousness under §103 is ultimately a question of law, but is based on several underlying factual findings, including: (1) the scope and content of the prior art; (2) the level of ordinary skill in the pertinent art; (3) the differences between the claimed invention and the prior art; and (4) evidence of secondary factors, such as commercial success, long-felt need, and the failure of others.  However, a reference will only qualify as prior art for an obviousness determination under §103 when it is analogous to the claimed invention.

To determine whether prior art is analogous to the present invention, the court determines (1) whether the art is from the same field of endeavor, regardless of the problem addressed, and (2) if the reference is not within the field of the inventor’s endeavor, whether the reference still is reasonably pertinent to the particular problem with which the inventor is involved.

Klein argues that the Board erred when it determined the referenced patents—upon which the rejections were based—are “reasonably pertinent to the particular problem addressed by Klein.”  Three of the referenced inventions provide containers that aim to separate the contents put inside the container.  Conversely, Klein’s invention seeks to provide a means to mix the contents of the container.  Furthermore, none of the referenced containers are “adapted to receive water.”  The Court agrees that these distinctions render the references not “reasonably pertinent.”

The last two patents referenced by the Board provide containers that facilitate the mixing of two separated substances.  However, neither presents a container with moveable dividers capable of preparing different ratios like Klein’s invention.  The Court defined Klein’s problem as “making a nectar feeder with a moveable divider to prepare different ratios of sugar and water for different animals.”  Viewing the problem in this manner, an inventor would not consider either of the references because of their lack of moveable dividers and inability to prepare different ratios.  In conclusion, the last two references also fail as “reasonably pertinent” to Klein’s invention.

Because none of the references upon which the Board based their rejection were “reasonably pertinent,” the Court holds that the references are not analogous art.  Accordingly, the Board’s findings are not supported by substantial evidence and the rejections under 35 U.S.C. §103 cannot be sustained.
Credit to Ashley Meyer for this case summary.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

How Specific Should I Be With Written Descriptions in Patent Applications?

A recent United States Court of Appeals decision, Crown Packaging Technology, Inc. v Ball Metal Beverage Container Corporation, answers this question.  

In Crown, Ball Metal argued the Crown’s written description of US Patent Nos. 6,935,826 (‘826 patent’) and 6,848,875 (‘875 patent’) only covers driving a chuck outside
of the can end’s reinforcing bead (not inside, as well). Ball Metal stated Crown’s patent claims were not specific enough, stating Crown relied on the premise of saving metal more than the methods Crown used and the methods Crown did not use to make the product.

35 United States Code, section 112, states:
“The specification shall contain a written description of the invention, and of the manner and process of making and using it, in such full, clear, concise, and exact terms as to enable any person skilled in the art to which it pertains, or with which it is most nearly connected, to make and use the same, and shall set forth the best mode contemplated by the inventor of carrying out his invention.”

To determine sufficiency of the written description the court looks at whether the description is specific enough to allow “persons of ordinary skill in the art” to realize that the invention is
what the description claims it to be.

The court will consider whether the inventor had possession at the time the application was filed. Possession requires “an objective inquiry into the four corners of the specification from the perspective of a person of ordinary skill in the art.”

In the current case, Crown’s patents aim to correct two problems:

1. Reduce metal usage, and

2. Reduce scuffing to the can end wall.

The Court determined the correction of these two problems was specified in the written description as well as in the descriptive figures enough to indicate the methods Crown used to make the product.

In addition, the Court mentioned the Patent and Trademark Officer requested Crown
to file a divisional application and separate the method and product claims. To which the Court requires: “A patentee need only describe the product as claimed, and need not describe an unclaimed method of making the claimed product.” Therefore, Crown only needed to explain the method of making the product in the description, and did not need to anticipate methods Crown was not claiming in the patent to make the same product. 

Ms. Brittney Mestdagh created this case summary.

Sunday, February 13, 2011


Yes.  Patentability, including certain deadlines, is primarily governed by the statute of 35 United States Code, section 102

This statute, at subsection (b), states that an inventor can not file a patent application if:

"...(b) the invention was patented or described in a printed publication in this or a foreign country or in public use or on sale in this country, more than one year prior to the date of the application for patent in the United States..."

Also, in some countries, a patent application must be filed before it is first used or offered for sale.  Therefore, an inventor may want to file a patent application before (1) offering the invention for sale; (2) publicly using the invention; or (3) describing the invention in a printed publication.

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