SKGF_Advisory_The Impact of Patent Reform on Nanotech_2006


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SKGF_Advisory_The Impact of Patent Reform on Nanotech_2006

  1. 1. The Impact of Patent Reform on Nanotechnology: File Early and File Often Donald J. Featherstone, Michael V. Messinger and Michael D. Specht Your innovative genius is our business.® Strategists and Advisors specializing in the protection, transfer and enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights. Proposed Changes to U.S. Patent System Harmonization Proposals divisional applications will be permitted; divisionals can only be filed in reply to a restriction requirement; divisionals may only claim benefit of a The second hotly debated topic is codification of a single prior-filed non-provisional application; and CIPs have an definition for “reasonable Harmonization of U.S. practices to more closely track those of identification requirement requiring applicants to identify what claims are royalties.” Again, big other countries will impact three unique aspects of the U.S. supported by a parent disclosure. Assuming application filing costs are not pharma and a sector the patent system: reduced, the overall cost for developing a portfolio will rise if more discrete electronics companies are at First to invent, applications must be filed to compensate for a limited continuation practice. odds on this topic. The proposal is to codify factors Interference practice, and Several substantive changes to double patenting practice have also been to be considered when proposed. A rebuttable presumption of double patenting will be created if determining a reasonable Best mode requirement. identified applications/patents have the same effective filing date and royalty, such as the amount substantially overlapping disclosures. An applicant can overcome the of realizable profit or value to be credited to contributions arising from A cornerstone of the U.S. patent presumption by showing claims are patentably distinct, or by filing a the claimed invention (as distinguished from contributions arising from system is the first to invent concept. terminal disclaimer and explaining why patentably indistinct claims in manufacturing processes or improvements added by the infringer or The USPTO awards patents to different applications should be maintained. from the business risks the infringer undertook in commercialization). inventors who are first to invent, in This is an attempt by some to severely limit the amount of damages contrast to the rest of the world that Representative Claim Examination available to a party holding rights to an improvement used in an awards patents to the first to file. electronic device. Key proposed revisions to claim examination include representative claim Determining the first to invent can be designation and requiring an applicant to provide examination support very complicated, thus necessitating the U.S. interference practice. documentation. Under the proposed changes, an applicant must designate up to ten claims for initial examination. Only when representative claims Historically, the argument has been that a first to file system disadvantages are allowed would the remaining dependent claims be examined. Implications individual inventors and small businesses. However, the expense and uncertainty of determining the first to invent during a U.S. interference Designation of more than ten claims would only be possible if an applicant proceeding may cause the first and true inventor to be better off with a first provides an examination support document. The examination support to file system in which simply filing first determines priority. As a result, document must identify the scope of search conducted by an applicant The emphasis on focused examination will make portfolio strategy at the adoption of a first to file system in the U.S. — once thought (including U.S., International patents, and non-patent literature); identify all the time of filing more critical. Quality claim drafting in the initial impossible— would likely occur if no other patent reforms were pending. limitations of representative claims that are disclosed by the cited references; filing and throughout examination will be more important. But since so much reform is being inserted into the legislation, passing of explain how all representative claims are patentable over the cited Applicants will not have as much flexibility to introduce new any reform is more complicated. Nonetheless, more predictability early in references; show support in the thinking or take claims in different directions later. Making the most the patent process will help nanotechnology applicants to attract investors. of the initial Office Action response will also be much more specification for each representative important. Patentability searches prior to filing may be more claim; and identify utility for each Once the first to file concept is eliminated in the U.S., it logically follows important to avoid unnecessary rejections on overly broad claim sets. independent claim. The USPTO has that the U.S. interference practice would be converted into an opposition proposed that these examination system. Patent offices around the world, including the European Patent One strategy to consider when nanotech invention is on-going is to changes apply to pending applications file on incremental improvements using plural provisional Office, allow for third parties to file oppositions following the grant of a that have not yet received first action patent. The U.S. opposition system being proposed includes two applications. The concept is to file a first provisional application on merits. While the USPTO has not shortly after the basic concept is fully conceived, followed by one or opportunities to oppose an issued patent. The first opportunity would occur formally proposed rule changes to the more short provisional applications on discrete improvements before within nine months of the grant of a patent, and the second would occur no duty of disclosure, the USPTO has the one year anniversary of a first-filed provisional. This provides later than six months after an infringement allegation. Proposed indicated that proposed changes to the the applicant more time to fully consider the merits of the earlier grandfathering of currently pending applications that grant and harsh duty of disclosure may also be filed provisional concepts and strategize a final non-provisional estoppel provisions, which would prevent opposition arguments from being presented this year. The USPTO has filing just before the anniversary of the first-filed provisional. repeated incourt, may limit wide use of a U.S. opposition system. While the indicated that it wants to shift the cost associated with an interference may effectively only be postponed until burden to applicants to identify the If international protection is sought, a Patent Cooperation Treaty after grant by the adoption of an opposition system, small companies, most relevant portions of larger (“PCT”) application can be filed in lieu of, or in addition to the non- nanotech or otherwise, may benefit. references and to identify the most provisional filing. A PCT search report and early examination by the relevant documents in larger prior art EPO, for example, can help applicants gain an early understanding Legislators have also proposed elimination of the best mode requirement. listings. of the relevant prior art to better strategize the U.S. case before The best mode rule requires an inventor to disclose the best way to carry out compressed reform examination begins. the claimed invention (i.e., any tricks related to the claimed invention must be disclosed as part of the quid pro quo for the granted right to exclude). No other country has a best mode requirement, but applications filed in the U.S. Litigation Reform Examination will be more contentious as applicants have less flexibility and options. Interviews and negotiations with the based on foreign priority applications must still disclose the best mode. examiners will take on a larger role – prior to or after an initial office While it has been argued that the best mode requirement increases litigation · Patent litigation reform initiatives include, but are not limited to action. This puts a premium on counsel with a working knowledge costs, little data exists to support elimination of the best mode rule. changing the standards for: of the USPTO. The USPTO may propose changes in its rules to Contrastingly, elimination of this requirement may permit nanotechnology allow for interviews before an initial office action. Appeals will also applicants to maintain best mode manufacturing techniques, for example, as Inequitable conduct, be more important. The USPTO expects applicants to be more trade secrets. vigorous in traversing improper final rejections and filing appeals. Willful infringement, and Injunctive relief. Collectively, proposals on continuation and representative claim Radical Examination Changes designation would make it very hard for companies to file a series of continuations. The strategy of keeping a continuing application Radical examination changes include: pending to allow maximum claim drafting flexibility later would no Legislative patent reform proposals seek to decrease the cost and longer be practical. Patent families would generally be nuclear Severely limiting the number of claims to be examined per increase the predictability of patent infringement litigation by families – limited to parent and child non-provisional applications. application, modifying the laws related to willful infringement, best mode, and Divisional applications would only be permitted in cases of inequitable conduct. All three normally require significant discovery restrictions. Patent families would be more likely to be targeted to Shifting the burden of novelty searching to applicants when to prove or disprove an allegation. Thus, some of the proposals one invention – more like a strategic bullet than the shotgun additional claims are sought, and eliminate the best mode requirement, substantially limit allegations of approach of a complex patent family tree. Strategies where an willful infringement, and remove determinations of violations of the omnibus case is filed covering a range of inventions would have to Sharply curtailing continuation application practice. be examined carefully. A limit to only one RCE or continuation may duty of disclosure. There is a general consensus among interested parties that modifications in these three areas would be beneficial and make it difficult to mine and claim all available subject matter. At these changes will likely find their way into the final legislation. minimum, the omnibus case would likely have to include a very The USPTO seeks more “focused” examination and “burden sharing” with large, well-drafted claim set covering all expected inventions to applicants. Specific rule changes to limit continuation practice and initiate trigger a restriction by examiner and allow for divisionals to be filed. The reform deal breaker, however, relates to attempts to change the representative claim examinations have been proposed, along with changes law as it pertains to permanent injunctions and damages. The patent to double patenting rules. Other reform efforts, include electronic web-based The focused examination approach would favor applicants with a owner’s right to exclude is grounded in the U.S. Constitution. filing, accelerated examination, and the duty of disclosure/inequitable clear strategy executed and negotiated well with the Examiner. The Congress has the power “to promote the progress of science and the conduct. flexibility of having applications pending and introducing new claim useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.” This sets in follow on cases would be curtailed. Broadening reissue Continuation Practice practice may also be important to accommodate claim strategies for exclusivity has been historically enforced using permanent A key proposal is to limit continuations and requests for continued injunctions. Some in the electronics industry have proposed future developments (such as coverage of an emergent infringing examination (“RCEs”) to only one. Additional continuations or RCEs will drastically changing the current law by creating a system where product) in lieu of an available pending continuation application. only be permitted if a special permanent injunctions would be denied unless the patentee It is said that a rising tide lifts all boats. If U.S. patent reform and/or showing is made. Special rules demonstrates a reason to grant one. Later this year, the United States the proposed examination changes take effect, nanotechnology are also proposed for divisionals Supreme Court will consider whether a patentee who does not applicants will need to row hard to stay ahead of this tide, along with and continuation-in-part practice the invention should be able to enjoin an infringer. However, everyone else. It will be most interesting, however, to see if the (“CIP”) applications. CIPs patent holders, such as nanotech start-ups, rely on excluding others USPTO can survive the flood of new applications filed by applicants introduce “new matter”, which from practicing their inventions to gain market access or to dominate to accommodate these changes. is material beyond the scope of in a new field. The proposed changes would be a major blow to these the original or “parent” classical incentives for innovation. application. The proposed rules include that no voluntary