2015 could be a pivotal year for U.S. patent reform, with two significant — and very distinct — patent reform bills pending before Congress. This article compares the two bills, the Innovation Act and the STRONG Patents Act, the forces behind the bills, and the next steps in the U.S. patent reform debate.
Introduced in February 2015 by Rep. Bob Goodlatte as a measure to “curb abusive patent litigation,” the Innovation Act picks up where the America Invents Act of 2011 (AIA) left off by proposing additional reforms to patent litigation procedures. The Innovation Act would also streamline some of the AIA’s mechanisms for challenging patents.
In March 2015, Senator Christopher Coons and others introduced the STRONG Patents Act as a way to “reduce abuse while sustaining American leadership in innovation,” The STRONG Patents Act includes some reforms that are similar to those of the Innovation Act, along with several other sections that are designed to protect the positions of patent holders.
Significant provisions of each bill include: Continue reading
In February 2015, the White House proposed a draft “Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights” that the Obama administration believes will provide a baseline of clear protections for consumers, as well as greater certainty for companies who currently have to navigate a patchwork of state privacy laws across the country.
The Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights is part of a policy memo titled “Consumer Privacy in a Networked World: A Framework for Protecting Privacy and Promoting Innovation in the Global Digital Economy.” The document calls on Congress to pass legislation that adopts the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights. The document also asks Congress to give both the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and individual state attorneys general authority to enforce the Bill, although only the FTC could seek financial penalties.
The Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights proposes specific obligations on companies who collect data from individual considers that will preserve the consumers rights to:
- Individual Control (the right to exercise control over what personal
data companies collect from consumers and how the companies use it);
- Transparency (the right to easily understandable and accessible
information about privacy and security practices);
- Respect for Context (the right to expect that companies will collect, use, and disclose personal data in ways that are consistent with the context in which consumers provide the data);
- Security (the a right to secure and responsible handling of personal
- Access and Accuracy (the right to access and correct personal
data in usable formats);
- Focused Collection (the right to reasonable limits on the personal
data that companies collect and retain); and
- Accountability (the right to have personal data handled by companies with appropriate measures in place to assure they adhere to the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights).
The Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights has been criticized by consumer advocacy and industry groups alike, as well as by the commissioner of the FTC. Nonetheless, it has provoked a discussion that may help establish a uniform standard for protecting consumer data across the United States. Just days after the administration released the proposal, a group of senators who criticized it re-introduced a bill that would regulate data brokers who collect and sell personal and sensitive information about consumers.
The USPTO’s recent announcement that it is retiring its Sensitive Application Warning System (SAWS) yielded mixed reactions from the patent community. While many noted that the announcement was a win for transparency and accountability in government, others (including some patent applicants) found little comfort after they incurred substantial time and expenses resulting from the USPTO’s delay of patent applications that were assigned to the secret program.
With roots dating to 1994, SAWS first came to light in 2006 after a leaked memo revealed that the USPTO was flagging certain patent applications that could be considered “controversial or noteworthy.” SAWS applications could not be allowed before the Examiner prepared a memo to the USPTO Deputy Commissioners for Patent Operations and Patent Examination Policy.
Some of the criteria for SAWS designation were straightforward: applications covering perpetual motion machines, anti-gravity devices, and technologies that violate laws of physics were included in the list. Other criteria were more fuzzy: Continue reading
Trademarks symbolize the character and reputation of their owners and the quality of those finished products offered to the consumer. It typically takes years of careful cultivation to build a valuable trademark. This cultivation can include registering the mark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, using the mark in a consistent and continuous manner, and taking action to prevent others from using the mark without permission. However, trademark owners often need to walk a thin line between strong enforcement and overly aggressive enforcement tactics (sometimes called “trademark bullying”). One mis-step (or overstep) can quickly tarnish a mark’s goodwill and inflame consumers. Within days, the reputation of a strong brand built over decades can be destroyed by one over-zealous demand letter or lawsuit that finds its way from the recipient or courtroom to the Twittersphere.
An example of this is the recent case of Lagunitas Brewing Co. v. Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. In the case, Lagunitas alleged that Sierra Nevada’s new Hop Hunter IPA used a label that infringed on Lagunitas’ family of registered trademarks that each incorporate a stylized image of the acronym “IPA.” The complaint asserted that Sierra Nevada’s label used similar fonts to those of the Lagunitas mark, with the phrase “IPA” appearing in “prominent all-capital, large, bold, black, centralized” letters. The case included Continue reading
When a chef develops a menu for a new restaurant, can the chef or the restaurant protect the recipes under copyright laws?
In a word, no. As a federal judge in Ohio recently explained, copyright protects the particular layout of a recipe in a published recipe book, or the photos that accompany the recipe. But copyright does not protect the idea or instructions that the recipe embodies.
In the case, two Cleveland restaurateurs opened a pair of restaurants serving casual fare like sandwiches, pizza, wings and salads. After three years, the founders split. The departing founder soon opened his own restaurant serving similar menu items. The remaining founder sued the departing founder, bringing claims of copyright infringement, breach of contract and misappropriation of trade secrets, among other things.
When addressing the copyright claim, the court quoted an unpublished Sixth Circuit opinion which stated: Continue reading
At the end of a year in which the patent eligibility of software inventions came under fire like never before, the USPTO finally issued its long-awaited 2014 Interim Guidance for Subject Matter Eligibility, which describes how patent examiners should assess whether a patent application includes patent-eligible subject matter. While the new Interim Guidance may not satisfy many inventors who wish to patent their software, it can help inventors identify the types of inventions that have a chance of success, as well as those for which a patent application may be an exercise in futility.
The new Interim Guidance was prompted in part by several U.S. Supreme Court decisions, including the Court’s June 2014 decision in Alice v. CLS Bank. In Alice, the Court established a two-part test for patent eligibility. Under the Alice test, one must first “determine whether the claims at issue are directed to a patent-ineligible concept.” Then, one must determine whether there are sufficient limitations present in the claim “to ensure that the patent in practice amounts to significantly more than a patent upon the ineligible concept itself.” Since Alice, courts have overturned a significant number of patents covering software and business methods as lacking patent-eligible subject matter.
When it comes to software, the Interim Guidance provides direction almost exclusively by example, listing cases in which various courts have overturned or upheld patents relating to software. However, some general themes are apparent throughout the document: Continue reading
2015 could prove to be a time of change for patent licensing law, as the Supreme Court recently agreed to review the long-standing rule that a patent holder may only receive royalties during the term of a patent, and not after it expires.
In the case that is the subject of the appeal, Kimble v. Marvel Enterprises, Inc., the inventors of a toy with Spider-Man-like web-shooting capabilities sold a patent covering the toy to Marvel Enterprises. The agreement imposed Continue reading