The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) will be sponsoring two roundtable events in February in an effort to form a partnership with the software community to enhance the quality of software-related patents (Software Partnership). One event will be held in Silicon Valley and the other in New York City. While the events will be an opportunity to bring stakeholders together through a series of roundtable discussions to share ideas, feedback, experiences, and insights on software-related patents, the Patent Offices clarifies that their group consensus advice will not be sought. So it's not really about changing patent law as it is about finding ways to tweak the process.
The USPTO sponsored events will focus initially on three specific questions about the patent process. The first topic relates to how to improve clarity of claim boundaries that define the scope of patent protection for claims that use functional language. The second topic requests that the public identify additional topics for future discussion by the Software Partnership. The third topic relates to a forthcoming Request for Comments on Preparation of Patent Applications.
In the future, the US Patent and Trademark Office is also considering other topics to bring to future roundtables. One potential topic for future discussion is how determinations of obviousness or non-obviousness of software inventions can be improved. Another potential topic is how to provide the best prior art resources for examiners beyond the body of U.S. Patents and U.S. Patent Publications. These are topics that are always being raised by the anti-Apple crowd who write into Patently Apple. So it'll be interesting to see how these topics are handled in the future; the sooner, the better.
One roundtable event will be held on February thirteenth in Silicon Valley and the other in New York City on February twenty-seventh. Comments to be considered by the USPTO from the general public, must be submitted to the appropriate authorities before March 14, 2013. For those wishing to send their comments into the USPTO or wish to participate in the upcoming events on either coast could find the details listed in this PDF.
The author of IPWatchdog Gene Quinn, a Patent Attorney and law professor who first discovered the US Patent Office announcements of these upcoming events had a few interesting things to say about it. Quinn "is hoping that the USPTO event doesn't end up being a patent-hating free-for-all three ring circus." He adds that "those who are not thoroughly steeped in patent law, patent prosecution and the reality of software patent and claiming techniques will simply not be able to offer meaningful input. Of course, that never really seems to stop the patent illiterate from taking a ridiculously absurd and indefensible position, but one can hope that the USPTO will do at least something to police presentations to make sure that they don't become an opportunity to forward some anti-technology, anti-innovation, and anti-patent ideology." Oh, I'll say Amen to that Gene.
At the end of the day, all those that love to send Patently Apple email about patent obviousness, prior art and how the patent system is broken because of Apple, could now officially bitch about all of that to the appropriate authorities at the US Patent and Trademark Office (ha!). Good luck.
In the bigger picture, let's hope that one day they'll also push the US Congress to finally fix the laws relating to 'Patent Trolls' that Cost Tech Companies $29 Billion in 2011 alone.
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