There is a great deal of agreement that patent quality is lacking, but surprisingly little about how to define and achieve it.
Patent quality is typically associated with validity. Good patents are valid upon scrutiny, bad ones invalid. However, the term also refers to the relative importance of an invention and the value of the “negative” right – the right to exclude others from practicing it.
I attended the recent Patent Quality Summit hosted by the USPTO in Alexandria, VA on March 25-26. Among the challenging remarks were those of Manny Schecter, Chief Patent Counsel at IBM, and the Summit’s first speaker.
He reminded the audience of more than 200 that patent value is a “shared responsibility” between the applicant and the examiner.
Schecter also said that “patent quality is not invention quality of patent value.” Wise words from head of IP of the 20-year leader in obtaining U.S. patents.
Hon. Paul Michel, former Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC), was candid about how he believes patent quality can be improved. He wants greater onus placed on the examination and examiner. He says that the application process is the first line of offense for eliminating bad patents and facilitating more reliable ones. Better-educated and more empowered examiners who understand likely legal arguments should issued patents be disputed will help. Patents should not be issued in a vacuum.
Search time and examiner resources are often cited as the key obstacles to issuing good patents. Those USPTO realities are unlikely to change much. What could change are the introduction of stricter parameters for patents to issue, and not wait for the courts or the PTAB to weigh in on issues like validity and enablement (Rule 112), when they could have been addressed much earlier in the application process. This would save multiple parties time and money. Currently, patents are almost always insufficiently reliable both to those who practice inventions and those who may wish enforce them. This may not be inevitable.
Issued patents need to move closer to a slam dunk than a moving target. Examinations and examiners will play a key role in that difficult process. If I hear what Judge Michel is saying, let’s give them a chance.
Information about the Summit, including it’s three pillars and six quality proposals can be found here. Public comments are requested by the USPTO until May 6.
An article by Christi Guerrini, an IP Fellow, IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law in the Fordham Law Review, “Defining Patent Quality,” is a nobel attempt to begin to deconstruct the meaning of superior patents, and to go beyond a simple black/white definition defined by the legal parameters of validity.
From the author’s abstract:
“Depending on whom you ask, the state of U.S. patent quality is either dismal or decent, in decline or on the upswing, in need of intervention or best left alone. Absent from the ongoing debate about the quality of U.S. patents, however, is much thoughtful discussion about what constitutes a patent’s “quality” in the first place. What features of a patent make it “good” in quality, what features make it “bad” in quality, and whose opinion matters?
“Surprisingly, scholars and policymakers have shown little interest in these questions. Yet their answers are critical to the direction of the patent agenda because they dictate how to measure patent quality and, consequently, how to evaluate the extent of the so-called patent quality ‘crisis’ as well as the effectiveness of quality reforms.
“The broad aim of this Article is to draw attention to the definition of patent quality as an important subject of scholarly inquiry. Its more specific aim is to call for a return to first principles and begin the process of operationalizing the meaning of patent quality. It does so by analyzing the concept using a methodology applied in the business literature of quality management.”
“Defining Patent Quality” can be found here.
In “Toward a working definition of patent quality,” which appears in the May IAM, out next week, I consider the challenges to better reliability.
“Patent quality is important because, among other things, a lack of it can impede businesses and require some to engage in unnecessary licensing or lawsuits.
“Bad patents are unreliable and undermine the integrity of the patent system, including the institutions and professionals that sustain it. However, given the multitude of ways that standards are applied in specific cases, coming up with a universal definition of ‘patent quality’ is no easy feat. The best patents are often in the eye of the beholder.”
For the column I asked four people — an economist and valuation expert, a patent attorney, a former chief patent counsel and a successful NPE — to provide me with a two-sentence definition of “patent quality.” Their responses – thoughtful and startlingly precise – are a good indication that more work still needs to be done on this deceptively important area.
IAM subscribers can find my Intangible Investor column here.
Image source: ipfrontline.com; uspto.gov; fordham.edu