In late April, we announced an award program to help innovators impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Our original intent was to offer the award of a free provisional application or $5,000 toward a non-provisional for one startup whose impact potential rose above the rest. What followed the announcement exceeded our wildest expectations. The response was overwhelming in the best possible way, but did make for an incredibly difficult selection process. Your stories broke our hearts and your perseverance inspired us – so much so, that we decided that the original plan for a single award was far too constraining under the circumstances. Given the high volume of quality submissions and our desire to help as many as possible during these trying times, we expanded the offering beyond the single $5,000 award to include the addition of $2,500 awards to three other exceptional finalists.
We couldn't be more pleased to announce that the first place award goes to CAPNOS, with runner up awards going to PedalCell, realLINGUA, and Kaiser Precision Software, LLC. The recipients are a truly gifted collection of entrepreneurs who will surely do great things. All bring hugely impactful and timely innovations, backed by groups that have what it takes to deliver commercial success. We couldn’t be more thrilled about the potential to be a part of their journey and endurance during this critical time.
By: Daniel D. Wright
Finance wants to brag about R&D’s big discoveries before the next round of fundraising. Marketing is itching to release new promos to show the tech in action. The science staff is campaigning to attend the big conference next month. Their requests all seem reasonable; as you know, attention is paramount in this economy. However, you’re also well aware that no amount of short-term hype can compensate for squandered IP rights, especially when innovation provides the core of your business.
On the surface, the law regarding disclosures made before filing seems pretty straightforward. Simply put, 35 U.S.C. §102 states that if your invention is known to the public before the filing date of your application, no patent can be had. So, with this simple understanding comes a simple solution: before doing any of the above, file at least a provisional patent application on the fundamentals of your technology. That provisional application (never examined) will then hold your filing date for up to one year before you need to file a full non-provisional application, which is examined. In the meantime, you can much more safely discuss your technology knowing that you’ve already secured a filing date before the disclosure.
However, sometimes something has already slipped from the lips of your staff or you discover that the university gave you the wrong date for the collaborating graduate student’s dissertation publication. Depending on the details, you may or may not have any recourse for these inadvertent disclosures, but what’s certain is that, in many of these situations, this simple law no longer looks so simple. Here, we will discuss some of the more nuanced aspects of 35 U.S.C. §102, including some related case law.
Both AIA and Pre-AIA forms of the law state that no patent can be had if the invention had previously been “described in a printed publication.” Obviously, a “printed publication” must be narrower than a “printed document;” otherwise, all of your private lab notebooks would block your patent. As such, what constitutes whether a document is a “printed publication”? The courts have long held that “publicly accessibility” is a key determining factor. To put it directly though not necessarily succinctly, “A reference is publicly accessible ‘upon a satisfactory showing that such document has been disseminated or otherwise made available to the extent that persons interested and ordinarily skilled in the subject matter or art exercising reasonable diligence, can locate it…’” (Kyocera Wireless Corp. v. Int’l Trade Comm’n, 545 F.3d 1350 (Fed. Cir. 2008) quoting SRI Int’l, Inc. v. Internet Sec. Sys. Inc., 511 F.3d 1186, 1194 (Fed. Cir. 2008)). The last part is easily overlooked. To qualify, the document need not be available to the broad public, only to at least those who are interested. Nor must it immediately fall into the lap of anyone looking; the searcher may have to work a bit to find it, within reason of course.
Sandoz Inc. v. Abbvie Biotechnology Ltd. (IPR2018-00156) brings these points to an interesting forefront. In the petition, Sandoz presented a 2003 drug insert from the FDA’s website as it was preserved on the Internet Archive (also known as the Wayback Machine). The patent holder Abbvie, conceded that the document was posted on the FDA’s website as of the date in question, but they held that the insert was not “publicly accessible”. Abbvie argued that there had been no showing that the 2003 website had adequate search functions or indexing to enable the document’s discovery in its own time. This might have been sufficient reasoning if not for the Sandoz’s expert testimony indicating that physicians (i.e. an interested person) knew that these sorts of documents were available on the FDA’s website and could be discovered with reasonable diligence. So, while the FDA perhaps never advertised the availability of these documents to the general public and potentially couched it in frustrating early-2000’s web design, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) held that the drug insert indeed qualified as a printed publication because those of interest could and did access these sorts of webpages.
The advent of the internet, however, does not turn every online document case into a slam dunk. In In-Depth Geophysical, Inc. v. ConocoPhillips Company (IPR2019-00849), the petitioner presented a screenshot depicting a link to a conference paper in question, the link labeled with a non-contextualized and nebulous date of “September 2012”. The September 2012 date, if accurate, would predate the patent’s November filing. On face value, it would appear that the evidence is damning; however, the patent holder successfully demonstrated that the vague “September 2012” date alone did not suggest publication in that month. Moreover, they showed that the conference required the paper’s first presentation during the conference in the first week of November and its subsequent publication at the conference’s conclusion. The PTAB found this convincing, and without any further evidence to the contrary, they ruled that the petitioner had failed to demonstrate that the link labeled “September 2012” made the paper publicly available prior to the filing date.
These are just two examples of when the context of the disclosure and its very medium of publication combine to make this “simple” law far more involved. This is ignoring further potential complications such as the “one year self-disclosure grace period” exception of §102(b) that plays a role in the latter of the above cases. Therefore, diligent tracking of your own publications, no matter how small, and preemptive provisional filing, will at least save you a headache if not your IP rights entirely.
Despite some unfortunate history, design patent filings have been steadily increasing overtime. Even big tech companies like Samsung, Apple, Microsoft, LG, and Panasonic are getting into the design patent filing game. Further, recent court cases have shown the power of design patents.
If it looks like getting a design patent is in your future or you’d like it to be, keep these design patent key features front of mind:
Functionality. Are you trying to protect a functional (rather than ornamental) design? In other words, if you are touting specific functionality of the design during advertising – your design might be functional. If your design represents the “best” design – your design might be functional. If alternative designs would adversely affect function – your design might be functional. If you are concurrently filing utility patents on the same feature(s) – your design might be functional. Getting the idea?
Patentability. Is your design new and non-obvious? If you are coming from the utility patent world – I am not necessarily talking about a combination of elements resulting in an obviousness or lack of novelty determination. Design patents are a bit different. Think about the overall visual impression (e.g., airiness, rigidness, suspension, etc.) of the design to be patented and then see if you can find a reference that creates a similar visual impression or a combination of references that create the same overall visual appearance and impression. Get some feels about the design.
Application. Can your design (e.g., fabric pattern) be used for or on different articles of manufacture? If so, consider a separate design patent for each article of manufacture. Seems heavy handed but design patents are relatively inexpensive (no maintenance fees but lasts 15 years), and you’ll be happy you did when someone puts your design on a different article of manufacture than the one you patented.
In the end, design patents are an awesome addition to a portfolio if they’re the right answer for protecting your innovation and if done correctly. Find a trusted draftsperson for the figures and a knowledgeable practitioner – because in the end, it’s all in the design.
A vaccine for COVID-19 remains a hot topic in many people’s minds as a prerequisite for a return to normalcy. Thus it should come as little surprise that a number of companies both large and small are hot on the trail. As of April 20, 2020, WHO reported knowledge of 76 unique endeavors worldwide to generate a vaccine - with each pursuing one of a number of different approaches. While the exact numbers of new applications are still hidden behind the standard confidentiality policies of patent offices worldwide, it is practically certain that this torrent of interest will be matched with a similar storm of new IP.
Vaccines, along with diagnostic tests that have played a critical roll in areas with a strong handle on the epidemic, can sometimes fall into a troublesome section of U.S. patent law precedent based on the very fundamentals of their operation. Vaccines intend to bolster a person’s immune response against a pathogen by exposing the subject to a weaker version or fragment of it, and diagnostics frequently employ known complementary or relevant biomolecules to accurately identify its targets. Ever since the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc., which primarily dealt with human DNA sequences for cancer screens, unmodified products of nature, even when isolated outside of their natural environments, are not patent eligible.
Therefore, none of these contenders in the race for a vaccine will be able to simply claim the COVID-19 RNA sequence or any of its protein components and call it a day. If they want patent protection for their vaccine, their claims must more closely match the subsequent effort that produces modern efficacious vaccines beyond mere identification and sequencing. This often includes modifications to the fundamental biomolecules to improve its exposure to the body’s immune system or its manufacture by some clever, synthetic process. Sometimes, this means packing together or fusing biomolecules from different sources, such as an Oxford University group’s use of a chimpanzee adenovirus vector. Furthermore, the vaccine needs to be properly formulated so it can be safely transported and administered to patients, leading to rigorous experiments testing the shelf life of the chosen biomolecules in various solutions and under wide ranging conditions.
In this manner, we will find not just one, but many, COVID-19 vaccine patents once the pre-publication window at the patent offices ends and we all are able to peer into the technical details. Until then, we will have to wait and see which of the many projects will yield successful vaccines and strong patents (all of the aforementioned modifications, while circumventing the natural product exclusion, must still be novel and non-obvious to one of skill in the art), but during this public health crisis, it is encouraging to know that no simple catch-all vaccine patent can threaten to stifle the widespread ingenuity and hard labor we very much need.
The COVID-19 crisis has brought unprecedented demands on small businesses and inventors. Through these challenging times, we know that so many are making courageous sacrifices to preserve employee well-being while keeping the lights on. Consistent with our mission to support emerging growth companies, we feel that such sacrifices should not include the loss of hard-fought R&D efforts.
We'd like to help. Aurora Consulting is proud to announce the RISE Award, which offers a free provisional U.S. patent application or $5,000 towards a non-provisional U.S. patent application to a selected applicant. We hope that this award can help provide stability and encouragement to diligent innovators.
COVID-19 is touching all aspects of our personal and work lives in profound ways. Below you'll find a roundup of our best coverage on how this is impacting venture-backed startups, what we might learn coming out of this crisis, some tips on how to navigate the Paycheck Protection Program, and a guide to effectively working from home.
The COVID-19 crisis has triggered a tsunami of folks working from home. This has spurred a ton of questions from friends, family, and not yet liberated former colleagues about remote work. As a company that has been fully distributed since day 1, we have some thoughts. We’ve seen people harness the autonomy and do the best work of their lives. We’ve seen others fail hard. This guide has been assembled with much love to help sway the balance in your favor … at least as much as is humanly possible under present circumstances.
By: Daniel D. Wright
In 2018, Congress passed the Study of Underrepresented Classes Chasing Engineering and Science Success (SUCCESS) Act to authorize an investigation into the demographics that participate in our patent system. The final report, delivered in October 2019, provided some predictable results. Working with limited raw data and third party literature on the topic, the report concluded that despite a promising uptick in women’s percentage of patenting (from about 3% in 1976 up to 12% in 2016; p.8), women and minorities are still underrepresented before our patent system in comparison to nationwide population statistics in ways not entirely explicable by economic or education backgrounds (p.13). Furthermore, it identified that not only are corporations the largest filers for patents but also present some of the lowest women participation rates (p.2).
Late this past month, the USPTO launched its Expanding Innovation Initiative, one of its first projects born from the SUCCESS Act to help bridge these gaps. Along with the SUCCESS Act report itself and other statistical references, the Initiative presents a number of materials designed for would-be inventors and experienced practitioners alike to foster innovation. For the former, the Initiative offers a free accessible crash-course in the fundamentals of patent prosecution, hoping to “demystify” the patent system for those intimidated by the Office’s stern formalities and rigorous procedures. For the latter, the online repository provides various toolkits to jumpstart potential mentoring or community outreach programs to better enable those who are willing to extend a helpful hand. In these kits, you can find a Quickstart guide and some sample paperwork to set up your own program either within your current business or in your larger community.
So whether you’re a backyard inventor looking to get started on protecting your idea or a successful IP practitioner or inventor looking to encourage others down that path, we at Aurora invite you to engage these brand new resources at the USPTO.
This is an update for various patent offices as a result of the coronavirus pandemic (updates received and provided by Morningside IP). These updates are current as of March 26.
Canada - The Canadian Intellectual Property Office will provide an extension to April 1 for all deadlines falling between March 16 and March 31 that were effected by COVID-19. For deadlines falling after April 1, extensions can be obtained upon request.
EPO - The European Patent Office has issued a general deadline extension to April 17 that applies to all EPO-specific deadlines expiring on or after March 15. The extension covers all deadlines of EP applications pending before the EPO, including office action deadlines.
India - Due to national lockdown, India’s Office of the Controller General of Patents, Designs and Trademarks will remain closed for a period of 21 days effective from March 25. As a result, due dates falling during this period of closure will be delayed until the date on which the office reopens (April 15). Delayed due dates will be applied to completion of various acts/proceedings, filing of any reply/document, and payment of fees.
Israel - The Israel Patent Office said it is likely to grant extensions where applicants can demonstrate that circumstances relating to the Corona epidemic resulted in an inability to meet ILPO deadlines. In order to allow applicants time to submit extension requests, no files will be closed before May 1 for failure to answer ILPO correspondence.
Italy - The Italian Intellectual Property Office announced that any certificates and IP titles expiring between January 31 and April 15 will remain valid until June 15 (this does not apply to international trademark applications).
Mexico - The Mexican Institute of Industrial Property, as well as all the courts, will remain closed to the public, suspending and extending all terms at least until April 20. Therefore, all deadlines will be moved to April 20th when applications/responses can be filed before IMPI.
South Africa - Due to national lockdown, the South African Companies and Intellectual Property Commission will be closed through April 16, including online systems. Deadlines for filing Annual Returns between March 25 and April 15 will be automatically extended until April 30.
South Korea - The Korean Intellectual Property Office will grant an automatic deadline extension for applicants who have failed to comply with the statutory time limits for submitting documents or paying fees to KIPO, for any reasons relating to the coronavirus. Affected applicants will be asked to submit a relief measure request or a statement of payment, together with an explanatory statement and evidential materials.
Thailand - The Thailand Department of Intellectual Property is implementing a grace period that will extend the usual deadlines for anyone who is directly affected by COVID-19. The grace period will apply to all IP-related prosecution processes, including deadlines related to applications, oppositions, registrations, office actions or any payment.
United Kingdom - According to the UK Intellectual Property Office, all physical hearings are cancelled until June 1 (this date will be kept under review). Rescheduled hearing dates will be communicated by the UKIPO over the next few days.
USA - The United States Patent and Trademark Office will waive the requirement for an original handwritten ink signature for certain documents and payments. Copies of signatures will be accepted in both instances.
Here is a list of some of the national and regional Patent Offices that are physically closed to the public, though the majority are maintaining online services:
Please note that many patent offices are operating at a reduced staff level, so delays are to be expected.
We currently have an open position for a Project Intermediate Manager that would support efforts for the Michigan-Pittsburgh-Wyss Regenerative Medicine Resource Center and the recent Biosciences Initiative award in “Engineering Cell Programmable Biomaterials for Dental and Musculoskeletal Health”. I think this would be a great fit for a recent graduate/ postdoc in the biomedical/ health sciences that may be looking for more of a research administration/ project management position.
The direct link to the job posting can be found here:
Ashley Sloat, Ph.D.
Startups have a unique set of patent strategy needs - so let this blog be a resource to you as you embark on your patent strategy journey.