Kappos Signals Changes at USPTO

Law360 reports that David Kappos, who President Obama and Gary Locke have nominated to head the USPTO, will implement various changes at the USPTO, including an overhaul of the "count" metric that the USPTO uses to evaluate and incentivize patent examiners. 

Some other changes he may implement are summarized in his IPReview articles I wrote about earlier.

What To Do With A Patent?

Some patent owners struggle in their decision of what to do with their patent.  If the patent owner is not already a company that practices the invention, the patent owner may be able to generate value by licensing the patent for future use, asserting the patent to retrieve damages for past use, or creating a company or product based on the patent.

SawStop took the last approach.  According to its web site, the company owns dozens of patents on its innovative technology for stopping table saw blades upon contact with flesh.  It has patents in the U.S., China, and India.

I have to admire an inventor who puts his own wellbeing at risk to demonstrate his invention.  See this YouTube video of a Discovery Channel segment on his invention:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E3mzhvMgrLE&feature=player_embedded

Smart Grid Patent Lawsuit

Law360 reports that "Sipco LLC, a Georgia-based developer of wireless mesh technology, has filed a suit accusing Florida Power & Light Co. of infringing three patents for smart grid technology."

The relevant patents are U.S. Patent Nos. 6,437,692; 7,053,767; and 7,468,661.

The '692 patent is directed to "monitoring a variety of environmental and/or other conditions within a defined remotely located region."  Its first claim recites:

1. A system for remote data collection, assembly, and storage comprising:

  • a computer configured to execute at least one computer program that formats and stores select information for retrieval upon demand from a remotely located device, said computer integrated with a wide area network (WAN);
  • at least one wireless transmitter configured to transmit select information and transmitter identification information;
  • a plurality of relatively low-power radio-frequency (RF) transceivers dispersed geographically at defined locations configured to receive select information transmitted from at least one nearby wireless transmitter and further configured to transmit the select information, the transmitter identification information and transceiver identification information;and
  • at least one gateway connected to the wide area network configured to receive and translate the select information, the transmitter identification information, and transceiver identification information, said gateway further configured to farther transmit the translated information to the computer over the WAN.

The '767 patent is directed to the same area.  Its first claim recites:

1. A method for controlling a system comprising:

  • remotely collecting data from at least one originating transmitter coupled to a sensor;
  • processing the data into a RF signal;
  • transmitting the RF signal to another nearby transmitter coupled to a sensor;
  • retransmitting the RF signal to a gateway, wherein the RF signal may be further retransmitted by additional transmitters coupled to a sensor prior to being transmitted to the gateway;
  • translating the data in the RF signal into a network transfer protocol;
  • sending the translated data to a computer, wherein the computer is configured to appropriately respond to the data generated by the at least one sensor by generating an appropriate control signal; sending the control signal via the network to the gateway;
  • translating the control signal from a network transfer protocol into a RF control signal; transmitting the RF control signal to one or more of another nearby transmitters coupled to a sensor;
  • retransmitting the RF control signal, wherein the RF control signal may be further retransmitted by the additional transmitters coupled to a sensor;
  • receiving the RF control signal; translating the received RF control signal into an analog signal; and
  • applying the analog signal to an actuator to effect the desired system response.

The '661 patent is directed to the same area.  Its first claim recites:

1. A system for remote data collection, assembly, storage, and event detection and reporting, comprising:

  • a computer configured to execute at least one computer program that formats and stores select information for retrieval upon demand from a remotely located device, said computer integrated with a wide area network (WAN);
  • a plurality of transceivers dispersed geographically at defined locations, each transceiver electrically interfaced with a sensor and configured to receive select information and identification information transmitted from another nearby wireless transceiver electrically interfaced with a sensor in a predetermined signal type and further configured to wirelessly retransmit in the predetermined signal type the select information, the identification information associated with the nearby wireless transceiver, and transceiver identification information associated with the transceiver making retransmission; and
  • at least one gateway connected to the wide area network configured to receive and translate the select information, the identification information associated with the nearby wireless transceiver, and transceiver identification information associated with one or more retransmitting transceivers, said gateway further configured to further transmit the translated information to the computer over the WAN.

There appear to be other patents in the patent family that are (at least presently) not being asserted.

(See earlier blog posting about smart grid patent landscape.)

California Court's Bilski Analysis

When does a general purpose computer become a "particular machine" as required by Bilski

Yesterday, I wrote that a California court had invalidated claims of DealerTrack's U.S. Patent No. 7,181,427. According to Judge Guilford's Order, DealerTrack had asserted claims 1, 3, and 4. The defendants moved for summary judgment arguing that the asserted claims are invalid in view of Bilski. DealerTrack implicitly conceded that its claims do not meet the transformation prong of Bilski's machine-or-transformation test by apparently failing to argue that point in its response to the defendants' summary judgment motion. The Order finds that the claims also do not meet the machine prong.  Because the claims meet neither prong, the Order found them to be invalid.

The Order begins its analysis by outlining the current law of the land that a general purpose computer executing a program is patent eligible. Next, the Order indicates that decisions of the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences (BPAI) and the California decision in Cybersource v. Retail Decisions require more than a general purpose computer, thereby contravening In re Alappat (holding that a general purpose computer becomes a special purpose computer when it executes a program).

According to the Order, "[t]he ‘427 Patent does not specify precisely how the computer hardware and database are 'specially programmed,' and the claimed central processor is nothing more than a general purpose computer that has been programmed in some unspecified manner." (Page 7, lines 1-4.) The Order cites to an earlier Claim Construction Order that indicates that DealerTrack agreed to a broad reading of the relevant devices, clearly now to its detriment.

The Order states that "[t]he Court finds that none of these devices constitutes a 'particular machine' within the meaning of Bilski." (Order, page 6, line 28-page 7, line 1.) However, the Order does not cite to anywhere in Bilski as specifying what the "particular machine" ought to be. It goes on to state:

Under Bilski and the recent decisions interpreting it, the central processor in this case cannot constitute a "particular machine." Further, this Court’s claim construction order defined both the "remote application entry and data device" and "remote funding source terminal device" to include "any device," such as a personal computer or dumb terminal, and these devices clearly cannot constitute particular machines.

(Order, page 7, lines 4-9.) 

When does a general purpose computer become a "particular machine" as required by Bilski?  Can it become one?  No one seems to know yet.

Eviscerating Patent Value

One way to eviscerate the value of a patent or portfolio of patents is to assert them unsuccessfully.

DealerTrack is a "provider of on-demand software and data solutions for the automotive
retail industry" and has a portfolio of four U.S. patents and at least five patent applications. As reported in the Wall Street Journal, the company announced today that a judge in the U.S. District Court of the Central District of California had declared a patent it was enforcing invalid in view of Bilski.  The company is planning to appeal.

I have not yet seen the judge's ruling, but the only two independent claims in the relevant patent are:

1. A computer aided method of managing a credit application, the method comprising the steps of:

  • receiving credit application data from a remote application entry and display device;
  • selectively forwarding the credit application data to remote funding source terminal devices;
  • forwarding funding decision data from at least one of the remote funding source terminal devices to the remote application entry and display device;
  • wherein the selectively forwarding the credit application data step further comprises:
    • sending at least a portion of a credit application to more than one of said remote funding sources substantially at the same time;
    • sending at least a portion of a credit application to more than one of said remote funding sources sequentially until a finding source returns a positive funding decision;
    • sending at least a portion of a credit application to a first one of said remote funding sources, and then, after a predetermined time, sending to at least one other remote funding source, until one of the finding sources returns a positive funding decision or until all funding sources have been exhausted; or;
    • sending the credit application from a first remote funding source to a second remote finding source if the first funding source declines to approve the credit application.

(Sic.)

5. A computer aided method of managing a credit application, the method comprising the steps of:

  • receiving credit application data from a remote application entry and display device;
  • selectively forwarding the credit application data to a first remote funding source terminal device;
  • wherein the selectively forwarding the credit application data step further comprises:
    • facilitating the first remote finding source terminal device to selectively forward the credit application to a second remote funding source terminal device if the funding source associated with the first remote finding source terminal declines to approve the credit application; and;
    • forwarding funding decision data from at least one of the first and second remote funding source terminal devices to the remote application entry and display device.

I do not yet know which claim(s) were asserted and/or invalidated. 

Fireworks Patents

On July 4, 1776, the U.S. declared independence from Britain.  On this date every year, citizens and cities alike can often be seen celebrating, including by lighting fireworks.

As of today, July 4, 2009, there are 47 issued patents with the words "fireworks" in their title, five of which are plant patents. The most recently issued patent as of today is U.S. Patent No. 7,314,005, which is directed to an ignition system for consumer fireworks.  These are apparently known in the industry as "1.4 g" fireworks. 

Have a happy and safe July 4th!

What's In A Name?

In Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet, Juliet says to Romeo:

What's in a name?  That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.

(Act II, scene ii.)  

GoDaddy doesn't agree with Juliet.  The company is no stranger to filing patent applications and owns scores of published applications and issued patents.  Some of these patent applications are directed to a market for domain names.  As Domain Name Wire reports, two such applications published today:

  • Patent Publication No. 20090171823  claims " A method comprising the step of underwriting a sale of shares of equity in a Domain Name." 
  • Patent Publication No. 20090171678 claims "A method comprising the step of protecting a Domain Name from an undesired transfer of ownership during a sale of shares of equity in the Domain Name."

If you know anything about patents or have read my prior blog entry on breadth, you know that these are quite broad claims.  A strategy commonly employed by savvy patent applicants is to initially file broad claims and then narrow them during prosecution of the patent application in view of prior art the patent examiner or the applicant identify.  Doing so can result in broader coverage than starting with narrow claims and then attempting to broaden them during prosecution.

The names Capulet and Montague may have smelled similarly sweetly to Juliet, but to the owners of some desirable domain names that can fetch a princely sum, some domain names smell more sweetly than others.