The final provisions of the America Invents Act (AIA) recently took effect. The AIA represents the most significant overhaul of United States patent law since the mid twentieth century. It enacted provisions over time, with some provisions taking effect in September, 2011, some in September, 2012, and the final phase taking effect in March, 2013. Even though the provisions are effective, there still remain questions about the scope of impact. The United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) has sought comment and issued rules based on the new provisions. The new Patent Trials and Appeal Board (PTAB) has been formed. The courts have made some rulings based on the new provisions. Without a doubt, prudent innovators have been and are continuing to update their patent strategy based on the new laws. Below are three such steps for consideration:
1. File Patent Applications Early and Supplement with Later Applications
After March 16, 2013, the United States became a first to file country. As a result, the filing date, not the actual date of invention, is the key date in determining what can be cited as prior art. Previously, a patent applicant could rely on the earlier actual invention date to removed the cited art. As a result, a company should consider filing a patent application as early as possible. Under prior patent filing strategy, a company might have waited until the technology and all of its features had been completed before filing. Under the new patent laws, the patent strategy might include filing a patent application as soon as the core technology is completed and subsequent patent applications as the improvements are developed.
2. Maintain the Invention Documentation Process
As mentioned above, it is true that the United States is now a first to file country. This has lead some to speculate that documentation such as an inventor’s journal (electronic or otherwise), presentation logs, or access lists are unnecessary. This overlooks the fact that a significant amount of patent disputes arise over ownership. These days, employees change companies often and information is spread rapidly. Patent ownership disputes can arise after an employee changes companies or a presentation attendee files a patent application for the subject matter prior to original company (See first point for consideration above). As of March 16, 2013, the USPTO instituted derivation proceedings, where a later patent application filer can demonstrate that an inventor named in an earlier application derived the claimed invention from the petitioner. In order to prevail, the petition must be made supported by substantial evidence. As a result, invention documentation such as inventor journals and access logs should still be considered within best practices.
3. Monitor Patents and Patent Applications in Your Field of Technology
The AIA introduced “inter partes review” and “post grant review” proceeding. The proceedings allow a third party to challenge a granted patent in a proceeding within the USPTO by the PTAB. Each of these proceedings is generally designed to be on shorter timeline and at a lower cost than traditional litigation. The inter partes review is currently available and the post grant proceeding is available (for patents granted under the new first to file rules) to you … and your competitors. As a result, part of the amended patent strategy could include evaluating recently granted patents and whether these proceedings might be useful.
Be aware that the United States patent landscape has changed and so must your patent strategy.