Patent Profanity – It’s Not What You Think

A post from our student blogger Sarah Goodman

When drafting patent applications, it is important to avoid the use of certain terminology. Some specific words should either never be used or be used with extreme caution. The use of these words is commonly called “patent profanity.” Patent profanity includes words and phrases that cause unnecessary complicated litigation and limit a patent’s scope. These terms should be avoided in the entire patent application, not just the claims. A limiting statement in the specification can be read into the claims resulting in a narrowed scope. Narrowed claims are more easily designed around by competitors causing the patent to be less valuable.

The term “invention” should be used sparingly if at all in a patent application. If the patent application refers to “the invention” as having certain properties or features, these aspects may be incorporated into the claims since the claims identify the boundary of protection for the invention. A statement that seems to describe the invention as a whole by using the term “the invention” is more likely to limit the scope than a statement that describes an embodiment.

Absolute terms are to be avoided in patent applications. Examples include: must, always, necessary, critical, needed, required, and only. These terms are limiting because they are very specific. Describing an aspect of the invention with an absolute term suggests that the invention is not complete without the aspect. Well drafted patent applications should instead include generic language, variations, alternatives, and examples to identify the broadest possible scope of the invention.

The term “prior art” should never be used in a patent application. Characterizing a reference as prior art is an assertion by the applicant that the reference contains comparative material to the invention. References that seem to be related to the invention are required to be cited in the patent application but when referring to the documents, it is best to simply call them references.

A patent practitioner has the job of drafting high quality patent applications and therefore must choose wording that entitles the inventor to the broadest allowable scope of the invention. The right to an invention should not be decreased by poor wording choices in the application. A patent drafter has a responsibility to the client to draft the best application possible. Our MSPL class is learning about the assortment of patent profanities and strategies of avoiding their use while drafting patent applications.

An American Patent in Paris

A post from our student blogger Sarah Goodman

Over winter break I was in Paris, France. During my trip, I visited research institutes and decided to learn more about patent law in Europe. The European Patent Organisation currently includes 38 member states, and European patents are granted by the European Patent Office.  There are several important differences between European and American patent law.

According to Article 54 EPC (European Patent Convention), if an invention was made publicly available by an inventor or a third party before the filing date of a patent application, the application will be rejected. In the United States according to 35 U.S.C. § 102, there is a one-year grace period beginning with the disclosure of an invention before losing patent rights. However, an inventor in the United States would lose any potential patent rights in Europe even if the invention is publicly available only in the United States.

U.S. patent law requires inclusion of the best mode of practicing the invention according to 35 U.S.C. § 112.  The disclosure of the best mode ensures that the public has access to the best method of practicing the invention. The lack of a best mode cannot be used to invalidate a patent but still must be included in the patent application. European patent law does not require inclusion of the best mode in a patent application. Article 83 EPC only requires the inclusion of at least one method of practicing the invention.

European patent applications usually contain two-part claims. A two-part claim includes features of the invention that are well-known, then a phrase such as “characterized by,” followed by features that constitute the invention. American patent applications usually contain only one part claims with no separating phrase between the well-known features and the inventive features. In the U.S., this type of two-part claim is known as a Jepson Claim. A disadvantage of using Jepson Claims in the U.S. is that anything before the characterizing portion is regarded by definition of the claim structure as previously known even if a novel feature is accidently included which can negatively affect patentability. In European patent law, if an applicant puts an inventive feature in the pre-characterization portion, the applicant will be asked to move the feature to the correct location.

The MSPL program at the University of Notre Dame prepares us for the U.S. Patent Office’s patent bar exam. Successful certification will permit an individual to file in the United States only. However, it is common for American law firms to work with international legal counsel, so it is important for patent agents in the U.S. to understand the major differences.

Leahy-Smith America Invents Act

A post from our student blogger Sarah Goodman

During the Fall semester our MSPL class has attended several presentations on the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act. This Act was signed into law by President Obama on September 16, 2011. The America Invents Act changes some aspects about patent law in the United States and also includes new material. Most of the changes have already been implemented, and the final modifications will be implemented on March 16, 2013. Presented in this blog post are a couple of the major changes.

One of the best-known adjustments to patent law is the shift from the current First-to-Invent system to a First-Inventor-to-File system. This change will come into effect on March 16, 2013. This adjustment is based on the change to 35 U.S.C. §102 which states that a U.S. patent will not be granted if “the claimed invention was patented, described in a printed publication, or in public use, on sale, or otherwise available to the public before the effective filing date of the claimed invention.” The filing date of the earliest patent application to which a U.S. patent application claims the benefit of priority is considered the effective filing date. This provision eliminates the legal concept of an “invention date.” It is important to remember that an individual cannot claim inventor status unless that individual actually invented the material claimed in the patent application.

Another important change was implemented on September 16, 2011 concerning the best mode requirement. The best mode is defined as the preferred mode for practicing the invention. The disclosure of the best mode ensures that the inventor fully enables the public to have access to the best method of using the invention. Previously, lack of disclosure of the best mode was a basis to invalidate or cancel an issued U.S. patent. The America Invents Act has modified 35 U.S.C. §282 by removing the lack of a best mode as a rationale for potential U.S. patent invalidity. However, 35 U.S.C. §112, which addresses the requirement for inclusion of the best mode has not been amended. Therefore, patent applicants must still comply with the requirement to disclose the best mode contemplated by the inventor for carrying out the invention.

The Leahy-Smith America Invents Act will affect U.S. patent applications that are filed on or after the dates of specific law implementation. Therefore U.S. patent practitioners will need to have a working knowledge of the laws before and after the new changes of the America Invents Act.