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Amazon Debuts New Pilot Program to Combat Utility Patent Infringement

February 12, 2019

It has become more and more routine in the past few years for a client to call Woodard, Emhardt, Henry, Reeves & Wagner, LLP regarding an infringing item being sold on Amazon.  Often the seller is new and/or located overseas.  Sending a letter to Amazon would typically trigger a standard response in which the seller’s identifying information is provided and you were asked to work it out with them.  Filing a lawsuit is extremely expensive, particularly when the seller doesn’t reside in the United States.  Moreover, filing a new lawsuit with each new Amazon listing could be cost prohibitive.  As such, there really wasn’t any quick and efficient way for deal with this type of infringement.

In the past, the most effective solution was to seek and obtain an exclusion order from the International Trade Commission, which Amazon and other online marketplaces would recognize and promptly remove infringing listings.  However, Amazon has recently launched a pilot program which is intended to resolve this situation, while giving both patent owners and sellers a fair opportunity to be heard.

The program is currently by invitation only, but we have successfully utilized it to remove dozens of infringing listings on behalf of a number of our clients.  The program allows the owner of a utility patent to submit a takedown notification against a product listed on Amazon.com.  The takedown notification is limited to a single claim of a utility patent.  Upon receiving the complaint, Amazon notifies the seller, who has twenty-one days to contest the infringement allegation.  In order to contest, the seller must agree to a quasi-arbitration which focuses solely on the question of infringement.  In addition, the seller must submit $4,000 to a patent practitioner selected by Amazon as the neutral evaluator.  If the seller does not contest the claim of infringement, the listing is promptly removed.

Assuming the seller does contest, the patent owner must also submit $4,000 with the neutral evaluator.  The neutral evaluator then receives compact briefing over a roughly two-month period and issues a decision soon thereafter.  Amazon will either maintain or remove the listing based on the neutral evaluator’s decision.  Moreover, in the event the neutral evaluator finds infringement, that decision will control all future complaints of physically identical products.  The “winner” of the evaluation receives their $4,000 back, with the losers’ $4,000 being retained by the neutral evaluator as his/her fee.

In essence, Amazon has created a path for utility patent holders to have infringing listings removed relatively quickly without Amazon itself being forced to make the often difficult judgment calls that patent infringement sometimes requires.  The program is well suited for many of the infringing issues we deal with.  However, its simplicity will likely cause some problems when patent owners, whose infringement claims involve more complex questions, seek to enter the program.

If you have infringing items listed on Amazon and would like to learn how Woodard Emhardt can assist you in promptly and efficiently removing those items, please feel free to contact Bill McKenna.


USPTO Gives New Guidance on Software Inventions

January 25, 2019

Earlier this month, the United State Patent and Trademark Office released new guidance for its Examiners to help them better determine when an invention is too abstract to be patentable. This latest effort by the Patent Office brings more clarity and predictability to the examination process for inventors seeking patent protection for software and business methods.

To be patentable, an invention must be new, useful, and unobvious. The courts have also recognized that abstract ideas and laws of nature are also not eligible for patent protection. Predicting which inventions are too abstract for patent protection has been a challenge in the past, and has become more difficult since the Supreme Court’s ruling in Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank (March, 2014). The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has so far attempted to follow the Supreme Court’s guidelines on a case by case basis giving us clues as to the kinds of inventions that are too abstract to be patented. This effort has created some clarity in specific cases, but it has also created additional confusion where the Federal Circuit has given differing opinions for similar inventions. This raises the possibility that different Examiners in the same technology area may pick and choose how to handle similar inventions thus arriving at different conclusions for similar subject matter.

The Patent Office has responded with this latest guidance for the Examiner corps that attempts to synthesize the case law into a more practical legal framework that may be applied in a more predictable manner. Although they do not have the force of law, the guidelines offer valuable insights into how Examiners will determine whether the subject matter in a given application is unpatentably abstract.

Looking briefly at the substance of the latest guidance, the USPTO is revising its examination procedure by: (1) Providing groupings of subject matter that it considers to be an abstract idea; and (2) clarifying that a claim is not ‘‘directed to’’ a judicial exception if the judicial exception is integrated into a practical application of that exception.

On the first point, the Patent Office sees three separate categories of material that are unpatentably abstract:

  1. Mathematical Concepts: Mathematical relationships, mathematical formulas or equations, mathematical calculations
  2. Methods of Organizing Human Activity: Fundamental economic principles or practices (including hedging, insurance, mitigating risk); commercial or legal interactions (including agreements in the form of contracts; legal obligations; advertising, marketing or sales activities or behaviors; business relations); managing personal behavior or relationships or interactions between people (including social activities, teaching, and following rules or instructions)
  3. Mental Processes: Mental processes—concepts performed in the human mind (including an observation, evaluation, judgment, opinion).

According to the guidelines, concepts that do not fit one of these categories are probably not abstract ideas. The Patent Office does leave open the possibility that exceptional cases could arise where the concept is too abstract to be patented, but also does not fit into one of these categories.

On the second point, the Patent Office explains that even if the claims do fall within one of the three groupings above, they may still be eligible for patent protection if the abstract concept is integrated into a practical application of that concept. A “practical application” is one that applies, relies on, or uses the concept “in a manner that imposes a meaningful limit on the abstract concept.”

The new guidance represents a noteworthy change in the way applications will be handled by Examiners, and it marks the latest attempt by the Patent Office to bring clarity and predictability to the process. It is also important to note that this is not a change in the statute approved by Congress, nor is it a change to the legal framework that has been endorsed by the Federal Circuit or the Supreme Court. It remains to be seen then, what the long-term effect of this change will be on applications currently under examination, and what affect, if any, it will have on patent litigation going forward.


Speeding Up Invalidity Using Procedures at the USPTO

September 4, 2013

The presentation below discusses different techniques for using US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) invalidity proceedings to invalidate issued patents. The presentation specifically discusses the new procedures available under the America Invents Act (AIA). Topics include Post-Grant Review (PGR) and Inter Partes Review (IPR) and cover business method review (CBM) programs. Deadlines as well as specific scheduling orders for these programs are discussed as well as how best to use the new programs at the USPTO.
You can download the presentation here.


Speeding Up Issuance of Patents at the USPTO

August 28, 2013

The presentation below discusses techniques for speeding up the issuance of patents at the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The presentation mainly focuses on the newly implemented Quick Path Information Disclosure Statement (QPIDS) Program which allows applicants to submit Information Disclosure Statements (IDSs) without the expense and delay of submitting a Request for Continued Examination (RCE). The presentation discusses requirements of the program as well as illustrates possible outcomes using the QPIDS.
You can download the presentation here.


Speeding Up Allowance of Patent Application at the USPTO

August 21, 2013

The presentation below discusses some techniques for speeding up allowance of patent applications at the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). In particular, the presentation discusses the After Final Consideration Pilot Program 2.0 which can help applicants avoid Requests for Continued Examination (RCEs).
You can download the presentation here.


Speeding Up Patent Examination at the USPTO

August 14, 2013

The presentation below discusses the different techniques for speeding up examination at the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Topics covered in this presentation include petitions to make special, accelerated examination, prioritized examination, Patent Prosecution Highway (PPH), and the First Action Interview Pilot Program. In addition, some different filing scenarios using these techniques are discussed.
You can download the presentation here.


Speeding Up Patent Filing at the USPTO

August 7, 2013

The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has proposed rules for the implementation of the Patent Law Treaty (PLT) that will help filers speed up patent filing. The presentation below discusses the proposed rules which allow applications to be filed without claims as well as facilitate incorporating prior filings by reference. In addition, a proposed two-month grace period is provided for foreign filing and provisional applications.
You can download the presentation here.


Speeding Up Patent Searching at the USPTO

July 31, 2013

In order to speed up searching, the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has a number of new programs that not only help searchers speed up the patent searching process but also have an impact on examination. The presentation below discusses the new Global Patent Search Network (GPSN) in which Chinese patent applications in English are available at the USPTO website. In addition, the presentation describes the new Cooperative Patent Classification (CPC) system which has been implemented at the USPTO and will be the sole patent classification system effective January 1, 2015.
You can download the presentation here.


October 2012 Patent Prosecution Group Luncheon

November 5, 2012

Topics covered in this month’s patent group presentation include information about the current backlog of patent applications at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), new rules regarding derivation proceedings, a practice tip for releasing search results to the European Patent Office, proposed USPTO ethics rules codifying with the ABA rules, patentability of computer software, and recent cases about inter partes reexamination. To download a copy of this presentation click here.


November 2011 Patent Group Luncheon

November 22, 2011

Topics covered in this month’s patent group presentation include prioritized examination, discussion of a case regarding the De Novo standard of review, and discussion of recent case law following the Bilski decision.  To download a copy of this presentation click here.

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