Monday, May 10, 2010

Business Methods Monday - Overly Broad Is Not a Good Thing

Business Method Monday - So, you think you have a Patent…Part 2.

Recently, a reader of the “Business Method Monday” Blog series posed a series of questions, one of which was, "why so many of the Patent Applications that are classified as business processes in Class 705 are rejected relative to other classes in the USPTO Classification system?" Arleen pointed out that at least a part of the issue is that most of the 705 art is generally a concept, which in most patent applications is referred to in the claims as a "method", versus being a “machine” or other physical object. Based on what Mike and I have observed, the process of describing what is unique about a “method” appears more difficult and as a result, is very poorly done by many applicants…or whoever was responsible for defining the unique aspects of the “method” on behalf of said applicant. In passing…if the "method" is a program that accomplishes the business “method” claimed, which is the case with most business methods in Class 705, then there are usually further claims covering the "system" or "apparatus" features that are unique and used to execute the “method” you have claimed.

There are some other significant factors for this high rejection rate that Mike and I have observed…

  • Overly Broad Language -- This one is all too common. There are a host of businesses, legal counsel and to a lesser extent inventors, that seem to belong the "use overly broad language school of application development. This faulty logic and advice seems to be directed at the belief that one should be vague about what it is that you are trying to patent and the claims are likewise vague by default...or the equally faulty logic that you should be a broad as possible about what you are claiming. In most cases, this approach results in claims and descriptions that are are rejected for not being specific enough. They fall short of clearly defining what is indeed unique about their "method". While there may be some detail regarding the invention mentioned elsewhere in the Abstract, Description, Figures and the reference to prior art that gives a hint of what might be unique, when that detail is not present in the claims it is usually a fatal mistake. A patent is issued based on what you have claimed that is indeed unique and it will be defended based on said claims.
  • What Did I Invent? -- In some patent applications it is pretty apparent that the author, who we assume and hope was not the inventor, doesn't understand what the invention is. The other option is that the author did not have the skills to clearly define in words what the invention is. In some cases, there was indication of the inventor's intent from the disclosed detail in the Abstract, Description, or Figures, but it was not claimed.
  • Been There Done That -- Then there are the patent applications that fall into the "already been done" category. These application should never have been pursued to start with, as a thorough prior art search would likely have found the prior art that invalidated the claimed subject matter. But then if you are an inventor and don't know how to do a good prior art search this can happen.

There are some very competent Examiners at the USPTO. Given the volume of work the Examiners are required to process odd are if the claims don't clearly define what is unique about your invention even if it is reinforced by the Abstract, Description, Figures and the references to prior art on which the claimed art builds, then the patent application is going to be rejected.

In my previous life with one of the largest holders of patents in the US, we used to just love the vague and broad patents...from our competitors that is. You would hear the phrase from our legal counsel team, "you could drive a truck through this"...and we could and did. The conversation with the patent holders who thought they had this or that covered with their vague or broad patent claims would go basically something like this..."Oh, I'm sorry. So you meant to say that…but you didn't."...and that was pretty much the gist of the conversation.

This needs to stressed and understood by businesses, legal counsel and the inventors involved in applying for a patent…

  • Define what is unique about your invention with reference to all prior art it is based on, where that is applicable, and then building on this prior art, clearly state all the unique aspects of your invention in the claims.
  • Where applicable, state all the possible applications of the art and the possible means of execution that you feel you want to protect. After all, you are filing for a patent to protect your invention, which means there is absolutely NO reason to be vague.
  • You cover "broad" by applying for additional patent applications, specifically covering each possible applications of the art and means of execution. Frequently that leads to addition patent applications and patents covering these applications and means of execution of your invention.

Post by Sean Henderson

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