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 user 2007-03-21 at 10:27:00 am Views: 67
  • #17714

    Brother gets 1st patent from accelerated examination program
    - Plagued by a backlog of applications, the U.S. Patent and Trademark
    Office now guarantees speedier reviews for companies willing to do some
    extra work up front.But the express service, which on Thursday yielded
    Brother International Corp. a patent on a printer cartridge in less
    than six months, is being criticized by some patent attorneys who say
    it could do more harm than good.Critics say the extra upfront research
    and legal work raises the costs of doing business and potentially
    exposes patent applicants to greater legal liabilities. If applicants
    receiving speedy reviews leapfrog inventors using the traditional
    process, there could be lengthy squabbles that the Patent Office has to
    sort out.

    The agency’s accelerated examination program, which
    started in August and issued its first patent to Brother, guarantees
    applicants a decision within one year, whereas patent reviews typically
    last one to six years. From the agency’s standpoint, the expedited
    reviews are critical in helping to relieve pressure on a work force
    already burdened by a backlog of more than 700,000 applications.Under
    the accelerated program, a more detailed application is required
    upfront so that reviewers can assess relatively quickly whether an
    invention is patent-worthy. Typically, examiners spend months, and
    sometimes years, making this assessment, often because companies start
    out with broad claims and then tailor them to focus on their specific

    Patent lawyers at some major companies are skeptical
    of the new system, which has already attracted 236 applications from
    businesses and individuals.“It substantially increases our costs and
    the risk of the application being invalidated in court,” said Russ
    Slifer, chief patent counsel at Micron Technology Inc., which has
    received more than 14,000 U.S. patents in the last 10 years but has yet
    to apply under the new accelerated program.The Boise, Idaho-based
    company, which makes computer memory chips, is worried because courts
    have the authority to invalidate patents based on findings of
    “inequitable conduct.” That happens when applicants and their patent
    attorneys fail to submit all known relevant information, or “prior
    art,” used to assess if an invention is patent-worthy.If a Patent
    Office examiner’s mistakes are revealed in court proceedings, there are
    no legal consequences, Slifer said, “but if an applicant does that …
    it appears they lied to the patent office.”If mistakes are made, the
    stakes are high. A federal jury last month ruled that Microsoft
    infringed on two MP3 patents from France’s Alcatel-Lucent SA and must
    pay $1.52 billion in damages. The Redmond, Wash.-based company plans to
    appeal.Patent Office Director Jon Dudas is aware of patent attorneys’
    liability concerns and said he is willing to address them with
    Congress.Another concern about the accelerated patent process is the
    potential for applicants to bypass inventors stuck in the Patent
    Office’s backlog. This is possible because the United States awards
    patents on a “first to invent” basis, while most other nations use a
    “first to file” standard.About 100 such disputes per year already
    come up and are settled before the Patent Office’s appeals board.James
    Arpin, a patent attorney and partner at Baker Botts LLP in Washington
    who worked on the Brother patent, said the new process is not perfect
    but it’s a step in the right direction.Henry Sacco, chief legal officer
    for the Bridgewater, N.J.-based subsidiary of Brother’s Japanese
    parent, said the company expects less than 5 percent of its 1,000
    annual applications will go through the accelerated program, which
    costs three to five times more when all the extra work is factored
    in.The only added government cost is $130 for an accelerated exam,
    which is tacked on to the regular fees totaling $2,400, although small
    businesses and individuals pay half that much.