The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Launches Roundtable Events for a Partnership to Enhance the Quality of Software-Related Patents
On January 4, 2013, the US Patent and Trademark office announced some interesting news in the infamous area of software patents. Everyone has heard about software patents, and most people seem to have a strong opinion about them one way or the other. Love them or hate them, it looks as if software patents are here to stay.
The Patent and Trademark office has announced a new partnership initiative with the software community aimed at enhancing the quality of software-related patents. The Software Partnership, as it is aptly named, will provide an opportunity for bringing together stakeholders (the software community and members of the public) through a series of roundtable talks, starting with two already scheduled talks—one in Silicon Valley and one in New York City. The goal of these talks is offer a forum for an informal and interactive discussion to share ideas, feedback, experiences, and insights on software-related patents.
This is a great idea that has a lot of potential to help the Office in creating sensible patent protection for software-related inventions, while ensuring that all stakeholders’ concerns are heard and addressed in a public forum. The Office has set three clear goals for the roundtable talks. Those three goals are explained in detail in the announcement on the Federal Register, and include:
- Establishing Clear Boundaries for Claims That Use Functional Language—ensure that claims have clear boundaries, so the public can understand what exactly is protected by the claim and the patent examiner can identify and apply the most pertinent prior art. There are several specific questions relating to this goal, for which the Office is seeking written comments, including means-plus-function clauses, sufficient structural support for functional limitations, claim definiteness, and linking structure to function.
- Future Discussion Topics for the Software Partnership—public input as to how this partnership can be enhanced and operated to achieve its stated goals during future Software Partnership events.
- Oral Presentations on Preparation of Patent Applications—comments from the public on whether certain practices could or should be used during the preparation of an application to place the application in the best possible condition for examination and whether the use of these practices would assist the public in determining the scope of the claims as well as the meaning of the claim terms in the specification.
Overall this has the potential to be a very productive partnership. Hopefully this potential will materialize once the reception from the software industry and the feedback from the public becomes available after the first two talks are held. For more information on the Software Partnership, see the original notice in the Federal Register.