Invention disclosures made by an inventor to an attorney, or a review committee including attorney(s), often contain sensitive information that a client would prefer to keep confidential. It is important for both inventors and attorneys to appreciate the boundaries of the attorney-client privilege, as applied to inventor-attorney communications, to determine which communications can be privileged, and thus sheltered from discovery, and those that will remain discoverable. As in other areas of law, the attorney-client privilege attaches to confidential communications between a client and an attorney made for the purpose of seeking legal advice or services. The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) has applied this principle to patent law and found that the privilege attaches to confidential invention disclosure communications between an inventor and an attorney made for (1) seeking advice on patentability or (2) for obtaining legal services of preparing a patent application. See In re Spalding Sports Worldwide, Inc., (Fed. Cir. 2000). Thus, the attorney-client privilege attaches to invention disclosures submitted or communicated to an attorney to assist the attorney in evaluating patentability or in prosecuting a patent. Additional inventor-attorney communications which may fall within the attorney-client privilege include draft patent applications prepared for or received by an attorney and communications between a named inventor and a patent attorney about patent prosecution.
Taking into account what constitutes a disclosure, we can see the following guiding principles and trends emerging:
The issue of public disclosure is a frequent concern for inventors looking to obtain patent protection. While it may often be safest to wait until at least a provisional patent application is filed before having any discussion regarding the invention with a third party, it is often not practical. Is the idea of waiting to discuss with a third party until a patent application is filed an overly cautious practice? Consideration of what actually constitutes a public disclosure and the factors that courts take into account illustrate that avoiding any and all discussion of the invention may not be necessary.
Key Takeaway: Key business considerations relevant for choosing between patents and trade secrets include: (1) Need for transfer of IP rights; (2) Life cycle of the product or service; (3) Cost of IP protection; and (4) Other business considerations.
Akin to the hype that surrounded the Internet during its early years in the 1990s, blockchain technologies and their associated cryptocurrencies have dominated the news cycle recently. Cryptocurrencies are a form of digital currency that use cryptography to enable financial transfers between two parties without an intermediary. By touting a new technology that could reshape the way transactions are performed, cryptocurrencies grew exponentially, attracting investors searching for “the next big thing.” The demand for cryptocurrencies has reached such a fever pitch in the past two years that cryptocurrency trading platforms have struggled to keep up with the demand for new accounts and trading services. Driven by media coverage of extravagant returns for investors in cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Ripple, among others, some of which have exhibited 100,000 percent or more annual growth in the last year alone, the cryptocurrency market, and the blockchain technologies by association, have received a tremendous amount of exposure for an industry that is still in its infancy. While the prevalence of the Internet and social media have greatly contributed to the explosive growth and popularity of blockchain technologies and cryptocurrencies, such growth so early in the lifecycle of a fledgling technology can have negative consequences, such as significantly impairing development despite an overwhelming number of new adopters entering the space daily.
In Part 1 of this post, I discussed various advantages of provisional patent applications, which are a growingly popular initial filing option for applicants seeking patent protection. These advantages include: establishing a filing date without starting the patent-term clock, obtaining additional time (e.g., to study the market, raise funds, etc.), delaying further costs associated with a regular application, delaying examination, and avoiding the need for immediate formalities, among others.
Yet, despite the numerous advantages of first filing provisional patent applications, there are also various disadvantages that companies and inventors should keep in mind when developing a patent filing strategy and deciding the role of provisional patent applications in that strategy. Some of these disadvantages are described below.
September 2017 marks the planned release of the first iteration of the eCommerce Modernization (eMod) Patent Center (“the Alpha Release”), as well as the introduction of new EFS-Web and PAIR features by the USPTO. Effective September 10, features of the recently concluded eMod Text Pilot Program will be rolled out to the public. EFS-Web and Private PAIR users will be able to file structured text via EFS-Web and access structured text submissions and Office Actions via Private PAIR. Additionally, the Alpha Release, which is the next phase of the USPTO’s eMod Project that seeks to improve “the electronic patent application process by modernizing USPTO’s application filing and viewing systems,” will be made available to Pilot Program enrollees. The Alpha Release will include a new user interface and introduce new functionality that the USPTO aims to roll into future iterations of the Patent Center.
The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit revisited the often unclear question of subject matter eligibility under 35 U.S.C. § 101 in Visual Memory LLC. v. Nvidia Corp. In the 2-1 decision, the Federal Circuit reversed the district court’s determination that the claims at issue were directed to an abstract idea.
On June 12, 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari in Oil States Energy Services LLC v. Greene’s Energy Group, LLC to decide whether the AIA (America Invents Act) patent review program for challenging the validity of issued patents is constitutional. Specifically, the Court will decide the question of “whether inter partes review – an adversarial process used by the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) to analyze the validity of existing patents – violates the Constitution by extinguishing private property rights through a non-Article III forum without a jury.”
Since 1995, the United States has allowed patent applicants to file provisional applications as an alternative to filing non-provisional utility patent applications (often referred to as “regular” or “conventional” applications). Provisional applications, which are typically less formal and therefore less expensive to prepare, have become a popular initial filing option for applicants seeking patent protection.1 Yet, despite their popularity, deciding whether to first file a provisional versus a regular, non-provisional application remains a dilemma for many companies and inventors. There is, indeed, more than just initial cost to consider in making that decision.
The following are several advantages you should keep in mind when developing your filing strategy and deciding the role to be played by provisional applications. Disadvantages of provisional applications will be covered in a separate, forthcoming post.
Maximizing the protection and value of intellectual property assets is often the cornerstone of a business's success and even survival. In this blog, Nutter's Intellectual Property attorneys provide news updates and practical tips in patent portfolio development, IP litigation, trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets and licensing.