In late May, I attended the sixteenth annual Rocky Mountain IP Institute. I also spoke at the Institute about best practices for communicating between in-house team and outside counsel (more on that later). The Rocky Mountain IP Institute has grown to be one of the largest two IP conferences in the country. More importantly than that, for years it has been one of the best, if not the best, IP conference in the country in terms of quality and varied content. If you practice IP law and need / want to learn about what is going on in any area of IP, the Institute is the place to be at the end of May every year. The opening plenary session was a presentation by Joseph Matal, Associate Solicitor at the U.S. Patent Office and former interim director of the Patent Office. Matal’s remarks were very interesting. Here are some highlights:

  • He referenced the Wright Brothers’ fundamental patents describing their inventions of controlling the pitch, yaw and roll of an aircraft. While others had invented components of the airplane before or contemporaneous with the Wright Brothers, no one had figured out how to control them in flight.
    • Patent protection was critical to the Wright Brothers and remains so today for inventive, transformative inventions, inventors and companies.
  • No system should be defined by its flaws.
  • It is critical for the Patent Office and its systems to be “reliable and predictable.”
  • It took 67 years to issue patent 1M under the new numbering system. It took about 15 years to go from 4M to 5M in 1991. Going from 8M to 9M took about three years. Patent 10M is expected to issue later this year. The speed of innovation is dramatically increasing, at least as measured by patenting.
  • The Patent Office has a stable workforce. More than 100 examiners have been with the Patent Office for more than thirty years.
  • Patent pendency has declined to about 15.5 months for a first office action and 24 months for a final action. The Patent Office plans to get faster achieving at least the PTA goals of 14 months for a first action and 36 months for final issuance.
  • PTAB proceedings:
    • The goal of the PTAB was to dig out from the mess of slow and complex inter partes reexams.
    • The idea under the AIA was that there would be unknowns that would come up after the PTAB was created. So, the PTAB was given relatively broad ability to set its rules to address those unknowns as they arose. An example of this is the PTAB’s recent request for public comment regarding normalizing the PTAB’s claim construction standard with the district court’s standard.
    • The PTO is looking at revising its expanded panel process.
    • The ultimate goals are to focus on reliability and predictability. The PTO wants stakeholders to know what they are getting and what to expect in PTAB processes.
    • The SAS case was “somewhat surprising.” The Justice Department thought the PTO would win the case, although, or because, the statute was silent on the issue.
      • There is value in it, however, because it makes sure that all issues are resolved at the PTAB making a cleaner distinction between the PTAB and the district court. It also removes burden from the district court.
      • The PTAB will have to guard against “kitchen sink” petitions with one or two strong arguments and numerous weak claims, he suspects the PTAB will reject the entire petition to force petitioners to bring strong petitions that focus on the real invalidity issues.

I look forward to returning to the seventeenth edition of the Rocky Mountain IP Institute in May 2019. You should join me.