Trends For Women Inventors

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) released a report on the trends and characteristics of U.S. women inventors named on U.S. patents granted from 1976 through 2016. The report delivers several important findings, including:

  • The share of patents that include at least one woman as an inventor increased from about 7 percent in the 1980s to 21 percent by 2016.
  • Even with this increase in patent counts, women inventors made up only 12 percent of all inventors on patents granted in 2016.
  • Gains in female participation in science and engineering occupations and entrepreneurship are not leading to broad increases in female inventors earning a patent.
  • Technology-intensive states, as well as those where women comprise a large percentage of the state’s overall workforce, show higher rates of women inventors.
  • Women inventors are increasingly concentrated in specific technologies, suggesting that women are specializing in areas where female predecessors have traditionally patented rather than entering into male-dominated fields.
  • Women are increasingly likely to patent on large, gender-mixed inventor teams, and are less likely than men to be an individual inventor on a granted patent.

“Women inventors have made and continue to make key contributions,” said Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Deputy Director of the USPTO Laura Peter. “We look forward to working with industry, academia, and other government agencies to identify ways to increase the number of women inventors in all sectors of our economy.”

The full report can be found online at www.uspto.gov/learning-and-resources/ip-policy/economic-research/progress-potential.

Best Practices for Design Patents- Conclusion

By Debby Winters

We have discussed various aspects of design patents in this series of blog posts. In short, design patents should be considered to provide an alternative or additional means of protection for an invention, and generally have a lower cost, higher allowance rate, and faster timeline than utility applications. The guidelines outlined in this series should be considered when preparing an application for an ornamental design. However, you should always consult with a licensed patent attorney before moving forward with your application. We would be happy to serve as your patent attorney. Good luck!

Best Practices for Design Patents

By Debby Winters

The first examination to undertake is to understand what a design patent is and how it differs from a utility patent.

U.S. design patents cover the ornamental design of an object having practical utility. The subject matter claimed is the design embodied in or applied to the article and not the article itself.  In other words, the subject matter of a design patent application may relate to the configuration or shape of an article, to the surface ornamentation applied to an article, or to the combination of configuration and surface ornamentation. In contrast to a utility patent that protects the way an article is used and works,  a design patent protects the way an article looks.

I am often asked whether a client should seek a design or a utility patent. While it depends on the invention, a U.S. design patent provides a number of advantages when compared to a U.S. utility patent. First, design patents have a higher allowance rate. Second, design patents have a faster time to final resolution. Finally, design applications are typically less than half the cost of utility applications due to their expedited prosecution and the limited specification required in design patent applications.

The five areas for our discussion on best practices will focus around the following:

  1. Know the Subject Matter Qualifications
  2. Drawing Quality is Key
  3. Figure Views Should be Consistent
  4. Use of Solid vs. Broken (Phantom) Lines
  5. Include Additional Embodiments

We will discuss each in a separate blog post starting with the first so keep reading!

What Every Startup Needs To Know: IP Pitfalls- Failure to Identify Third-Party Rights- Part Eight

By Debby Winters

Next in this series, we will discuss the failure of the startup to recognize thrid-party rights. When we think about third-party rights in the IP, we are thinking about competitors who may have a patent for a technology within a product. Every startup should be cognizant that its company commercialization may be blocked by this type of third-party right. Accordingly, startups, at an early stage, should consider a “freedom to operate” (FTO) search or clearance to assess litigation risks. A FTO is performed to make sure that commercial products, marketing and use of the product, process or service do not infringe the IP rights of third-parties.

An FTO analysis begins by searching issued patents or pending applications and obtaining a legal opinion from a licensed patent attorney knowledgeable in that field as to whether the product, process, or service may be considered to infringe one or more patents owned by others. Patents that limit the startup’s FTO can be addressed by buying or licensing the underlying technology or patent, by cross-licensing the technology or patent, or by creatively “inventing around” the patented invention by altering the startup product or process, thus avoiding infringement.

An example of how to “invent around” would be in software development, where a startup chooses to incorporate open source software into its code. However, open source licenses also need to be carefully reviewed to ensure compliance with license terms. In some instances, the use of open source code in a startup product may transform the startup’s proprietary code into open source software resulting in public disclosure of the proprietary code. It is always best to consult a licensed patent attorney.

A startup will sometimes use third-party photographs, images, or text in marketing or product support materials. In such cases, the startup should investigate if permission is required to use the material, identify the rights needed, and contact the owner for permission or a license. Startups should make sure the copyright permission or license agreement is in writing.

Comprehensive trademark searches should be conducted early in the business planning process to make sure that the desired business, product, or service name does not conflict with a registered trademark. A startup that fails to conduct a proper trademark search risks receiving a cease and desist letter or even being sued.  This may necessity a need to rebrand after launch and incur the tangible and intangible costs associated with rebranding.

Businesses need broad awareness when hiring new employees, especially those that may have knowledge of competitor’s trade secrets. This is another way to infringe on a third-party’s IP rights.  New employee agreements should include clauses that prohibit employees from transferring or using proprietary information or materials from previous employers. The startup should also verify that the new hire is not subject to any binding non-compete agreements from former employers.

In dealing with third-party rights, startups are well-advised to consider their options at an early stage. In some cases, minor product or service changes, payment of a small licensing fee to the patent or copyright owner, and/or changing potentially problematic trademarks early on and implementing careful employee hiring practices may be sufficient to avoid future disputes and can improve a startup’s chances of attracting business partners and investors to support its business development plans.

In our next blog we will discuss the pitfalls of using poorly drafted agreements to cover IP, and the danger of not using a written agreement at all.

What Every Startup Needs To Know: IP Pitfalls- Part One

By Debby Winters

On their path to success startup companies often face significant risk and liability with respect to Intellectual Property (IP). The failure to adequately address IP issues can potentially lead to the permanent loss of these rights and could possibly create a litigation risk. Insufficient or nonexistent IP protection can also hamper business transactions, including seed funding and status as a desirable acquisition target.

In a series of blogs, we will look at some of the common IP pitfalls startups face and possible steps that startups can take to avoid those pitfalls and protect their valuable IP assets while at the same time reducing the risk of litigation.

Let’s start out by defining what an IP asset is.

The term “intellectual property” can be thought of as creations of the mind that are given legal rights commonly associated with real or personal property. These rights can and do have real economic value. These property rights are generally a result of either federal and/or state laws and include the commonly understood rights belonging to patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets.

All businesses have some form of IP that provides a competitive advantage and helps generate profits. Many companies mistakenly believe that patent protection is the only form of IP protection and ignore the value of non-patent IP. However, startups should identify both patent and non-patent related IP assets when evaluating their IP portfolio.

Startups, no matter whether small or large, should develop an IP plan. This IP plan should identify both existing and future IP assets. In the next of this series, we will talk more about the IP plan; what it should include and how to put it together. Stay tuned!

 

Design Patent, Copyright, or Trade Dress?

By Debby Winters

I recently met with a client who wondered if they should register their product for a copyright, a patent; either design or utility, or for trade dress protection. Sometimes it is hard to decide between the various types of intellectual property protection and sometimes you can use several for the same product. Because borders between the types of protection are not always clear, it may be that some subject matter is eligible for protection in more than one category. It may also be that qualifying for protection in one category excludes the subject matter from protection in another.

Design patents protect the ornamental features of a manufactured article (while utility patents protect the utilitarian features). The drawings of a design patent show the parameters of design patent protection. Design patents remain in force for 14 years from the date the patent was granted if the application was filed before May 13, 2015 and for 15 years from the date the patent was granted if the application was filed on or after May 13, 2015.

Trade dress is a type of trademark that protects packaging or product configuration. Like other trademarks, trade dress marks serve as indicators of source. To qualify for trade dress protection, packaging or product configuration must be non-functional (that is, the features protected as trade dress must not be necessary for competitors to have to compete against the claimant) and must be either inherently distinctive or have acquired distinctiveness. Product configuration marks are considered inherently not distinctive and must acquire distinctiveness in order to qualify for trademark protection. Trade dress marks (like other marks) may be protected for an indefinite length of time.

A product design or feature is functional if it is essential to the use or purpose of the article or if it affects the cost or quality of the article. There are several factors one may consider to determine if a feature is functional. One factor is whether the features that are the subject of an application seeking to register trade dress were also the subject of claims in a utility patent. If so, the utility patent is strong evidence that the features are functional and therefore ineligible for trade dress protection.

But if a feature is protected by a design patent, that fact weighs against a finding of functionality (since design patents protect ornamental features) and may mean the design could be eligible for trade dress protection (even though it is still possible for other evidence to establish functionality). If the features are conclusively determined not to be functional, trade dress protection and design patent protection may exist for the same subject matter, either concurrently or consecutively, so long as the features are determined to be distinctive.

Deciding when, whether, and how to pursue design patent protection and/or trade dress protection may depend on a number of factors, including whether the design has been available in the marketplace before one files a patent application, and if so, for how long, and whether the features are inherently distinctive or need to acquire distinctiveness before they can serve as an indicator of source. Having a design patent may aid in the development of trade dress rights by giving the features in question the time to acquire distinctiveness while the design patent remains in effect and prevents others from using the design. It is possible to facilitate the acquisition of distinctiveness through the use of “look for” advertising that instructs consumers of the product to identify the features as an indication of the source of the goods and services. Then, when applying for registration of the trade dress mark, the applicant can present evidence of the advertising in support of its claim of acquired distinctiveness. If the advertising is effective, this should also allow the applicant to produce evidence that consumers recognize the features as an indicator of source. Thus, the applicant may secure trade dress protection prior to or after the design patent’s expiration.

Of course, not all packaging or product configurations that are worth protecting by design patents will merit trade dress protection. While obtaining a patent is typically more expensive than obtaining a trademark registration, design patents tend to be significantly less expensive to obtain than utility patents, and trade dress applications are often more expensive to prosecute than traditional trademark applications.

Consulting with an experienced intellectual property attorney will help decide the appropriate strategy for each case.