Patents and right to privacy

By Debby Winters

As July 4th approaches and we think about our rights, like the right to privacy, we should think about how technology has changed that right. Let’s look at some recent patent applications that may limit your right to privacy just by using your smartphone.  The patent application entitled titled “Augmenting Text Messages With Emotion Information” that Facebook submitted in 2015 seems not only creepy, but also extremely invasive.

facebook patents

Photo Credit: ©USPTO.GOV

The patent application claims that by identifying one or more words in the text of the message along with the speed and pressure of typing on the keyboard that the emotion of the use can be predicted.  Do you want Facebook to know your emotions based on how hard and fast your press your phone keys? Or is this just a little too invasive into your private conversations?

What about the camera fingerprinting patent application filed recently? Heard about that one? This patent application covers a method for creating “fingerprints” that attach to particular cameras and photographs and then match those photographs with particular social media users.  Essentially, Facebook can analyze images uploaded by users and determine the unique signifiers of the cameras used to capture the images. The patent application even discusses looking at things like the user’s style of naming image files, and using that information to create “inferred” connections between the original user and other users.

A third patent application submitted by Facebook combines the camera aspect with the emotion aspect of the two just discussed. It is the emotion-detecting smartphone camera.

facebook patents

Photo Credit: ©USPTO.GOV

This technology actually spies on users through their smartphone cameras and reads the emotions on their faces as they scroll through their Facebook feeds and allows Facebook to keep a storage file of your emotional responses to serve you “better-targeted” ads, content, and other media.


A fourth of Facebook’s attempts to track a user’s behavior is a system for detecting boredom in users by tracking their movements as they scroll through Facebook’s app.  The technology would present users with an initial set of content items in their Newsfeed, and then track whether or not the user pauses on any of the content items for an amount of time that meets a prescribed threshold.  If a user paused on an item for five seconds as opposed to pausing for a shorter time period, Facebook can determine that you’re more interested in that content item.  Is it boredom or is the user just busier than usual?  Add this to the method for receiving information on a user’s eye placement as they scroll on the your phone and maybe that question will be answered.

Many of these patents haven’t received approval just yet, but Facebook is certainly leading the charge in innovations that put user reaction at the center of its products’ performance. For users who desire a more optimal Facebook experience, personal privacy might be a small price to pay.

Happy July 4th!

Stats on Patents

There’s a great blog called Patently-O where the author Dennis Crouch keeps up with stats on patents, including things like pendency and allowance rates. He recently published three informative articles that might be worth a read, if you like to keep up with things like allowance rate of patent and the number of applications pending. You can check out them out at these links:

1- USPTO Allowance Rate

2- Steady-State Patent Allowance Rate

3- Pendency of US Patent Applications



Commemorating Five Years of the America Invents Act

On Wednesday, September 21, members of Congress and key congressional staff, USPTO leadership, and stakeholders from industry and the inventor community came together again to commemorate the 5th anniversary of the AIA on Capitol Hill.  What follows is a guest blog by Dana Robert Colarulli, Director of the Office of Governmental Affairs that appeared on the Director’s Forum Blog on the USPTO website. Enjoy!


“We’ve come a long way in five years. The Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (AIA), signed in 2011 by President Obama, modernized the U.S. patent system and, as a result, helped strengthen America’s competitiveness in the global economy. Together with our stakeholders, the USPTO sought to implement the act consistent with the intent of Congress to increase certainty in our nation’s intellectual property (IP) landscape and enable the brightest ideas and most ambitious endeavors in the world to come to light.

I was there in 2011 and the years leading up to the President signing the AIA and have watched the agency embrace and implement the numerous provisions in the act. On Wednesday, September 21, members of Congress and key congressional staff, USPTO leadership, and stakeholders from industry and the inventor community came together again to commemorate the 5th anniversary of the AIA on Capitol Hill.

The event featured remarks from USPTO’s Director Lee, Representative Lamar Smith and Senator Patrick Leahy on the history of the AIA, the need for change, and the AIA’s impact on the IP system – even as we continue to evaluate these sweeping changes and look for ways to further improve our system. A panel discussion at the event focused on the impact the act has had on businesses and inventors of all sizes and what may be next in the way of improvements to the patent system.

The AIA implemented a number of significant changes to update and improve the U.S. patent system.  Upon signing the bill in 2011, the President described what the bill hoped to accomplish this way:

“It’s a bill that will put a dent in the huge stack of patent applications waiting for review. It will help startups and small business owners turn their ideas into products three times faster than they can today.  And it will improve patent quality and help give entrepreneurs the protection and the confidence they need to attract investment, to grow their businesses, and to hire more workers.”

The USPTO has delivered on that promise by reducing the patent application backlog by nearly 30 percent from its high in early 2009, speeding up examination including introducing a fast track option with discounts for small entities, and leveraging the increased financial stability and fee setting authority provided by the act to reinvest user fees into increasing quality under Director Lee’s Enhanced Patent Quality Initiative.

And just this week, the USPTO and the Economics & Statistics Administration at the Department of Commerce released an updated report on the impact of IP on the U.S. economy, reiterating in quantifiable terms the importance of a well-functioning IP system.

The increased attention and focus on our IP system in recent years is critical, and our job to look for ways to further improve did not end with the AIA. Again, the President stated in 2001:

“And we have always succeeded because we have been the most dynamic, innovative economy in the world. That has to be encouraged. That has to be continued.”

Inventors and innovators in the U.S. and around the world deserve a system that evolves and improves right along with the pace of technology – an important reminder as we celebrate the 5th anniversary of the AIA.”

Learn more about the impact AIA has had over the last five years in:

USPTO Annual Reports

By Debby Winters

In 2015 the United States Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) has made great strides in “leading positive change in the rapidly evolving intellectual property system” and reports that it has “reduced the pendency of unexamined patent applications, established new programs and initiatives, and proactively engaged with the public.”

To show its accomplishments, the PTO has released its 2015 Performance and Accountability Report (PAR), along with A Citizen’s Guide to the United States Patent and Trademark Office.  From this link, you can download both for  2015 as well as for previous years.

To help you see how 2015 compares to previous years in chart form, Dennis Crouch, in his blog Patently-O from Dec. 15, 2015 entitled “Three Charts from the USPTO 2015 Annual Report, has compared  the numbers for Patents Issued, Patents Pending, and Provisional Applications Filed.  The take away from these charts is that non-US residents continue to outnumber US residents in the number of patents issued, and that the number of provisional patent applications filed over the past few years, as well as the number of applications pending has evened out rather than continuing to climb.

It will be interesting to see how 2016 compares!

The Provisional Patent Application: What You Need to Know

By Debby Winters

An applicant can use a provisional patent application (PPA) as a way to secure a filing date similar to the way of securing the filing date with a non-provisional application, but with the PPA an inventor can avoiding much of the costs associated with the filing and prosecution of a non-provisional patent application. However, since the PPA never turns into a patent unless a non-provisional patent application is filed, the costs are not really avoided, but only postponed.

More specifically, if a non-provisional application is filed within one year from the filing date of a PPA, the non-provisional application may claim the benefit of the filing date of the PPA. Not only does the PPA avoid the cost of securing the filing date, but it also avoids the costs of prosecution of the patent application since the PPA is not examined.  Further, because a PPA is not made public unless its application number is noted in a later-published application or patent, the failure by an applicant to file a non-provisional application based on his/her PPA will not lead to public disclosure of his/her invention.

A PPA essentially gives an applicant an additional year to experiment, perfect an invention, find financial backers, determine sales potential, find interested parties for licensing, etc. before filing the non-provisional application.  However, there are no extensions on the one-year time limit for filing a non-provisional application claiming benefit of a PPA filing date.  By law, either you file a non-provisional application within a year or you lose the benefit of the filing date.

To summarize, here are the 10 basic facts all inventors should know about PPAs.

  1. A PPA expires after one year.
  2. You cannot extend a PPA.
  3. You cannot renew a PPA.
  4. A PPA will never become a patent.
  5. You cannot file a design PPA.
  6. The USPTO does not examine PPAs .
  7. The USPTO does not conduct a prior art search on PPAs.
  8. The USPTO does review a PPAs to make sure it meets the minimum filing requirements.
  9. PPAs are not published by the USPTO (unless claimed as priority in a later-issued or published non-provisional application).
  10. You can use the term “patent pending” for the duration of the one-year pendency of a PPA.