by Robert J. Sayre
Colleague, Travis Johnson and I will be fielding patent-related questions at the Venture Cafe in Kendall Square, Cambridge, MA, from 4-5 pm this Thursday, 17 April 2012. Please stop by. Colleague Cynthia Gilbert will join us again next month.
Thanks to everyone who stopped by for last month's Q&A, which was a great success.
And sorry posting has been light thus far this year, though I have been quite busy with WIPO-related work, including coauthoring a patent-strategy book and teaching patent-drafting in Bangkok, Thailand.
by Robert J. Sayre
Barack and Michelle Obama celebrating the holidays at the White House with Edith Childs, via the White House photostream on Flickr.
What a year 2009 was. Let's take a quick look back.
First, the world economy crashed due in part to "financial engineers" who took on too much risk and left the public holding the bag. That said, chaos always creates opportunity. The bottoming out of the financial markets in March presented what may have been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for cool-headed, disciplined investors to snap up extraordinary bargains in the face of a mass, popular exodus from the markets by the herd. Savvy, rational opportunists, which characterizes many inventors, capitalized on the panic of the masses.
Likewise, the financial crisis created opportunities for nimble and disciplined businesses (both among law firms and technology companies) to capture more market share. Modern Times Legal saw a bit of a slowdown in the first half of the year, though business has bounced back strongly the past couple months, as the firm recently added at least three value-conscious clients who have transferred their work to Modern Times Legal from much higher-priced firms in the city.
Likewise, I see lots of companies who were not over-extended staying focused and capturing market share as competitors floundered. Here at Modern Times Legal, I will add no more than an approximately inflation-matched adjustment to my billing rate for the coming year as I recognize that budgets remain tight, and I have found some new ways to further reduce expenses so as to allow clients to maintain their own fiscal discipline.
Changes at the USPTO
I have tracked positive changes at the USPTO, largely attributed to the appointment of new USPTO Director David Kappos earlier this year, via a series of posts on this site (in particular, those titled, "Changes are Coming to the USPTO"). Operations at the USPTO are now gradually rising from a low point that left many applicants in despair, and I am very optimistic that we will see continued improvement at the USPTO in terms of transparency, efficiency, and fairness.
Key takeaways are that skilled legal advocacy (particularly with respect to establishing non-obviousness), interviews with USPTO examiners and the establishment of personal rapport are of increasingly critical importance and value in terms of improving your likelihood of securing an allowance in a chaotic and ever-shifting environment; and applications, as filed, now need to be more skillfully drafted than ever before.
While the patent allowance rate at the USPTO still remains plunged below the depth of 50%, I was proud to achieve an allowance rate over 80% (i.e., of the patent applications that I drafted and prosecuted for clients, over 80% of those that reached a final disposition were allowed, which has helped those clients to advance their business; and, in some cases, has even helped to bring life-saving technologies to the market). We will need to wait at least for the Bilski decision from the Supreme Court to learn how software and business methods will be treated at the USPTO (including the troubling innovations of financial engineers who contributed to our plunge into a deep recession); though for most technologies, I am confident that fewer applicants will face unreasonable rejections at the USPTO if prosecution is managed proactively--for example, by taking advantage of opportunities to make it easier for an examiner to confidently allow claims.
We still face plenty of challenges--from righting our economy and combating climate change to continuing to boost the quality of operations at the USPTO back to an acceptable level, though I think we now have substantially more reasons to be optimistic than we did at the start of 2009; and all of these challenges likewise present opportunity.
A Successful Year for Modern Times Legal
No longer a fledgling new practice, Modern Times Legal crossed a threshold as it entered its third year. Modern Times Legal received a boost in this downturn, picking up at least a dozen new clients ranging from massive multi-national corporations to solo inventors (thanks to all of you, new and old). As the firm maintains a low overhead, I was able to resist any rate increases, and Modern Times Legal was accordingly able to adapt to and ease the pinch felt by fiscally conscious clients; and in some cases, limiting my rates and charges allowed Modern Times Legal to increase the share of work received from large clients who distribute their work among a multitude of firms. Nevertheless, I still have some extra bandwidth, and I welcome and very much appreciate the referrals for new business that many of you provide.
Modern Times Legal also continued to cement its international footprint, as I returned as an instructor for the World Intellectual Property Organization to teach another patent-drafting workshop for participants from across Africa at the headquarters of the African Regional Intellectual Property Office in Harare, Zimbabwe in October (watch for a new video coming soon on this site). Moreover, I accepted an appointment as Pro Bono Chair of the Boston Patent Law Association; and I am proud to join the leadership ranks of this esteemed organization within the patent law community.
I also upgraded my office space--as I moved to the "Inman Square" sector on the 14th floor of the Cambridge Innovation Center; and I am now in the office nearly every day versus previously splitting time between the CIC and my home office over the past two years. With a near-paperless practice, I still maintain a small and modest footprint (no sprawling marble floors or huge oak desks), though I am now more readily available, even on short notice, for a face-to-face meeting at or near the office whenever needed.
Thank you to all subscribers to this blog; at present, I do not track the identity of RSS subscribers, so I lamentably do not know who all of you are, though I invite you to please post comments (or send me an email) and let me know what you think. I currently have a list of about twenty topics on which I want to post, so there is no shortage of ideas; I just need to continue to find the time, and I am committed to posting regularly, though the comments provide encouragement, and I love to hear the perspectives and insights of others.
On a personal note, 2009 was also extremely enriching, as my wife, Emily, and I added our first child, Henry (see family portrait from last month at right). He is six months old now, and I am already so proud of him.
Happy new year to all of you!