Quantum Mechanics and the U.S Patent System: Two Uncertainties

From Ancient thinkers to Isaac Newton to today, our classical understanding of the world around us includes various laws that objects in our Universe obey, such as Newton’s Law of Gravity. These physical laws were updated a century ago by Albert Einstein to include situations not adequately described by Newtonian Mechanics, e.g., travelling near the speed of light, resulting in the modern view of Space-Time.

Around the time of Einstein’s discoveries, however, experiments in subatomic physics presented considerable challenges to these classical views. The disparity of these observations with the “real” world ultimately resulted in an agreement among physicists on the interpretation of reality itself, the Copenhagen Interpretation, which was necessary to establish a common platform for physics and mathematics. Quantum Mechanics developed as a statistical model in this alternate reality, where laws were replaced by rather uncertain estimations.

Our patent system was also been built upon classical rules and understandings, e.g., earlier patent systems, and the thoughts of Rousseau, Locke and others who influenced our Founders in the creation of our patent system. For over 200 years our patent system has been operating within the paradigm or mindset that innovation should be encouraged by providing a personal incentive to benefit the innovator (in the short term) and Society as a whole (over the long term).

This reality, however, is now under question, i.e., the George Washington Interpretation that a patent system is good for the nation. As with Quantum Mechanics in physics, a new reality has been thrust upon us that the patent system is actually questionable, uncertain or even bad. This new view is the Troll Interpretation. Instead of American inventors creating a better mouse trap, bettering Society, they are now trolls, every one of them it seems. This new interpretation is a long way from the veneration accorded inventors, including great American innovators, such as Morse, Bell, Edison and others. Indeed, the press goes into overdrive denigrating famous inventors, such as the Wright Brothers, as trolls.

The U.S. Supreme Court, which for two centuries acknowledged the importance of patent rights, has also brought the George Washington Interpretation into doubt by undermining the entirety of the patent system in the recent Oil States case, where patents of innovations are now deemed mere tools of the government, and not the innovator’s private personal property. But this is just the latest in numerous decisions over the past decade or so where the Supreme Court has curtailed and belittled patent rights. All of their many negatively-postured opinions have denigrated the value of patents and investment in innovations relying upon patent rights. Indeed, the Supreme Court has directly created considerable uncertainty in a once fairly certain world of patent valuation.

In physics, there is an interesting experiment involving light passing through two narrow slits. Under classical physics, light, as a particle, should pass through and hit a detector on the other side in two places corresponding to the placement of the slits. But this is not the case. Instead, there is a continuum of values detected corresponding to light wave interference, i.e., the light, as a wave, actually goes through both slits and interacts with itself on the other side. One cannot predict with certainty where any given light ray will hit the detector. All one can do in this uncertain environment is to employ statistical techniques to guess.

Right now, the Supreme Court jurisprudence on many important patent issues is just as uncertain, creating further havoc with the George Washington Interpretation. Indeed, it is hard to decipher meaning from the diverse opinions of the Court as to how to proceed. Each new decision further disrupts the patent paradigm in unknown and uncertain ways, but overwhelmingly negative. The Court does not seem to understand the criticality of the issue and the crises so generated.

Modern innovation relies on funding, and one must demonstrate that one can deliver on a promise, e.g., investment requires some certainty to the investor or banker. In the past, the key assets were physical in nature, e.g., a factory lease and the latest printing press for a startup printing business – known values. Now, the assets are far less tangible, e.g., an app or a therapeutic kit, but far more valuable, and very much in need of patent protection. Yet, apart from Justices Gorsuch and Roberts, the Supreme Court appears unable to accord patents the proper status in this equation, creating further uncertainty in the marketplace, preventing many businesses from forming and thwarting innovation itself.

Also, if a valuable invention covered by a patent can be invalidated with ease, e.g., in one of the new and slanted-against-the-inventor USPTO proceedings, why invest in R&D that cannot be protected? This scenario affects critical technologies, such as new techniques and therapeutics to detect diseases. For example, the Cleveland Clinic has recently curtailed critical research in view of the lack of ways to protect these techniques with patents. Indeed, abuse of Section 101 of the Patent Act has reached a precarious level. The investment calculus is simple: if too uncertain a patent can be obtained, and if obtained, too uncertain regarding enforcement, then no funding. This fundamental principle of economics is apparently lost on the Justices.

In Congress, under intense lobbying, they passed the America Invents Act (AIA) in 2011 to increase the “certainty” in the patent system. Despite the warnings beforehand that this was not so, this lobbyist- and troll-inspired law has morphed into a miasma of confusions and uncertainties. Now, Congress is having hearings to establish what they did wrong, and asking fundamental questions. Why has our patent system, once number one in numerous rankings, fallen to 12th place? Why are foreign patent systems more conducive to critical innovations in software, AI, diagnostics and therapeutics, and our Patent Office and the courts deny these innovations the right to be patented? Why is trade secret protection, in lieu of patenting, become so huge? Why are we indulging in this national self-destruction?

The new USPTO Director Andrei Iancu is trying to fix this horrible situation, where we have skewed so far from the George Washington Interpretation into extreme uncertainty that threatens the nation. He wants to change the dialogue and stress the positives of patenting, the positive portrayal of our famous inventors, and turn back many of the bad measures of the AIA. With the Supreme Court Justices rejecting the Founders’ view of patents, Congress will have to now step up and bolster our patent system. Senator Coons and others in Congress recognize America’s innovation slide, the proper role of patents, the bad press regarding patents, and the need to create certainty in business dealings. As our economy heats up further, patents will be even more critical to secure the fruits of American ingenuity in a complicated and intense world market.

George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and many others, including Abraham Lincoln, recognized the extraordinary value of the U.S. patent system, and talked and wrote about its virtues. A few bad actors should not have derailed this critical engine of our economy, but they did, and now all patentees are labelled trolls. Thus, a new portrayal of patents is needed. It will take time to educate the press, reintroduce the positive advantages of the patent system, and stop the slide. We must, however, watch out for the truly bad actors here, some of the big tech lobbyists who still want to curtail patents (to curtail competition), which keeps the patent system under threat.

The uncertainties in physics should not be mirrored in our patent system. The reality of the Founders is not alien to us: hard work, and reward creativity and innovativeness. Modern inventors of new advances should not be harmed due to the perverted view of the patent system being foisted upon us. We need to reaffirm the George Washington Interpretation. Director Iancu has his work cut out for him: Make American Invention and Inventors Great Again!

The U.S. Patent System: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

There is a lot of reason for hope in the pro-patent community over the last several months. New USPTO Director Andrei Iancu has been saying all the right things, and the USPTO has already released helpful 101 guidance in light of Berkheimer. But there is a long way to go to get back to an equilibrium point, as we have been reminded recently by the Supreme Court’s decision in Oil States, and the U.S. Chamber’s report of the U.S. falling to 12th place in terms of patent protection worldwide. Sometimes it is darkest before the dawn, and that may be where we are now. Join us for a candid conversation about the Good, the Bad and the Ugly with prominent Intellectual Property Blogger Gene Quinn. What you need to know to navigate (and survive) the shifting winds of the U.S. patent system.
The talk is this Wednesday, May 30, 2018, starting at 4:30 PM with a networking event before and afterward.  For those in the Washington, DC area I hope that you can come to this informative meeting and social event. Here is a link to the event: https://www.lesusacanada.org/events/EventDetails.aspx?id=1110304&group=160111
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me: vandyke@acm.org 202.378.3903.

Speech on Intellectual Property for 2018 at the Annual Meeting of the Bar Association of Montgomery, County Maryland

Tomorrow I reprise my update on IP law at the Bar Association of Montgomery County, Maryland, which is the county adjacent Washington, DC. Lots to report, The Oil States patent case has introduced even more confusion into U.S. patent law. But the appointment and confirmation of the new Director of the USPTO, Andrei Iancu, offers some rays of hope. I also address recent events in copyright, trademark and trade secret. For those in the area, I hope that you can attend.

Here is the program: http://c.ymcdn.com/sites/www.barmont.org/resource/resmgr/temporary_newsletter_files/2018_annual_meeting_web_file.pdf

I am Chair of the IP Section. If you have any questions about IP or require assistance (I have both domestic and international clientele) please contact me.

http://www.rayvandyke.com vandyke@acm.org
My website is being updated so please excuse its primitiveness;)
Ray

Copyright and the Game of Thrones

The enormous popularity of HBO’s Game of Thrones has driven many into a frenzy.  Just as the Night King appropriated Daenerys Targaryen’s dead dragon for his own uses, many viewers think that GoT episodes should be freely available for their own uses.   The extraordinary value placed on these episodes resulted in hackers cracking into various protected systems to download them and even hold HBO for ransom.  Although the GoT mania has died down with the end of the short Seventh season, the mania nonetheless continues somewhat as we enter the doldrums until 2018 and the final season.

The incredible efforts to get the episodes are in spite of the large penalties in play.  The basic damages for copyright infringement (unauthorized copying) are between $750 to $30,000 per work.  In other words, if you hack into a system and then post a file for others, the damages could be immense, e.g., for 1,000 downloads multiple the above numbers by 1,000 to get a sense of the damage scale possible.  If a judge deems the copying willful, i.e., done on purpose and not accidental, the damages can be increased to $150,000 per work.  There is also the possibility that you will have to pay the content owner’s legal fees, and the owner may be able to seize and destroy whatever copies you have, as well as enjoin or stop you from future such copying.

In addition to the civil liability, infringers, whether small-time or mass infringers, may also be committing a felony or a misdemeanor.  A felony charge must involve an infringement of the copyright owner’s reproduction or distribution rights, two of the various copyright rights.  Further, a felony conviction carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000.  Even though there has been some leniency in the past for  individual pirating, there is still a  risk that you will be made an example.  The legal fees alone  for defending such suits are large, and, as indicated, you may be paying both sets of attorneys.

In relation to the GoT copyright craziness, here is a Consumer Reports article that cites me on the penalties.  https://www.consumerreports.org/televisions/the-risk-of-watching-pirated-game-of-thrones-episodes/  I recommend reading their other articles.

If you are accused of copyright infringement, consult an attorney to assess your situation.  If you are small fry, you may not be worth the legal effort.  However, if you go after very valuable content, such as GoT, and/or indulge in massive file sharing, you are more of a target and  the liability can be staggering.  As a computer scientist, I understand the thrill of hacking.  However, as an IP attorney helping people, whether innocent or guilty, out of the problems due to their pirating activities, all I can say is that some content owners are meaner than Cersei Lannister in protecting what is theirs.