Re: Comments and proposals for improving patent quality
April 27, 2015
I appreciate the opportunity to submit comments for improving patent quality. The following comments address issues specifically regarding patent drawings.
The United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) rules and regulations for patent drawings are at times confusing, and in some instances vague. However, they still have the most comprehensive set of rules in the world.
When those rules are applied to drawings, the drawings add significant quality to an application. Unfortunately one only needs to search published patents on the USPTO database to find that examiners have allowed many patents with poor, faulty, illegible drawings that do not conform to USPTO guidelines. Enforcing rules for patent drawings would go a long way in improving patent quality not only during the patent process but over the life of the invention.
In the event of litigation, whether you are pursuing an infringer or defending your patent, drawings can help educate a judge or jury. Simple, clear, and accurate images can often help you win the day. Whether deciding on what damages are appropriate or in settlement negotiations, a well-defined patent enables the owner to negotiate for the best result possible.
Litigation is, of course, the worst case scenario. It is preferable to deter a potential infringer before he or she ever gets started. Professionally prepared patent drawings may make an infringer think twice about copying an idea when the patent is clear and unambiguous. The earlier an infringer is deterred, the better it is for the patent owner.
An additional area to help improve patent quality would be for the USPTO to update its digital output of patent drawings on its database. The USPTO specifies that all drawings must be made by a process which will give them satisfactory reproduction characteristics, but they then scan those drawings at 300 dpi, reducing them to low resolution poor quality images. This often causes lines to fuse and images to become blurred. Viewing or downloading patents containing drawings often yields poor quality images. The technology to improve this area is available, common, and would go a far way in saving time and frustration to anyone carrying out a patent search or reviewing published patents.
At present the USPTO accepts informal drawings (rough sketches, photographs, bitmap images, etc.) with the initial filing of an application. Filing formal drawings to start with should be encouraged. Patent examiners see hundreds of cases and are often overloaded. Formal patent drawings will help examiners understand inventions faster. Currently when Examiners send informal drawings back to have them formalized, it increases delays during the printing cycle (during which time the Office waits for corrected drawings to be filed) and so increases time and cost of an application.
The USPTO is moving towards harmonizing patent standards. Many rules for patent drawings have already been revised to correspond with those of the European Patent Office (EPO) and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). In its quest to harmonize standards with those of the rest of the world, we hope the USPTO will maintain and enforce its high standards for patent drawings.
Bernadette Marshall, president
NBG Drafting & Design.