By Dennis Crouch
I have posted a draft Mark-Up and Commentary on the Patent Law Treaties Implementation Act of 2012.
Download it here: patentlyo.com/PLT.pdf.
At this point, the mark-up is very much a draft. I will release a more final version once the bill is enacted. President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law at least by December 21, 2012.
The following is my introduction to the document:
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On December ___, 2012, President Obama enacted the Patent Law Treaties Implementation Act of 2012, Public Law No 112-___ (S. 3486).
The new law is designed to implement two patent law treaties:
(1) The Geneva Act of the Hague Agreement Concerning the International Registration of Industrial Designs adopted at Geneva on July 2, 1999 ("Hague Agreement") and
(2) The Patent Law Treaty ("PLT").
Both treaties were ratified by the Senate without opposition in 2006, and both are intended to simplify the formal obligations and reduce costs for American rights-holders when seeking patent protection outside the United States. A corollary result is that that treaty implementation also eases the obligations of foreign rights-holders when seeking patent protection within the United States.
The Hague Agreement
Implementation of the Hague Agreement creates an international design application that can serve as the basis for filing industrial design applications in countries around the world. The new provisions are codified in ten new sections of the Patent Act and a handful of amendments within the statute. See 35 U.S.C. §§ 381 – 390. In addition to the added statutory language, the USPTO is also required to "perform all acts connected with the discharge of its duties under the treaty." 35 U.S.C. 382. One such obligation is to forward any international application to the International Bureau of WIPO who would then publish the application. Currently, most international design applications are filed directly with WIPO. However, it seems that the US structure will likely encourage applicants to file the international application in the US first.
The international design application is roughly the design parallel to the international utility patent application known as the PCT application. This should significantly reduce the cost of obtaining design protection in additional countries. Although the Hague Agreement is an important step, global industrial design laws vary widely. The next relatively small step toward harmonization would be to rationalize the various rules and laws regarding drawings in design patent applications. Drawings are especially important for design rights because those drawings typically define the scope of rights being claimed. At this point, harmonization on this front does not necessarily require further negotiations within the Hague Agreement but could instead be accomplished through bilateral and multilateral agreement between the various offices administering the design rights.
For domestic applicants, the new law extends the term of design patents by an extra year to 15-years as calculated from the design patent's date of issuance. In the US, no maintenance fees are due and so design patents tend to remain in force for their entire 15-years unless subject to any terminal disclaimers.
International design patent applications are published soon after filing. However, an applicant can delay the publication for up to 30-months. Upon publication, those design applications will be considered prior art as of the application filing date. The publication will also create the prospect of provisional rights under 35 U.S.C. 154(d)(1) to allow a patentee to collect back-damages against unauthorized pre-issuance usage of the design by someone with actual knowledge of the pending application. For several reasons, provisional rights been only marginally useful for utility patent holders. However, there is some expectation that provisional rights will be more useful for design patent holders because (1) the patents more often cover products released on the market during the application period; (2) design inventions are more often copied but those copies easier to identify; and (3) design patents are more rarely amended during prosecution.
Patent Law Treaty
The Patent Law Treaty is a procedural treaty that is designed to limit formal and procedural requirements that countries can place on patent applicants and patentees. The Patent Law Treaty also provides a particular filing date standard.
The key change is that a utility application will now be given a filing date even if filed without claims. 35 U.S.C. 111. The quasi-requirement of drawings is also removed from the filing date requirement. Thus, the filing date requirement will now read as follows: "The filing date of an application shall be the date on which a specification, with or without claims, is received in the United States Patent and Trademark Office." Id. Some applicants will rely upon this change to reduce the immediate transaction costs of moving from a provisional application filed without claims to a non-provisional application that previously required claims.
This volume is intended to serve as helpful tool in understanding implementation of the new provisions of the law and should be especially helpful for those wanting to understand how the law has changed.