Friday, April 25, 2008

New Series Codes for Utility/Plant and Provisional Applications

According to the USPTO website, there are new series codes for utility/plant and provisional application serial numbers. The new codes are "12" for utility/plant applications and "61" for provisional applications. The first applications of 2008 were 12/5,841 and 61/9,389, so the new series must have been implemented in December 2007.

In a related development, the USPTO has implemented a new electronic filing system for reexamination proceedings. Reexamination request filed electronically are assigned control numbers starting at 10,000 for inter partes and 1,000 for ex parte requests. Paper filings will continue to receive numbers in the normal sequence. The series codes for
ex parte and inter partes reexaminations are 90 and 95, respectively.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Father of Modern Denistry - G. V. Black

Whenever I go to the dentist, I'm amazed at the number of specialty instruments and gadgets used to clean and repair teeth. Many of these are patented. According to the USPTO website, 19,194 patents issued since 1790 are classified in Class 433, Dentistry, in addition to 3,742 published applications. (This doesn't include tooth brushes, which are classified in Class 15.)

Related to this is an interesting
story in the New York Times about Greene Vardiman Black, the father of modern dentistry. According to the story, in the late 19th century Black pretty much single-handedly transformed dentistry into a modern profession. In the process, he invented dozens of new dental instruments and materials. The story also claims he had little interest in patenting his inventions, which the patent record appears to confirm. A quick search in Google Patents reveals only two patents issued to Black on August 8, 1871, an improvement in dental drills (US117733) and an improvement in universal joints (US117732). He also received a reissue patent for his dental drill (USRE7452) on Jan. 2, 1877.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

May the IP Force Be With You

According to press reports, George Lucas and his company Lucasfilm are suing Andrew Ainsworth, a London-based prop designer, for copyright infringement for selling replica Star Wars stormtrooper armor. Ainsworth, who produced costumes for the first Star Wars movie in 1976, is disputing the copyright. Lucas claims that he and Ralph McQuarrie, a designer who worked on all three films in the first trilogy, completed the stormtrooper design before turning it over to Ainsworth for production.

In the early 1980s, Lucas, McQuarrie and Joe Johnston patented several designs for toy action figures based on characters in the Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, the second and third Star Wars film. These include:

D264,109 - Bobba Fett
D265,332 - Snowtrooper
D265,754 - Yoda
D268,942 - Imperial probe droid
D277,215 - Ewok

Friday, April 04, 2008

Advice for High-Tech Independent Inventors

As a patent librarian, it's easy to become too comfortable with the stereotype of the independent inventor as someone who tinkers with simple inventions, such as toys and garden tools. After all, many people who seek our help are students and first-time inventors with little technical training, not neurosurgeons and electrical engineers. But maybe we should be more aggressive in marketing our services to the latter.

A recent article (see below) by Bruce Reiner offers a different perspective from the point of view of an independent inventor working in the high-tech field of medical imaging and informatics. Reiner offers some interesting statistics on the number of working independent inventors and observations on the weaknesses of industry-sponsored R&D. He also argues that the strategy of "outsourcing innovation" will create new opportunities for technically savvy independent inventors. Reiner offers good practical advice to high-tech independent inventors, but he discourages them from doing their own preliminary prior art searches, although he does list "conducting a review of the current technology" as the second step in the innovation process. This is a curious bit of advice given that their technical training and experience would be a big advantage in using free online patent databases. Unfortunately, Reiner fails to identify librarians and libraries in his list of resources for the independent inventor.

Reiner, B. I. Intellectual property in medical imaging and informatics
Journal of Digital Imaging, vol. 21, no. 1 (March), 2008: pp. 3-8. (Available on SpringerLink.)

Esp@cenet Improvements in 2008

The latest edition (1/2008) of Patent Information News, the European Patent Office's quarterly newsletter on patent information, documentation and searching, is now available.

Page 10 includes a list of esp@cenet improvements planned for 2008. They are:

1. Increase in the number of documents that can be stored in the "My Patents" list.
2. Relaxation in the page limit for PDF documents downloaded from esp@cenet.
3. Full-text searches for patent documents in English, French, and German.
4. Single search field accepting multiple search criteria.
5. Highlighting of search terms.
6. Exportable hit lists.
7. Date range searches.

All of these will be appreciated by patent searchers, but especially the ability to create sophisticated searches in a single search field, export lists and conduct date range searches. The current limit on the size of a document (about 50 pages) that can be downloaded is annoying at times, but since most patents have fewer than 50 pages it doesn't come up often. (At least not in my experience.) For US and WO patents, searchers can use alternate sites such as Patent Lens, pat2pdf and PatentScope to download lengthy patents.