[Federal Register Volume 78, Number 2 (Thursday, January 3, 2013)]
[Notices]
[Pages 292-295]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2012-31594]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

United States Patent and Trademark Office

[Docket No. PTO-P-2012-0052]


Request for Comments and Notice of Roundtable Events for 
Partnership for Enhancement of Quality of Software-Related Patents

AGENCY: United States Patent and Trademark Office, Commerce.

ACTION: Request for comments. Notice of meetings.

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SUMMARY: The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) seeks to 
form a partnership with the software community to enhance the quality 
of

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software-related patents (Software Partnership). Members of the public 
are invited to participate. The Software Partnership will be an 
opportunity to bring stakeholders together through a series of 
roundtable discussions to share ideas, feedback, experiences, and 
insights on software-related patents. To commence the Software 
Partnership and to provide increased opportunities for all to 
participate, the USPTO is sponsoring two roundtable events with 
identical agendas, one in Silicon Valley, and the other in New York 
City. Each roundtable event will provide a forum for an informal and 
interactive discussion of topics relating to patents that are 
particularly relevant to the software community. While public attendees 
will have the opportunity to provide their individual input, group 
consensus advice will not be sought.
    For these initial roundtable events, this notice sets forth several 
topics to begin the Software Partnership discussion. The first topic 
relates to how to improve clarity of claim boundaries that define the 
scope of patent protection for claims that use functional language. The 
second topic requests that the public identify additional topics for 
future discussion by the Software Partnership. The third topic relates 
to a forthcoming Request for Comments on Preparation of Patent 
Applications and offers an opportunity for oral presentations on the 
Request for Comments at the Silicon Valley and New York City roundtable 
events. Written comments are requested in response to the first two 
discussion topics. Written comments on the third discussion topic must 
be submitted as directed in the forthcoming Request for Comments on 
Preparation of Patent Applications.

DATES: Events: The Silicon Valley event will be held on Tuesday, 
February 12, 2013, beginning at 9 a.m. Pacific Standard Time (PST) and 
ending at 12 p.m. PST. The New York City event will be held on 
Wednesday, February 27, 2013, beginning at 9 a.m. Eastern Standard Time 
(e.s.t.) and ending at 12 p.m. e.s.t.
    Comments: To be ensured of consideration, written comments must be 
received on or before March 15, 2013. No public hearing will be held.
    Registration: Registration for both roundtable events is requested 
by February 4, 2013.

ADDRESSES: Events: The Silicon Valley event will be held at: Stanford 
University, Paul Brest Hall, 555 Salvatierra Walk, Stanford, CA 94305-
2087.
    The New York City event will be held at: New York University, Henry 
Kaufman Management Center, Faculty Lounge, Room 11-185, 44 West 4th 
St., New York, NY 10012.
    Comments: Written comments should be sent by electronic mail 
addressed to SoftwareRoundtable2013@uspto.gov. Comments may also be 
submitted by mail addressed to: Mail Stop Comments--Patents, 
Commissioner for Patents, P.O. Box 1450, Alexandria, VA 22313-1450, 
marked to the attention of Seema Rao, Director Technology Center 2100. 
Although comments may be submitted by mail, the USPTO prefers to 
receive comments via the Internet.
    The comments will be available for public inspection at the Office 
of the Commissioner for Patents, located in Madison East, Tenth Floor, 
600 Dulany Street, Alexandria, Virginia, and will be available via the 
USPTO Internet Web site at http://www.uspto.gov. Because comments will 
be available for public inspection, information that is not desired to 
be made public, such as an address or phone number, should not be 
included in the comments. Parties who would like to rely on 
confidential information to illustrate a point are requested to 
summarize or otherwise submit the information in a way that will permit 
its public disclosure.
    Registration: Two separate roundtable events will occur, with the 
first in Silicon Valley and the second event in New York City. 
Registration is required, and early registration is recommended because 
seating is limited. There is no fee to register for the roundtable 
events, and registration will be on a first-come, first-served basis. 
Registration on the day of the event will be permitted on a space-
available basis beginning 30 minutes before the event.
    To register, please send an email message to 
SoftwareRoundtable2013@uspto.gov and provide the following information: 
(1) Your name, title, and if applicable, company or organization, 
address, phone number, and email address; (2) which roundtable event 
you wish to attend (Silicon Valley or New York City); and (3) if you 
wish to make an oral presentation at the event, the specific topic or 
issue to be addressed and the approximate desired length of your 
presentation. Each attendee, even if from the same organization, must 
register separately.
    The USPTO will attempt to accommodate all persons who wish to make 
a presentation at the roundtable events. After reviewing the list of 
speakers, the USPTO will contact each speaker prior to the event with 
the amount of time available and the approximate time that the 
speaker's presentation is scheduled to begin. Speakers must then send 
the final electronic copies of their presentations in Microsoft 
PowerPoint or Microsoft Word to SoftwareRoundtable2013@uspto.gov by 
February 1, 2013, so that the presentation can be displayed at the 
events.
    The USPTO plans to make the roundtable events available via Web 
cast. Web cast information will be available on the USPTO's Internet 
Web site before the events. The written comments and list of the event 
participants and their affiliations will be posted on the USPTO's 
Internet Web site at www.uspto.gov.
    If you need special accommodations due to a disability, please 
inform the contact persons identified below.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Seema Rao, Director Technology Center 
2100, by telephone at 571-272-3174, or by electronic mail message at 
seema.rao@uspto.gov or Matthew J. Sked, Legal Advisor, by telephone at 
(571) 272-7627, or by electronic mail message at 
matthew.sked@uspto.gov.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: 
    I. Purpose of Notice: This notice is directed to announcing the 
Software Partnership which is a cooperative effort between the USPTO 
and the software community to explore ways to enhance the quality of 
software-related patents. The Software Partnership will commence with 
the two bi-coastal roundtable events. The initial topics selected for 
comment and discussion have been chosen based on input the USPTO has 
received regarding software-related patents. The input has been gleaned 
from public commentary on patent quality, dialogue with stakeholders 
that have requested that the USPTO take a closer look at the quality of 
software-related patents, and from insight based on court cases in 
which software-related patents have been the subject of litigation. The 
public is invited to provide comments on these initial topics and to 
identify future topics for discussion.
    II. Background on Initiative to Enhance Quality of Software-Related 
Patents: The USPTO is continuously seeking ways to improve the quality 
of patents. A quality patent is defined, for purposes of this notice, 
as a patent: (a) For which the record is clear that the application has 
received a thorough and complete examination, addressing all issues on 
the record, all examination having been done in a manner lending 
confidence to the public and patent owner that the resulting patent is 
most

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likely valid; (b) for which the protection granted is of proper scope; 
and (c) which provides sufficiently clear notice to the public as to 
what is protected by the claims.
    Software-related patents pose unique challenges from both an 
examination and an enforcement perspective. One of the most significant 
issues with software inventions is identifying the scope of coverage of 
the patent claims, which define the boundaries of the patent property 
right. Software by its nature is operation-based and is typically 
embodied in the form of rules, operations, algorithms or the like. 
Unlike hardware inventions, the elements of software are often defined 
using functional language. While it is permissible to use functional 
language in patent claims, the boundaries of the functional claim 
element must be discernible. Without clear boundaries, patent examiners 
cannot effectively ensure that the claims define over the prior art, 
and the public is not adequately notified of the scope of the patent 
rights. Compliance with 35 U.S.C. 112(b) (second paragraph prior to 
enactment of the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (AIA)) ensures that a 
claim is definite.
    There are several ways to draft a claim effectively using 
functional language and comply with section 112(b). One way is to 
modify the functional language with structure that can perform the 
recited function. Another way is to invoke 35 U.S.C. 112(f) (sixth 
paragraph pre-AIA) and employ so-called ``means-plus-function'' 
language. Under section 112(f), an element in a claim for a combination 
may be expressed as a means or step for performing a specified function 
without the recital of structure, material or acts in support thereof, 
and shall be construed to cover the corresponding structure, material, 
or acts described in the specification and equivalents thereof. As is 
often the case with software-related claims, an issue can arise as to 
whether sufficient structure is present in the claim or in the 
specification, when section 112(f) is invoked, in order to satisfy the 
requirements of section 112(b) requiring clearly defined claim 
boundaries. Defining the structure can be critical to setting clear 
claim boundaries.
    III. Topics for Public Comment and Discussion at the Roundtable 
Events: The USPTO is seeking input on the following topics relating to 
enhancing the quality of software-related patents. These initial topics 
are intended to be the first of many topics to be explored in a series 
of roundtables that may ultimately be used for USPTO quality 
initiatives, public education or examiner training. First, written and 
oral comments are sought on input regarding improving the clarity of 
claim boundaries for software-related claims that use functional 
language by focusing on 35 U.S.C. 112 (b) and (f) during prosecution of 
patent applications. Second, written and oral comments are sought on 
future topics for the Software Partnership to address. Third, oral 
comments are sought on the forthcoming Request for Comments on 
Preparation of Patent Applications to the extent that the topics of 
that notice particularly pertain to software-related patents.
    The initial topics for which the USPTO is requesting written and, 
if desired, oral comments are as follows:

Topic 1: Establishing Clear Boundaries for Claims That Use Functional 
Language

    The USPTO seeks comments on how to more effectively ensure that the 
boundaries of a claim are clear so that the public can understand what 
subject matter is protected by the patent claim and the patent examiner 
can identify and apply the most pertinent prior art. Specifically, 
comments are sought on the following questions. It is requested that, 
where possible, specific claim examples and supporting disclosure be 
provided to illustrate the points made.
    1. When means-plus-function style claiming under 35 U.S.C. 112(f) 
is used in software-related claims, indefinite claims can be divided 
into two distinct groups: claims where the specification discloses no 
corresponding structure; and claims where the specification discloses 
structure but that structure is inadequate. In order to specify 
adequate structure and comply with 35 U.S.C. 112(b), an algorithm must 
be expressed in sufficient detail to provide means to accomplish the 
claimed function. In general, are the requirements of 35 U.S.C. 112(b) 
for providing corresponding structure to perform the claimed function 
typically being complied with by applicants and are such requirements 
being applied properly during examination? In particular:
    (a) Do supporting disclosures adequately define any structure 
corresponding to the claimed function?
    (b) If some structure is provided, what should constitute 
sufficient `structural' support?
    (c) What level of detail of algorithm should be required to meet 
the sufficient structure requirement?
    2. In software-related claims that do not invoke 35 U.S.C. 112(f) 
but do recite functional language, what would constitute sufficient 
definiteness under 35 U.S.C. 112(b) in order for the claim boundaries 
to be clear? In particular:
    (a) Is it necessary for the claim element to also recite structure 
sufficiently specific for performing the function?
    (b) If not, what structural disclosure is necessary in the 
specification to clearly link that structure to the recited function 
and to ensure that the bounds of the invention are sufficiently 
demarcated?
    3. Should claims that recite a computer for performing certain 
functions or configured to perform certain functions be treated as 
invoking 35 U.S.C. 112(f) although the elements are not set forth in 
conventional means-plus-function format?

Topic 2: Future Discussion Topics for the Software Partnership

    The USPTO is seeking public input on topics related to enhancing 
the quality of software-related patents to be discussed at future 
Software Partnership events. The topics will be used in an effort to 
extend and expand the dialogue between the public and the USPTO 
regarding enhancing quality of software-related patents. The Software 
Partnership is intended to provide on-going, interactive opportunities 
and a forum for engagement with the USPTO and the public on software-
related patents. Therefore, to plan future events, the USPTO seeks 
input on which topics, and in what order of priority, are of most 
interest to the public. Input gathered from these events, may be used 
as the basis for internal training efforts and quality initiatives. One 
potential topic for future discussion is how determinations of 
obviousness or non-obviousness of software inventions can be improved. 
Another potential topic is how to provide the best prior art resources 
for examiners beyond the body of U.S. Patents and U.S. Patent 
Publications. Additional topics are welcomed.

Another topic for which the USPTO is requesting oral comment at the 
roundtable events is as follows:

Topic 3: Oral Presentations on Preparation of Patent Applications

    In the near future, the USPTO will issue a Request for Comments on 
Preparation of Patent Applications. The purpose of this forthcoming 
Request for Comments is to seek public input on whether certain 
practices could or should be used during the preparation of an 
application to place the application in the best possible condition for 
examination and whether the use of these practices would assist

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the public in determining the scope of the claims as well as the 
meaning of the claim terms in the specification. To ensure proper 
consideration, written comments to the forthcoming Request for Comments 
should only be submitted in response to that notice to 
QualityApplications_Comments@uspto.gov. However, registrants may make 
oral presentations at the Silicon Valley and New York City roundtable 
events on the topics related to the forthcoming Request for Comments to 
the extent that the topics pertain to software-related inventions. Note 
particularly two questions from the forthcoming Request for Comments, 
which are previewed below. Oral comments are requested on the 
advantages and disadvantages of applicants employing the following 
practices when preparing patent applications as they relate to software 
claims.
     Expressly identifying clauses within particular claim 
limitations for which the inventor intends to invoke 35 U.S.C. 112(f) 
and pointing out where in the specification corresponding structures, 
materials, or acts are disclosed that are linked to the identified 35 
U.S.C. 112(f) claim limitations; and
     Using textual and graphical notation systems known in the 
art to disclose algorithms in support of computer-implemented claim 
limitations, such as C-like pseudo-code or XML-like schemas for textual 
notation and Unified Modeling Language (UML) for graphical notation.

    Dated: December 27, 2012.
David J. Kappos,
Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of 
the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
[FR Doc. 2012-31594 Filed 1-2-13; 12:09 pm]
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