Archive for August, 2013

Patent Figures need to be simple. Most are drawn using one of the Microsoft triumvirate: Word, PowerPoint or Visio. These are neither perfect nor cheap. They also have limited support on mobile devices or other platforms. Here I will consider two alternatives.

Grafio for iPad

From a quick Google this appeared to be a high-ranking drawing app. It is £5.99 with additional small charges for extra shape sets (one at £2.99 and several below £1 – even if you bought all shape sets total cost is only around £15). Full version is: here. You can download a “Lite” version to play around with before buying.

20130827-071136.jpg

Pros
  • Gesture recognition – draw a shape and it will convert into the nearest standard.
  • PNG (with background transparency), JPG or PDF export.
  • Cheap – although £5.99 is “expensive” for iPad apps it is cheap as compared to desktop software licences (£££s for Microsoft products) or subscription services (see next product below).
  • Simple and clean user interface – navigation is very quick to learn and intuitive, much easier than Microsoft desktop products. There is a low cognitive burden on the user (as they say).
  • Auto-alignment and snap-to-grid work well – comparable to but somehow less crowded than PowerPoint 2013.
  • Selection of objects, grouping and ordering is a breeze – touch is much better than mouse input for this.
  • A4 sizes available.
  • Local storage.
Cons
  • Gesture recognition requires relatively precise drawing. I found this required relatively straight lines for a rectangle – many of my “rectangles” we’re converted into custom shapes rather than quadrilaterals. I did improve with practice though.
  • No editable export. However, I believe Visio export is on the feature wishlist and is in progress.
  • Possibly no auto-distribute (e.g. vertically for flow chart boxes).

LucidChart

I seem to look LucidChart every year. Previously I decided that the subscription model was too expensive for the limited number of advantages over the triumvirate. Also many of the features were overkill for patent Figures. However, a number of improvements merit a longer look this time.

20130827-074230.jpg

Pros
  • Cross platform support via the browser.
  • Offsite centralised storage.
  • Wireframing and user interface mock-ups useful for computer-implemented inventions.
  • iPad auto-shape recognition more robust than Grafio.
Cons
  • Price – a basic plan is £26/year ($40); a more useful plan with user interface wire framing and Visio import/export is £65 ($100). This is expensive for something I would not use everyday (cf. Spotify at £10/month and Netflix at £6/month).
  • “Cloud” storage – even though this is typically more secure than company email it is still seen as high-risk. It may thus be more difficult to obtain approval from IT for use.
  • No native iPad app – even though there should be no difference we all know that native apps offer better stability and features.  Update: There is now a native iPad app available. I will see if I can give it a run.
  • It was not clear how to change properties on the iPad web-interface (e.g. group items or change line types).

In the end Grafio wins out – mainly for simplicity and a good price/feature point. I am going to download it. If they proceed with improvements (SVG-out would be great) at the current pace, then it will only get better with time.

Being an engineer by training (and at heart) I have always been a bit sceptical of those who say that the law cannot be automated. Yes, there will always be special cases in need of bespoke thinking, but these can be acknowledged within a system. As law involves the application of written rules + historical information, there is actually a large overlap with information and language theory.

Here are a few thoughts as I start looking at this myself. They may not all be “right” and may change as I go along but, hey, they might somehow be useful to someone.

Where to start?

As with most things a first step is conscious reflection. Attempt to look with fresh eyes and then perform a brain dump; this provides a good starting point. I normally do not worry about extensively documenting everything; this is impractical if not impossible. If you build any system in an agile, iterative and extendible manner you can refine later.

A great person to do this is an intern or new starter – most if not all within an organisation will assume that the way things are done is the way things can be done. This is why people hire management consultants (at large cost).

At this stage bullet points are good – they allow hierarchy to be captured. This naturally translates into most data structures.

Law: meet the Internet

I may be a bit Web 2.0 (or even Web 1.0) but web technologies are a good starting point for automation. HTML, XML, CSS, JavaScript, PHP are mature technologies specifically designed for document processing. They also have, at their heart, the separation of content from presentation – one thing every lawyer who uses Word needs to learn.

Another advantage of web technologies is you can quickly build prototypes and have everyone access them. They are also cheap, well-documented and easy – you can set up a web server on a mothballed PC using the LAMP framework (Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP) with a few lines of command line code. Hell you can set up a system for a small business on a Raspberry Pi for £50 – silent and 3-5 Watts. This is how the Googles and Facebooks became so large so quickly.

Model Process in a Code-Friendly Manner

Next step is to iterate through your process brain dump adding some structure.

Pick out key events and triggers – model in flow diagrams.

Pick out key documents requiring input – model as bullet point hierarchies. Make a note of where input is actually required, what information may be stored already and how long each input takes to generate.

Think modules – try to separate process and documents into relatively independent elements – ideally each module or level should have 3-7 elements (reflecting the number we can hold in our minds at any one time). If you go above 10 elements – add another layer of hierarchy. It is easier for our brains to work at different layers of hierarchy, each layer having a few elements, and “drill down” than it is to have few layers with many elements per layer.

Pick the easiest modular subprocess. Start with this and prototype independently. Big systems hardly ever succeed (think of any public IT infrastructure). Document extensively – blog internally or externally – it is a great way to document and you get the marketing for free!

Go from the model of the subprocess and any documents to a web-workflow. Documents can become XML then HTML. Presentation can be dealt with later via CSS – concentrate first on functionality. Take key process functions and code-up computer equivalents (e.g. in PHP or other server backend – Python is good for quickly prototyping back-end function). I would avoid extensive database use at this stage – they have relatively high inertia – iterate at a flat-file level until things stabilise, at which point you can look at a database.

Anyway I will try to provide some examples shortly to make this all a little more concrete.

Friday afternoon: office debate on the European Patent Convention (EPC).

The question that arose was: when should you request Oral Proceedings in a written response to the European Patent Office?

With the European Patent Office providing a form of “examination” at the search stage (the “Written Opinion”), it is now mandatory to respond to any objections raised therein before “examination” officially begins (via Rule 70a EPC). In this response should you request Oral Proceedings?

The question then becomes: can the Examining Division refuse a European patent application in the “first” examination communication under Article 94 EPC?

For

The case law that was laid down under the old rules (i.e. with no “Written Opinion”) held that a decision to refuse could legitimately be issued by the Examining Division as a second communication, i.e. no “further” communication under Article 94(3) EPC (nee Article 96(2) EPC 1973) was necessary. See the link for more details. This generally applied to cases where the applicant made no effort to address any objections raised in a first communication.

If these cases are applied to the present set of circumstances, where the “Written Opinion” is practically a first “examination” communication, it could be argued that the Examining Division can legitimately refuse the application without issuing an official examination communication (e.g. with a second communication relating to substantive issues). It could be argued that the right to be heard, set out in Art. 113 EPC is met, as the applicant had the chance (moreover had) to respond to the Rule 70a EPC communication.

However, if this is the case, and a request for Oral Proceedings is made in the response to the R.70a EPC communication, is the request made to the Examining Division or the Search Division? A request to the Search Division may not be valid as the Search Division cannot refuse the application. As the Examining Division “take account” of the response (see here), does this pass on the request in a valid manner?

Against

Article 94(3) EPC states that:

 “the Examining Division shall invite the applicant, as often as necessary, to file his observations and…to amend the application”.

Now the “shall” in this provision seems to suggest that at examination the applicant should have one opportunity to file observations and/or amend the application. This would rule out a decision to refuse as the first examination communication.

However, the “as often as necessary” complicates matters – if the applicant has not responded to substantive issues in a Written Opinion at the Rule 70a EPC stage, is it necessary to give them another chance? Does “as often as necessary” mean one or more times (consistent with “shall“) or does it make the “shall” conditional (zero or more times)?

If anyone is aware of any case law or guidance that clears this up please let me know.

It is possible to have a European multiple design application with designs in different Locarno classes. The conditions is that all the designs must relate to ornamentation.

(C) Puffinmuffin on WikiCommons

(C) Puffinmuffin on WikiCommons

The Community Design Handbook and the OHIM Examination Guidelines refer to a “checkbox on the form” to indicate whether a design is ornamentation. However, this isn’t actually on the form (downloadable or online – D’OH).

However, I have been informed by OHIM that where you the product classes contain the word “ornamentation”, or where this is indicated in an accompanying description, you should not receive a unity of design objection even if you have different Locarno classes for multiple designs in a multiple design application.

See:

Article 37 Multiple applications

1. Several designs may be combined in one multiple application for registered Community designs. Except in cases of ornamentation, this possibility is subject to the condition that the products in which the designs are intended to be incorporated or to which they are intended to be applied all belong to the same class of the International Classification for Industrial Designs.

Guidelines (as above link):

8.2. Unity of Class (Art. 37(1) CDR)
Except in cases of ornamentation (see below) all products indicated for each and every design in a multiple application must fall in the same class of the Locarno Classification.

8.3. Ornamentation (Art. 37(1) CDR)
Ornamentation is an additional and decorative element capable of being applied to the surface of a variety of products without significantly affecting their contours.

In the case of a multiple application in which all designs are for ornamentation, the “unity of class” (see above) does not apply.

Whether an application concerns ornamentation or not is indicated by the applicant either by ticking the corresponding box in the form provided by the Office or by providing an equivalent information where the applicant uses his own form. The decision of the applicant is not subject to in-depth examination. However, an objection will be raised where prima facie the examiner has strong doubts as to whether the design is for ornamentation.

An unfortunate feature of modern life is a deluge of emails. Many emails require actions. However, it is easy for emails that require action to be lost in the black-hole of an inbox or mail folder.

A nice way to keep track of emails and actions is to use Outlook Tasks.

Generating a Task from an Email

When you get an email that requires an action right click on the email. Go down to “QuickSteps” and see if you have an “Assign as Task” option (or something similar).

If you do not have an “Assign as Task” QuickStep, create it using the following steps:
1) Right click – select “QuickSteps” – select “Create New”;
2) Name the QuickStep “Assign as Task” and select “Create a task with attachment” from the “Choose an Action” dropdown list; and
3) Click Finish.

Once you have an “Assign as Task” option, click it to convert the email into a task. If you have Remember the Milk you can then use “MilkSync” to sync the task to your todo list.

Assigning Tasks

You can also assign Tasks to other people. When the Task screen appears select “Assign Task” in the top tool bar / ribbon.

You can then type in an email address of a colleague, set a due date, a priority level and some text explaining the required action.

When you click “Send” the task is received and added to the recipient’s list of tasks. The original email is included as an attachment for reference.

The advantages to this are:
1) the recipient can keep track of the task (rather than have it drown in a sea of email);
2) the recipient has your instructions and the original email; and
3) the recipient knows how urgent the task is and can order by due date.

This can help a lot when organising team projects. (Or at least where Trello and RTM are a little too “early adopter” :.)

Many European patents are validated in United Kingdom (UK/GB), France (FR) and Germany (DE). This results in equivalent national patents in each of these countries. Obtaining status information on these individual national patents is getting easier everyday.

The European Patent Office is soon to release its “Federated Register”. This will allow you to access national patent registers via the European patent register. A new tab is provided on the left-hand side of the pre-existing European patent register to access this feature.

While we wait for the Federated Register you may find the following links useful:

Just enter the equivalent European patent publication number (e.g. EP1234567) in the “publication” field and off you go. I tend to print the displayed results to PDF to have a dated static record.

Update

A helpful colleague alerted me to an easier way to see the status of a European patent on the national registers.

On the European Patent Register click “Legal Status” – you can then click on the countries to hyperlink to the appropriate national register.

Easy!

Easy!

You are in UK. You have spent thousands of pounds on a UK or European patent application. How can you reap some return on this investment without suing someone?

The band "Patent Pending" taken by Jtdscape

The band “Patent Pending” taken by Jtdscape

One way you can do this is to show that you have applied for a UK or European patent application in your marketing material. You may want to tell the world that your product or service is new and innovative. You may also want to put some distance between yourself and your competitors.

In the UK can mark your product or service as “patent pending”, but this comes with some caveats:

  • It is an offence to mark your product or service as “patent pending” when you do not, in fact, have a UK or European patent application (see Section 111 of Patents Act 1977). To clarify, you will not have  a UK or European patent application if:
    • the obvious one: you have not filed a UK or European Patent Application; and
    • the slightly less obvious ones:
      • you have filed a first application outside of the UK or Europe and have not filed a priority-claiming UK or European patent application;
      • you have filed a International (PCT) Patent Application but have not entered the UK or European phases after 31 months; and
      • you have filed a UK or European Patent Application but it has been considered withdrawn or refused.
  • We now live in a global world. A web-based service is accessible from anywhere on the globe and many business ship worldwide. If you mark a web-site as “patent pending” when you have a UK or European Patent Application, someone viewing the site from outside the UK may assume you have a patent pending in their territory. This could get you into legal trouble. Hence, it is recommend to specify that you have a “UK patent pending” or a “European patent pending”. For a belts and braces approach you may wish to add the application number.

If something changes and you no longer have a UK or European patent application, you have a “reasonable” amount of time to change your marketing materials, product and/or website. As this is a bit woolly, and will vary for each case, it is recommended to instruct that information is changed within 3 months of notification of the change (e.g. after receiving an email from your patent attorneys saying that your application has been refused).