Tuesday, October 23, 2012


This Tuesday I received my 250th US Patent.   

Vincent Zimmer, Scott H. Robinson, “Methods and Systems for Microcode Patching,”, Issued 10/23/2012, US Patent #8,296,528

Hat's off to Scott.  Like all of my IP adventures, I enjoy the human, collaborative aspect most of all with my co-inventors.  And what a list of co-inventors, from recent-college graduates to Intel Senior Fellows, from North America to the near East and the far East.  

I won't opine on the alternate perspectives regarding the need or value of patents promulgated by the various voices spanning the meat space to cyberspace.   To me patents are a business fact in the modern, knowledge-driven economy of the 21st century, and I am a small cog in this economy.   

When confronted by patents, like other phenomena in life, I first try to understand the item prior to making a value judgement.  As such, putting intellectual property law in a historical perspective provides one vantage for achieving additional insight. And to that end, I'm 1/3 of the way through Robert Merges Justifying Intellectual Property http://www.amazon.com/Justifying-Intellectual-Property-Robert-Merges/dp/0674049489/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1351049499&sr=8-1&keywords=robert+merges.   I'm in the thick of the Kantian versus Lockean view of property rights, but I am finding it increasingly difficult to find the time and focus to wade through the tome.  

So how to make sense of the morass of patents.  For international patents, Espanet and the query 
provides a compendium of my activities in the US and overseas.  I find it difficult to wade through the results given the amount of output and the query options.

The calculus is a bit easier in the United States, with the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) having a couple of useful interfaces for applications that were published at least 18 months ago http://appft1.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO2&Sect2=HITOFF&u=%2Fnetahtml%2FPTO%2Fsearch-adv.html&r=0&p=1&f=S&l=50&Query=in%2F%22Zimmer%2C+Vincent%22&d=PG01 and issued cases http://patft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO2&Sect2=HITOFF&u=%2Fnetahtml%2FPTO%2Fsearch-adv.htm&r=0&p=1&f=S&l=50&Query=in%2F%22Zimmer%2C+Vincent%22&d=PTXT.

Luckily the name "Vincent Zimmer" is unique enough in the patent realm to allow direct hits on the USPTO queries.  This is especially important since a few cases omit the assignee company and other data that would allow for a more specific query string.

So how does this activity relate to the rest of the US patent-filing population?

According to Michael Orlando, an economist for the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City“40 patents per year are developed within a population of 200,000. In 2006, the patent office received 443,652 patent applications, but only 183,187 were issued that year.”

From Orlando's figures, one can see a 183,187/443,652 or 41% approval rate.

From the queries above to the USPTO, I'm at 251 issued and 453 abandoned, issued or active cases.  This gives a rough metric of 251 / 453 = 55% approval rate, which is slightly better than the 2006 average of 41%.   Given the number of cases in play on my list, including cases in that 18 month window of filed but not public, this isn't an exact number.  But it's probably in the neighborhood of where the metric will converge over time.

The size of the applications can range from eight to 20+ pages.  Assuming an average size of 10 pp., that makes 4500 pages of application data alone.  What a formidable number for my troubled memory.  

The law is definitely fluid. This month there was an interesting update on IP law and what it means for technologists.  You can find the slides for the Tuesday Oct 16,2012 IEEE Seattle Communications Chapter presentation "Evolving Standards of Patent Eligible Subject Matter" at https://skydrive.live.com/?cid=b47e69a64974ad21&id=B47E69A64974AD21%21123#cid=B47E69A64974AD21&id=B47E69A64974AD21%21168

Seattle definitely has more public technical talks than the South Puget Sound area.   The day after the IP talk, the same venue, namely the Bellevue Court House, hosted the October Seattle Meet-up on Cloud Computing.  I was the third speaker, after the Citrix and Microsoft talk.  As you can read from http://joewlarson.com/blog/2012/10/20/cases-of-network-tech-stf/  this eastside crowd was a bit higher in the software stack than I'm used to dealing.  The blogger captured my angst, with the associated Rodney Dangerfield foil 4 https://docs.google.com/file/d/0BxgB4JDywk3McWhfX0ZlSk03bkE/edit with his observation "Zimmer explained that the BIOS had an awkward place in technology, because hardware guys tend to think of BIOS as software, and software guys think of it as hardware."   

As such, I sometimes wonder if the complaints over software patents even apply to my vocation in the land of firmware.

Going forward.   

I'm getting old.   I filed my first patent at 20 when I was an intern at Texaco.   I never followed up on the office action and USPTO application records are not available prior to 2001, so this item is lost in the sands of time.   My IP activity picked up in the late 90's, with the following run of issued US cases:

1999 - 1
2002 - 1
2003 - 1
2004 - 2
2005 - 2
2006 - 22
2007 - 46
2008 - 40
2009 - 36
2010 - 44
2011 - 34
2012 - 22

This is less interesting since the latency from filing to issue can span from four to nearly ten years.  The more interesting data is number of filings per year.

To that end, the application publications per year have progressed as follows:

2002 - 4
2003 - 6
2004 - 60
2005 - 86
2006 - 63
2007 - 55
2008 - 57
2009 - 59
2010 - 21
2011 - 20
2012 - 22

Definitely not Gaussian.  More of a long-tail Pareto style distribution.   

Well, enough on this topic.  250 is a strange number.  Not sure if I'll reach 300, more less a 4-digit number.  Nevertheless, it has been an interesting run.

I'll close with a quotation from Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” 

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