I attended today the USPTO partnership meeting on “additive manufacturing” (aka 3D Printing). The content was excellent, covering both talks and demonstrations. Companies presenting included 3D Systems, Stratasys, Shapeways, MakerBot, Ex One, and EOS. Several hundred persons attended, including in person and via the web, and the room energy was excellent throughout the three hours plus of content. The 3D printing revolution appears to be on after some 25 years of gestation.
MakerBot is featured in this article. Ex One is featured here.
The USPTO should be congratulated for putting together this informative, exciting event. The USPTO did not give too much overview of how patenting impacts this, but patenting was frequently noted by the speakers, and the PTO did note that there have been around 6,800 patent applications filed in this area over the past ten years. I was particularly struck by the concept that 3D printing can in some cases make objects which cannot be made by other ways. I would also like to hear more about nanoscale aspects of this including materials, interfaces, and nanoscale resolution. One of the driving forces for nanotechnology and nanomanufacturing is additive manufacturing. This recently published U.S. patent application from Lockheed Martin (2013/0018243) shows use of carbon nanotubes and uses the phrase “bio-additive manufacturing.” We will continue to monitor patent filings in this important area as 2013 progresses.
In 3D printing, an object is built up layer-by-layer under computer controlled manufacturing. The talks today covered the historical development including the original stereolithography, laser sintering, binder-on-powder printing, and inkjet 3D printing. Today, some of the companies are trying to “democratize” the technology and introduce this wonder to the general public. With 3D printing, everyone can become a creator. Recently media reports on 3D printing have been abundant. Hopefully, venture capital will be interested. Stay tuned!
Interesting to see a nanotechnology-related application made the Federal Circuit decisions this week (In re Mouttet, 2011-1451, June 26, 2012). Unfortunately for the applicant, the Court affirmed the US PTO’s determination and found the claim(s) obvious, using standards for administrative review which respect the US PTO’s factual findings.
One reason applicant lost, per court analysis, is that he argued “teaching away,” but failed to support his points by failing to cite references that help his argument. Evidence and facts are key.
So in “digging to the bottom” on obviousness, do not be limited by the art set forth by the examiner. Within the practicalities of time and money: think more broadly; dig deeper. Control the references under review.
First, if facing an obviousness rejection, take the references the examiner cites and view them in a way that is fair and reasonable but in your favor. Then, find other references. It is not fair that, considering the vast sea of prior art, the examiner usually only selects references that “help” the examiner to establish prima facie obviousness. Push back on this unlevel playing field. Control to the extent you can selecting the prior art on the table upon which 103 will be resolved. Build your facts.
Of course, this applies both to USPTO work and also larger opinion and litigation contexts.
Each case has its own twists, but this is an important lesson for this nanotechnology case. Some of the claims are cited below in the published application:
Claim 1. A computing device comprising: at least one crossbar array including a first set of N conductive parallel wires (N.gtoreq.2) forming a set of columns and a second set of M conductive parallel wires (M.gtoreq.2) forming a set of rows, and formed so as to intersect the first set of conductive parallel wires, wherein intersections are formed between the first and second sets of wires forming M.times.N crosspoints wherein each of the crosspoints is programmable so as to be in a relatively high conductive state representative of a binary value 1 or a relatively low conductive state representative of a binary value 0; a programming unit configured to program the crosspoints to have one of the relatively high conductive state or the relatively low conductive state so that at least one column of the crossbar array stores a bit pattern representative of a programmed numerical value; an input unit configured to provide a bit pattern representative of an input numerical value to the columns of the crossbar array; and a post-processing unit configured to convert analog signals output from each of the rows of the crossbar array into digital output bit patterns and configured to combine the digital output bit patterns so as to form a resultant bit pattern representative of an output numerical value, wherein the output numerical value is mathematically dependent on both the programmed numerical value and the input numerical value.
Claim 3. The computing device of claim 2, wherein the resistance layer includes a conducting polymer or an organic semiconductor.
Claim 6. The computing device of claim 1, wherein the wires of the at least one crossbar array are formed from individual nanotubes or nanotube ribbons.
We are urgently reviewing the proposed PTO fee increases based on PTO documents issued over the past week. The US PTO appears to agree that some of the steep fee increases, particularly the RCE fee increases, will be controversial. We encourage in 2012 all nanotech entities, cleantech entities, and every other entity under the sun who values patenting to engage in careful study of the proposed rules to guide the PTO away from the proposed paths of steep fee increases. The PTO purports to be willing to listen to comments in 2012. Got it. We understand the PTO wants more money. They might even need more money. BUT, there are limits to the concept if innovation in the U.S. is to be encouraged, and a stronger sense of gradualism by the PTO on resolving money issues would seem in order.