Tech Trends

As with Pittsburgh’s revitalized economy around several rapidly growing tech sectors, Intellectual Property laws also evolve and change in significant, and sometimes nuanced, ways. Adapting to these various changes quickly is critical to staying a few steps ahead of the competition.

Robotics/Autonomy by James Bosco

The industrial revolution brought rapid advances in steel making, large-scale manufacturing and increasingly advanced machinery. With the advent of the information age, advances have shifted toward machines that use micro-processors, software and “big data.” Such progress has made the industrial internet, “autonomous” vehicles and robots both possible and practical. As a result, patent-seekers for inventions based on “specially programmed machines or hardware” are now common, including thousands of patents filed each year involving various aspects of automation for vehicles.

As the move from business methods to software patents plays out, trends have emerged in the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to embrace software/hardware combinations for autonomous control. Innovations designed to improve autonomy contain unique aspects of safety, security, speed and accessibility, causing a direct impact on patentability. As a result, many patent-seekers today are protecting innovations that make machines smarter, impacting not only our lives, but also machine-focused efficiencies.

AI/ML by Steven Czajkowski

With the increasing use of computers in all aspects of society, it should be no surprise that patent applications directed to artificial intelligence, which includes the field of machine learning, have increased exponentially in recent years. While the Supreme Court’s 2014 decision in Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank International placed a cloud over whether software was eligible subject matter for a patent, that storm has been clearing up steadily.

The USPTO has issued several rounds of written guidance, and there has been a slate of decisions that have been favorable in finding patent eligible subject matter for various software-focused inventions. Recently the USPTO’s Director, Andrei Iancu, indicated strong support for the patentability of “human-made algorithms” during an April 2018 hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. As artificial intelligence, and in particular machine learning, finds further application for use cases in our lives, patent applications covering this subject matter are rightfully seen as a way to protect the investment in fundamental research and the results of that labor.

Fintech/Blockchain by Christian Ehret

A recent trend shows the rise of patent applications filed on blockchain and cryptocurrency-based technologies. In 2017, 669 United States patents and patent applications mentioning the terms “cryptocurrency” or “Bitcoin” were published, as compared to 461 in 2016 and 309 in 2015. The number of patents and patent applications directed to aspects or applications of blockchain or “distributed ledger” technologies, not necessarily limited to financial transactions or digital currency, is far greater. Bank of America was the top filer for cryptocurrency applications in both 2015 and 2017, but other top filers include IBM and UPS. According to a report by Thomson Reuters, China currently leads blockchain-based filings with 56% of all applications published last year, while the United States is in second place with 22%.

The USPTO has been allowing more software-based applications under its new leadership and continually shifting legal standards.  As a result, it is expected that blockchain and crypto-based filings by United States-based inventors and entities will only increase.   

BioTech by Jesse Hirshman

Life sciences patent practice is never boring, and recent trends in this maturing industry fail to disappoint. An increasing number of protein therapeutics, such as enzymes and antibodies, are being brought to market. We also are seeing development, and potentially broader acceptance of new gene therapies based on gene delivery and gene editing, as well as therapeutics based on RNA interference, antisense and other nascent technologies.

From the legal end, the “Myriad and Prometheus” subject matter decisions serve to restrict claims relating to natural products and diagnostics. Nevertheless, dealing with those issues has generally become more routine, with greater understanding and guidance as to what is needed to avoid and overcome such rejections. In the interface between life-sciences patent law and FDA law, the number of approved biosimilars has reached double-digits, and the related patent processes and requirements continue to be clarified in the increasing number of related suits filed.

It can be daunting to keep up with these niche tech trends in Intellectual Property, and there are dozens more than mentioned above, so be certain to retain help that is tuned into the unique IP trends that matter for your business.