The Company* is one of the nation’s leaders in the development and production of high-technology solid rocket motors for aerospace, defense, and commercial launch applications. As an industry leader, The Company realizes the importance of intellectual property—particularly patents—to protect its products, lines of business, and income.
Patent rights can easily be lost. In the U.S., for example, if the invention has been disclosed without restrictions, publicly used, offered for sale, or sold more than one year prior to filing a patent application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, all U.S. patent rights are lost. On the foreign market, most countries provide no grace period and the moment any of the above acts occur, all foreign patent rights are lost. This is referred to as a “statutory bar” and could cost The Company millions of dollars in lost revenue.
A short time ago, The Company assigned me to work in the Intellectual Property Law Department. This new assignment presented me with the task of finding a solution to delays in processing inventions and acquiring patents. Since our patent acquisition process involves several departments, many possible outcomes, and enormous variability, I chose to apply a process simulation tool.
Having worked with simulation before, I selected ProcessModel to simulate the legal process. The simulation helped our Intellectual Property Law Department identify process bottlenecks and staffing problems which could result in statutory bars.
Changes to the intellectual property process were evaluated using ProcessModel to ensure the new processes minimized the risk of statutory bars and lost patent rights.
The process of obtaining a patent crossed so many organizational boundaries that certain, unusual patent cases set up a chain of events which could exceed the statutory bar. Not being able to see the entire process interact made it difficult to spot potential problems.
“While the flowcharting approach worked well, perhaps the model’s greatest strength was its use of live animation.”
The Current Process
Suppose, for example, a propellant research chemist develops a more energetic polymer. After preparing the formulation, the chemist prepares an invention disclosure and submits it to the management of the research laboratories. After approval, the disclosure moves on to the patent board. If the patent board determines that the invention is valuable, the invention disclosure continues on to the intellectual property department. From there, a patentability search is conducted in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and an evaluation is made regarding whether or not the invention is patentable. If the patent board rejects the invention, the inventor has the opportunity to rebut the rejection and resubmit the invention disclosure to the patent board with comments and additional information. If the patent board approves the invention and determines that it is patentable, the intellectual property department instructs an outside patent attorney to prepare and file a patent application. Often, this process alone can exceed the one-year statutory bar limit.