This week's collection of business methods patents included US 8,429,061, "Bicycle Suspension Control Apparatus." After looking at 135 flow charts and network diagrams up popped a beautiful drawing of a bicycle and a patent that went from filing to grant in little over a year. A bike and a business method, this is new. It had electronic components and something resembling a power source but it didn't seem to belong so we asked our resident business methods patent expert to explain why this was a business method.
It's not. Or as business methods man put it, "This is a bogus OR."
The Bogus OR
The Shimano Bicycle Suspension Control Apparatus claims the following invention,
1. A bicycle suspension control apparatus comprising: a power supply sensor that detects a power level of a power supply being supplied from the power supply to an electrically adjustable suspension; and a controller configured to selectively change a setting state of the suspension between at least a lockout state and a non-lockout state, the controller being operatively coupled to the power supply sensor to receive a power level signal from the power supply sensor, the controller prohibiting changing of the setting state of the suspension from the non-lockout state to the lockout state upon the power supply sensor detecting the power level of the power supply being below a first prescribed power level, and the controller permitting changing of the setting state of the suspension from the lockout state to the non-lockout suspension state while the power level of the power supply is below the first prescribed power level.
Not a business method element in sight. Not even the ubiquitous computer elements.
The patent is classified as being in USPC Class 705/37: "Trading, matching, or bidding: This subclass is indented under subclass 35. Subject matter including the trading or exchange of securities or commodities within an organized system. (1) Note. This subclass includes distribution of services or products (e.g., utilities, heating, etc.) in a building by an "auction" or bidding system." Nothing vehicular here. This is the bogus OR.
The prior art includes patents held by Shimano and its honorable competition in the world of cycling, Cannondale, as well as patent applications for "A vehicle system for transporting a human body" — a bicycle is a vehicle system for transporting a human body. And..."A bicycle is disclosed having a control system with a user interface and an active suspension system." There doesn't appear to be any question about the subject matter.
Behrang Badii appears under USPTO's patent contacts as a Supervisory Patent Examiner in Art Unit 3662, part of art unit 3660 Computerized Vehicle Controls and Navigation, Radio Wave, Optical and Acoustic Wave Communication, Robotics, and Nuclear Systems. However a search using Examiner Badii's name turns up over 140+ patents as an assistant or a primary examiner dating back to 2006. Many of these have business methods classifications in Class 705. (As an aside, Group Art Unit 3667 doesn't appear on the list of Art Units on the USPTO website.) So the searcher is left to wonder is this the same examiner?
A deeper dive into the data on the patent and the patent application using Public PAIR shows an OR, the classification that determines where the patent is classified and which group of examiners works on it, as 701/37 (DATA PROCESSING: VEHICLES, NAVIGATION, AND RELATIVE LOCATION . . . Suspension control), which makes a lot more sense. The PGPub also has 701/37 as the primary. The primary is the first classification on a patent application. OR for patents, primary for patent applications.
So what is going on here? There is a classification mistake made somewhere between the prosecution of the patent and its publication. The patent should have been classified as 701/37 and not 705/37.
The Unfindable Meme
Why do we care about one patent with a bad classification? Well, because this combination of information makes it potentially unfindable for inexperienced searchers (and even some experienced searchers.) It adds confusion for people trying to figure out just exactly what is a business method patent and prevents those in the human body conveyance business from finding the Shimano Bicycle Suspension Control Apparatus. It adds to the meme that patents are unfindable. To add to the mix, if the classifications are converted to the Cooperative Patent Classification (CPC) scheme using automated methods who knows where this patent will be classified. and what the process, if any, to reassign the patent to the right class. Clearly the process for producing and printing the patent and The Official Gazette (OG) had a problem somewhere. The USPTO Office of Data Management is responsible for this.
And we can't correct it
Note: Only errors that are material will be corrected.
The only people who can request a correction to a published patent are patent owners or their attorneys. And fixing classification data isn't one of the items listed as material.
And the process isn't for the faint of heart requiring that you request for a Certificate of Correction and provide USPTO with the following:
A transmittal letter or cover letter that includes bibliographic data identifying the:
- patent number
- application number
- issue date
- title of invention
NOTE: The transmittal letter should be signed by the attorney of record or owner of record and should state any facts supporting the requested corrections. (emphasis added.)
A copy of any document supporting the requested correction(s), your search revealed, that are not in the Office record or file (e.g., post card receipts, amendment(s), 1449), Form PTO/SB/44 (same as form PTO-1050) Identification of the location of error(s). Identify them by column and line number, using the nearest marginal line number in the printed patent. Leave 2 inches at the bottom of the last page or first page if only one page. (What????)
No fee is required to correct errors made by the Office; however, if it is an applicant's error the required fee for consideration is $100.
The bottom line
As the table nearby reveals, there have been 7,443 corrections made to patents in the first 17 weeks this year. That is not a trivial amount of corrections.
This is a patent quality issue. A simple one but a quality issue that should be fixed. It shouldn't require another crushing package of documentation or the services of a $500 an hour patent attorney. It should just be fixed.