Among the provisions of the America Invents Act that went into effect on September 16, 2011 was a change to the patent marking provisions contained in 35 U.S.C. § 287(a). Marking an article as with a patent number provides constructive notice to the public that the article is patented, and failure to appropriately mark an article can preclude the recovery of damages for infringement until effective notice is given. The revised marking statute allows patent owners to identify their products with the web address containing the patent information, limits false marking lawsuits to those filed by the U.S. government or by a competitor who can prove competitive injury, and does away with provisions making it a violation to mark a product with a patent that covered the product, but has since expired.
The USPTO has issued a Report on Virtual Marking that provides analysis of the effectiveness of virtual marking under the AIA; whether virtual marking has limited or improved the ability of the general public to access information about patents; legal issues, if any, that arise from virtual marking; and any deficiencies arising from virtual marking. The report is based on comments solicited by the USPTO, along with independent research.
The conclusion the USPTO Report is that virtual marking has likely met its intended objectives of reducing manufacturing costs and facilitating public notice. The Report identifies several benefits demonstrated by the analysis, in particular the ability of patent owners to dynamically update patent information, to provide a real-time, complete list of associated patents, and to include additional patent-related information, which all may help increase transparency by improving the public’s ability to access a wider scope of information about relevant patents. The Report also notes that there is little applicable case law on the subject, due to the recency of the new marking provisions, and that virtual marking may have deficiencies that are not yet totally apparent, and as a result the issues may need to be revisited at a later date.
The full report is available here.