To help in my 7-year old son's quest to collect all the state quarters, each day I ritually place a dollar bill in the vending machine for a diet coke and see what change I get. Call it my mid-morning excitement. Just as we were in the home stretch a couple months ago, needing only an Idaho, I looked at my change and saw "Puerto Rico". Apparently Congress sneaked a new law past me in late 2007 to release six new coins honoring D.C. and the five territories. [Trivia Q #1: can you name all five? No peeking.] And now I see there's another batch on the way honoring our National Parks.
I can personally attest that these quarter programs succeed at promoting learning in both kids and adults. For example, my children have now played all the educational games on the U.S. Mint website (I haven't shown them the similar games on the PTO site). And I've added two tasks to my bucket list: a) visit all the territories; and b) file a (legitimate) patent suit in the District Court for the U.S. Northern Mariana Islands, where LR 83.3 reminds you that shoes are required attire. (Guam has the same rule. I'm aware of only one patent case from Guam, Nanya Tech v. Fujitsu; it was transferred to N.D. Cal.) And you thought Marshall, Texas was an inconvenient forum… try booking a trip to Saipan. [Trivia Q #2: what's the only territory that does not have its own U.S. District Court?]. The quarter programs also raise a ridiculous amount of money (several billion dollars) for the government through seigniorage.
Of course, I turned to the patent questions. A few queries at uspto.gov yielded the following results (current as of 12/31/09):
- Are you ready for some innovation? The only two American Samoan patents issued in 1984 and 1997. Evidently, in the last fifteen years there has been a lot more development of Samoan NFL talent than technology. (Or soccer skills: the AS team has lost 12 World Cup qualifying matches by a combined score of 129-2). [And American Samoa is the answer to Trivia Q #2].
- Database errors: Searching for these results in the PTO databases requires looking at both the state ("is/" or "as/") and country ("icn/" and "acn/"), since these fields are sometimes miscoded. Also, there are typos: Reston is in VA, not VI. I tried to account for these errors when I saw them.
- Disputed ownership: The most recent utility patent to issue to a territorial inventor outside PR or DC was U.S. Patent No. 7,624,483, for a "Multi-roller snap ring" used with commercial fishing nets. The file history reveals a classic ownership dispute, where the purported assignee successfully petitioned to prosecute the application without the inventors' declarations. The inventors then put several letters in the file pleading their case, including an allegation of forgery in the invention assignment obligation and consulting agreement. Don't expect this one to be litigated soon. What's not clear is whether the Examiner could have (should have?)considered these to be "Conflicting 37 CFR 3.73(b) Statements", per MPEP 324.X:
If, however, the ownership established as controlling is contested on the record by another party who has submitted a conflicting 37 CFR 3.73(b) statement, then the application or other proceeding shall be forwarded by the Office official in charge of the application or other proceeding to the Office of Patent Legal Administration for resolution of the ownership question.
- Under-served, warm weather markets? Anybody want to open a patent shop in Guam? Seeing that Chicago is about to be sacked with a foot of snow, it's tempting…