March 19, 2018

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Aglets, Who Knew? 

SneakRTech Corp. wants you to defend their patent and challenge BadGuys, Incorporated’s patent at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB). The subject matter: aglets.

You run to the internet and find that “aglets” are the metal or plastic component on the end of a shoelace. Even more, you are surprised to find that the science of aglets is varied and deep. There is technology behind the manufacturing of the aglets themselves, the assembly of the aglets to the laces, and the design of the aglets such that they easily insert into the eyelets of the shoe. Chemistry and material science play a role in the technology related to aglets – both metallurgy and polymer science. Some of these disciplines are relatively old (e.g., at least 15 years ago they were well developed), while some disciplines are rapidly evolving (e.g., nanocoatings to provide a color-change depending on the temperature of the environment).

To complicate things further, the patents being defended and challenged have very different applications—one is an aglet for a desert rock climbing shoe, known to be exposed to high heat, low humidity, and abrasive conditions. The other is directed to a snowboarding boot aglet.

So now you face important questions. Do you need two experts? And how do you choose an expert? There are a least four considerations associated with finding the right expert. 

1. Make a wish-list

The first step in selecting an expert is simple – make a wish-list of the ideal traits you want in your expert. This requires answering, or at least thinking about, several questions.

What, and how many, technology spaces are claimed? Consider whether you need multiple experts, based on the variation in technology, including between claims of the same patent. Although Daubert seems to come up less at the PTAB, consider how to position yourself so that any expert you choose will survive a Daubert challenge.

For our example, think about desired attributes of the eventual selected expert. Are we looking for an expert in aglet design, or perhaps manufacturing processes related to attaching the aglets to the lace themselves? Are we looking for industry or academic expertise, or both? Are we looking for a focused specialist in aglets or a broader expertise in understanding the chemistry, material science, and nanotechnology of aglets. Where is the eyelet going to be (e.g., dress shoe, trail runner, hockey skates, etc.)? Does it matter?

What level of education is required to helpfully explain the technology, and relatedly, how are we planning to define the person-of-ordinary-skill-in-the-art? If the technology is relatively developed, how will our expert opine on the state-of-the-art at a time where she may not have even been out of undergraduate school?

Do you need an experienced expert with deposition and court appearances, or will a more novice expert work?

2. Identify potential expert types and sources

Once you have a wish-list of what you want in an expert, you need to determine where to look to find it. A good start can be to research publications, patents, and industry groups in the claimed technology space.

For example, one aglet patent may relate to electroplating processes of aglets specifically designed to be applied after the aglet is attached to the lace, involving complex chemistry and manufacturing concerns. The other aglet patent could be focused on shape design for ease of entry into an eyelet on a shoe.

For the first aglet, the complex chemistry may require a high level of education. The latter aglet may be better suited to a manufacturing engineer having hands on experience in a final assembly plant, or an industrial designer focused on customer experience. These experts may travel in vastly different circles, and may lend themselves to different types of searching. Additionally, consider whether you’re looking for a generalist or a specialist. For specialist experts, several databases are available to search theses/dissertations. This may provide a list of potential experts to consider that have studied your issue deeply.

3. Consider using an expert service – or two

A helpful shortcut to finding your expert and getting them retained early can be utilizing an expert search service. As a practical matter, it can be helpful to use such a service to ensure quick turnaround, especially if you have a good relationship with the headhunter. You can take steps to make the search consultant’s job easier, which will net better results. This includes providing them a list of experts already disqualified, for example based on conflicts, co-counsel or client preference, etc. Coordination with the client and co-counsel is key, and evaluating potential experts and developing the definition of a person of ordinary skill in the art can quickly narrow the list of available experts.

Additionally, provide the expert service your anticipated timeline—it is critical that the expert is available when you need them (e.g., to prepare a declaration, at deposition(s), etc.).

4. Nail the expert interview – gain knowledge and assess quickly

The interview phase needs to include at least three considerations: experience as an expert, substantive background in the technology, and availability now and throughout trial. If an expert has never been deposed before, try to determine whether they have the soft skills needed to be effectively cross-examined. Push them to see how they react to hard questions both substantively and temperamentally. Ask them for some strategy advice for your case to see how they think. Research them – look for skeletons before hiring them. Ask for references.

You now have two experts: Ms. Boot and Dr. Slipper, PhD., to assist on two separate aglet patent cases.

© 2018 Sterne Kessler


About this Author

Jason Eisenberg, Electronics, Patent Counsel, Washington DC, Sterne Kessler Law Firm

Mr. Eisenberg, a director in the Electronics Group, provides strategic counsel from a quarter century of patent experience gained before and after law school. As reported by Managing Intellectual Property, in 2016 Mr. Eisenberg made an appearance as counsel in 53 of his almost 140 proceedings at the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) of the USPTO.  In addition, he is both an editor and author of several chapters of the newly released Second Edition of Patent Office Litigation (Thomson Reuters, 2017). Mr. Eisenberg’s leadership at the PTAB belies the fact that he maintains a...