On August 24, 2006, the Department of Commerce's United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) released for public comment a draft five-year strategic plan designed to foster American innovation and competitiveness at home and around the globe. The draft plan, for which public comment-including suggestions, questions, and other input-is being solicited, identifies quality and timeliness of the patent and trademark review processes as primary goals for the plan that will guide the agency from 2007 through 2012.
"The U.S. intellectual property system is critical to American innovation and competitiveness," noted Jon Dudas, under secretary of commerce for intellectual property. "In the past year, we have provided online filing for patents and hired more patent examiners... and now is the time to set ambitious goals for the next five years."
Under Secretary Dudas further noted that, "the USPTO will continue to find ways to ensure timely, consistent, and accurate examination of patent and trademark applications. This proposed plan builds on the successes of the past five years by continuing to find new and better ways to hire and retain great people and apply more efficient and effective examination procedures."
The proposals included in this draft strategic plan take a multi-pronged approach to ensuring quality and timeliness in the patent review process.
- First, there must be a common understanding between the USPTO and its stakeholders of what defines quality. That definition must recognize the inherent realities of limited time and money, and must then be translated into concrete programs.
- Defining an acceptable time frame from filing to final decision also is important.
- Additionally, hiring, training, and retaining highly skilled patent examiners, abolishing the one-size fits all examination system, focusing examination on the claimed invention, and leveraging state-of-the-art information technology are other important components to ensuring high quality and timely reviews of patent applications.
Included among the draft proposed initiatives designed to ensure effective and efficient review of patent applications are:
- hiring at least 1,000 patent examiners annually for the next five years
- consideration of establishing regional offices
- creating partnerships with universities
- offering retention bonuses and new monetary awards to patent examiners for meeting goals
- maximizing the potential of state-of-the-art electronic tools
An effective and efficient application review process is as important to potential brand owners seeking trademarks as it is to innovators seeking patents. The draft proposed plan includes initiatives ensuring high quality examination and establishing and maintaining a consistent three-month timeframe for providing filers an initial decision as to whether a mark meets the requirements for registration, regardless of fluctuations in filings and funding. To reach these goals, the USPTO draft includes proposals to:
- enhance the trademark quality review program throughout the trademark examination process, and
- maintain a staff of examining attorneys in sufficient numbers to handle fluctuating workloads
- In addition, the USPTO proposes to complete its transition from a paper-based process to a completely electronic process in order to maximize the potential of electronic tools to provide the trademark owners with a world-class registration system.
International IP Protection and Enforcement
The draft proposed plan also calls for new and continuing programs and initiatives designed to ensure that American innovation is as well protected globally as it is in the United States.
- The USPTO anticipates expanding the number of IP experts working abroad;
- increasing the number of foreign officials being trained in IP policy and enforcement, at sessions both in the U.S. and abroad; and
- continuing to participate in the negotiation and implementation of strong IP rights in other nations through new free trade agreements.
- Additionally, the USPTO proposes initiatives that continue work toward global harmonization of patent laws, improve the Madrid trademark system, harmonize international treatment of geographical indications, reduce redundancies among IP offices, and increase electronic processing efficiencies in IP offices around the world.
A copy of the USPTO's draft proposed five-year strategic plan can be found at http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/com/strat2007/.