Mission and Organization of the USPTO
Under Secretary Kappos signs Patent No. 8,000,000 at a signing ceremony at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, once the home of the first U.S. Patent Office, August 16, 2011.
Fostering innovation, competitiveness and economic growth, domestically and abroad to deliver high quality and timely examination of patent and trademark applications, guiding domestic and international intellectual property policy, and delivering intellectual property information and education worldwide, with a highly skilled, diverse workforce.
The United States Patent and Trademark Office’s (USPTO) mission is anchored in Article I, Section 8, Clause 8, of the Constitution “to promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writing and discoveries,” and the Commerce Clause of the Constitution (Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3) supporting the federal registration of trademarks.
For most of the last century, the United States has been the clear leader in developing new technologies, products, and entire industries that provide high-value jobs for Americans, enabling us to maintain our economic and technological leadership.
As a part of the Department of Commerce (DOC), the USPTO is uniquely situated to support the accomplishment of the Department’s mission to create the conditions for economic growth and opportunity by promoting innovation, entrepreneurship, competitiveness, and stewardship.
The USPTO is an agency of the United States within the DOC. As shown in Figure 1, the Agency is led by the Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO who consults with the Patent Public Advisory Committee (PPAC) and the Trademark Public Advisory Committee. The USPTO has two major components: the Patent organization and the Trademark organization, which are teamed with several other supporting units, as shown in the organization chart below (Figure 1). Headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia, the USPTO also has two storage facilities located in Virginia and Pennsylvania.
The USPTO has evolved into a unique government agency. In 1991 – under the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (OBRA) of 1990 – the USPTO became fully supported by user fees to fund its operations. In 1999, the American Inventors Protection Act (AIPA) established the USPTO as an agency with performance-based attributes, for example, a clear mission statement, measurable services and a performance measurement system, and known sources of funding. On September 16, 2011, the President signed into law the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (AIA). The new law will promote innovation and job creation by improving patent quality, clarifying patent rights, reducing the application backlog, and offering effective alternatives to costly patent litigation. It also provides fee-setting authority that will be essential to USPTO’s sustainable funding model.
As the clearinghouse for U.S. patent rights, the USPTO is an important catalyst for U.S. economic growth as it plays a key role in fostering the innovation that drives job creation, investment in new technology, and economic recovery. Through the prompt granting of patents, the USPTO promotes the economic vitality of American business, paving the way for investment, research, scientific development, and the commercialization of new inventions. The USPTO also promotes economic vitality by ensuring that only valid patent applications are approved for granting, thus providing certainty that enhances competition in the marketplace.
Registered trademark characters at the 2010 National Trademark Expo in Alexandria, Virginia.
The Patent organization examines patent applications to compare the scope of claimed subject matter to a large body of technological information to determine whether the claimed invention is new, useful, and non-obvious. Patent examiners also provide answers on applications appealed to the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences (BPAI), prepare initial memoranda for interference proceedings to determine priority of invention, and prepare search reports and international preliminary examination reports for international applications filed under the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT). The patent process includes performing an administrative review of newly filed applications, publishing pending applications, issuing patents to successful applicants, and disseminating issued patents to the public.
The Trademark organization registers marks (trademarks, service marks, certification marks, and collective membership marks) that meet the requirements of the Trademark Act of 1946, as amended, and provides notice to the public and businesses of the trademark rights claimed in the pending applications and existing registrations of others. The core process of the Trademark organization is the examination of applications for trademark registration. As part of that process, examining attorneys make determinations of registrability under the provisions of the Trademark Act, which includes searching the electronic databases for any pending or registered marks that are confusingly similar to the mark in a subject application, preparing letters informing applicants of the attorney’s findings, approving applications to be published for opposition, and examining statements of use in applications filed under the Intent-to-Use provisions of the Trademark Act.
Domestically, the USPTO provides technical advice and information to executive branch agencies on intellectual property (IP) matters and trade-related aspects of IP rights. Internationally, the USPTO works with foreign governments to establish regulatory and enforcement mechanisms that meet international obligations relating to the protection of IP.
The performance information presented in this report is the joint effort of the Under Secretary‘s Office, the Patent organization, the Trademark organization, the Office of Policy and External Affairs, and Office of the Chief Financial Officer (OCFO).
At the end of FY 2011, the USPTO work force (Figure 2) was composed of 10,210 federal employees (including 6,780 patent examiners and 378 trademark examining attorneys).