Director's Forum: A Blog from USPTO's Leadership
Director's Forum: A Blog from USPTO's Leadership
Thursday Jan 14, 2016

Leadership in All USPTO Regional Offices

Blog by Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO Michelle K. Lee

After much excitement in the last few months of 2015 with the opening of our final two regional offices—the West Coast Regional Office in Silicon Valley in October and our Texas Regional Office in Dallas in November—I’m happy to announce that Molly Kocialski will be the Director of the Rocky Mountain Regional United States Patent and Trademark Office in Denver, Colorado. With Molly’s addition, all four of our regional offices now have directors, making us well-positioned to fully advance the mission of the USPTO as America’s Innovation Agency.

As the new director, Molly will spearhead the Rocky Mountain Regional Office’s efforts to bring the USPTO’s resources directly to the local innovation community, helping to fuel economic growth and innovation in the region, as well as oversee the local team of patent examiners and PTAB judges.   Molly is an established IP leader in the Rocky Mountain region, having served as the Chair of the Intellectual Property Section of the Colorado Bar Association and currently on the Colorado Bar Association’s Board of Governors. Moreover, Molly brings to bear more than 20 years of experience in intellectual property. Most recently, she was the Senior Patent Counsel for Oracle America, Inc. in Denver, responsible for managing an active patent prosecution docket and all of the post-grant PTAB proceedings and patent investigations for Oracle and its subsidiaries. Prior to Oracle, she worked at Qwest Corporation and was in private practice both in New York and in Colorado focusing on intellectual property litigation for multiple high-tech companies while maintaining an active prosecution docket.  Her extensive experience and familiarity with the region’s unique ecosystem of industries and stakeholders will be an asset to the USPTO. 

Molly joins a group of exceptional office directors already in place, including Hope Shimabuku, Director of our Texas Regional Office in Dallas, whom I recently swore in on January 3, Christal Sheppard, Director of the Elijah J. McCoy Midwest Regional Office in Detroit, and John Cabeca, Director of the West Coast Regional Office in Silicon Valley.

The establishment of four USPTO regional offices fulfills a commitment dating to September 16, 2011, when President Obama signed the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act into law. These offices serve their region’s innovation and intellectual property communities and put tools into the hands of individuals who need assistance at every step of the business lifecycle. I am proud of the historic progress we have made over the last four years in establishing and growing these offices, and as we continue to bring resources to the doorsteps of innovators and serve entrepreneurs from coast to coast.

All of our offices will continue to hire talented and dedicated professionals to join their teams. For more information about openings, go to www.usajobs.gov, keyword: USPTO.

Wednesday Dec 30, 2015

Power and Systems Update

Guest blog by Deputy Director Russell Slifer

I wanted to take this opportunity to thank all of our stakeholders and employees for their patience and support as we worked to repair USPTO operations to full functionality. I also want to extend our sincere appreciation to the hundreds of employees, contractors, and service providers who have been working around the clock, through the holidays, to restore operation of thousands of servers, network switches, firewalls, databases, and their connections.

The USPTO contracts, through service providers, for clean uninterrupted power from state of the art, redundant, uninterrupted power supplies for our data systems. On December 22, both of these power supplies were damaged, resulting in a complete power outage to our data systems. Analysis of the damage over the last week confirms our earlier assessments and eliminates any concerns of foul play. We will take this opportunity to work with our service providers to ensure that lessons are learned and improvements are made.

We regret that any interruption occurred, and we strive to provide service equal to the best in government and industry. The USPTO continues to invest in improving our IT systems and many of these improvements allowed the agency to bounce back more quickly. I am proud to say that the USPTO teams returned operation to many systems as early as the next day, successfully restored data from our backup systems, and made all the necessary hardware repairs to return to nearly 100 percent operations by December 28th. Thanks to the tireless dedication of so many people, the USPTO is again operating on an uninterrupted power supply.

Tuesday Dec 15, 2015

USPTO Releases its FY 2015 Performance and Accountability Report (PAR)

Guest Blog by Tony Scardino, Chief Financial Officer

I’m pleased to announce that the USPTO has published its Performance and Accountability Report (PAR) for fiscal year (FY) 2015.  The PAR serves as the USPTO’s annual report, similar to what private sector companies prepare for their shareholders.  Each year the USPTO publishes this report to update the public on our performance and financial health.

Our PAR charts the agency’s progress toward meeting goals outlined in our 2014-2018 USPTO Strategic Plan: optimizing patent quality and timeliness; optimizing trademark quality and timeliness; and providing domestic and global leadership to improve intellectual property policy, protection, and enforcement worldwide.  These goals govern the quality and quantity of our service to intellectual property stakeholders.  In addition, the PAR provides information on the USPTO’s progress towards a broader management goal:  achieving organizational excellence.

Here at the USPTO, we take pride in producing a PAR that meets the highest standards of transparency, quality, and accountability.  The PAR contains a wealth of data and historical information of interest to our stakeholders, including data on patent and trademark examining activities, application filings, and agency staffing levels.  This information is conveniently presented in the Workload Tables section at the end of the PAR.

On the issue of financial performance, FY 2015 marks the 23nd consecutive year that the USPTO’s financial statements have received an unmodified audit opinion.  Our clean audit opinion gives the public independent assurance that the information presented in the agency’s financial statements is fairly presented and follows generally accepted accounting principles.  In addition, the auditors reported no material weaknesses in the USPTO’s internal controls, and no instances of non-compliance with laws and regulations affecting the financial statements.

While the PAR is a record of our achievements, it is also an honest discussion of the challenges we face as an agency moving forward in FY 2016.  Among our numerous challenges and opportunities, we will continue efforts in:  managing the transition to a steady-state operation as the patent business comes closer to achieving its pendency and inventory targets; establishing an Office of the Deputy Commissioner to ensure that the growing Trademark organization has the resources and knowledge it needs to continue to modernize; attaining and maintaining full sustainable funding in an era of increased budgetary pressures; and providing IT support for a nationwide workforce with a “24/7/365” operational capability.

The PAR is a faithful snapshot of the USPTO’s FY 2015 performance.  I hope you find value in this document, and that it allows you to glean greater insights into the agency’s activities and achievements.

Tuesday Dec 08, 2015

A Historic Moment for the USPTO and Innovators Everywhere

Blog by Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO Michelle K. Lee

It’s been a momentous time for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in recent weeks, as we officially opened our West Coast Regional Office in Silicon Valley on October 15 and our Texas Regional Office in Dallas on Nov 9.  And today we are announcing the hire of the first Director of our Texas Regional Office, stellar engineer and intellectual property attorney Hope Shimabuku. Her hire comes at a time of historic achievement, as we have completed the establishment of four USPTO regional offices, a commitment dating to September 16, 2011, when President Obama signed the America Invents Act into law. The regional offices embody the Administration’s commitment to promoting innovation and entrepreneurship across the United States. Of course, we at the USPTO know our work has only just begun. We can now, more than ever, engage directly and meaningfully with our nation’s inventors, entrepreneurs, IP practitioners, academics, and policymakers. And we plan to take full advantage of that opportunity.

Hope is a critical player in that mission. She brings to the Texas Regional Office nearly two decades of professional experience, with the added bonus of being a native Texan. Most recently, Hope was part of the Office of General Counsel at Xerox Corporation serving as Vice-President and Corporate Counsel responsible for all intellectual property matters for Xerox Business Services, LLC. She also worked for Blackberry, advising on U.S. and Chinese standards setting, cybersecurity, technology transfer, and IP laws and legislation. She was also an engineer for Procter & Gamble and Dell Computer Corporation, and holds a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin and a cum laude J.D. from the Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law.

As a veteran of the innovation ecosystem in Texas, she is well aware of the dynamic variety of economic giants as well as up-and-comers across the broader region, in industries ranging from semiconductors to bioengineering. She knows the emerging economic opportunities in that region, and is committed to advancing the mission of the USPTO as America’s Innovation Agency by assisting entrepreneurs to unleash game-changing innovations while creating high-paying jobs and fueling economic growth.

When Hope comes on board in January, she will actively engage with innovation communities in many states across the broader region, promoting USPTO services and initiatives that match the exact needs of those audiences. She will educate but she will also listen, the USPTO’s model of 21st Century governance. And she’ll supervise a stellar team of hard-working employees. The Texas Regional Office already boasts many Patent Trial and Appeal Board judges, with the first patent examiner class onboarding January 11, 2016. Once fully staffed, the Texas Regional Office will have more than 100 examiners, judges, and outreach and administrative staff.

The West Coast Regional Office, when fully staffed, will have approximately 125 employees, comprised of 80 patent examiners, over 25 Patent Trial and Appeal Board Judges, and outreach and administrative staff.  The office has already been active in outreach efforts with organizations across Silicon Valley, the state of California, as well as across the other states in its region.

Despite having only been officially open in our permanent location for a month, the West Coast Regional Office has already provided assistance to over 100 walk-in visitors, trained new patent examiners, provided tours for local elected officials, and hosted patent and trademark learning events. U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker recently visited the office and spent time meeting with employees, and the office also hosted dignitaries in a World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) roundtable. Prior to the official opening of the permanent space, the office was already hard at work engaging with startups and incubators, providing technology focused and industry specific workshops and presentations specific to Silicon Valley and the region. 

The Rocky Mountain Regional Office in Denver has also been busy, most recently hosting a Patent Quality roundtable on October 21, in conjunction with the IP Committee of the Colorado Chapter of the Association for Corporate Counsel (ACC) and the IP Section of the Colorado Bar Association. Members of the bar, local patent community and public-at-large are invited to come together with USPTO officials and share ideas, experiences and insights on patent quality. The Rocky Mountain, Midwest, and West Coast regional offices are now staffed with outreach officers who are dedicated to building relationships with innovators and partners in their regions.

The Elijah J. McCoy Midwest Regional Office in Detroit, staffed with 154 employees, continues to hold frequent events and actively engage with the innovation community. In 2015, since Director Christal Sheppard came on board, the office has engaged with over 10,000 stakeholders and held over 120 outreach events for audiences of senior citizen entrepreneurs to K-12 future innovators and everyone in between. The office’s Saturday seminars, free and open to the public, are a very popular event. One important focus of the Midwest Regional Office has been on K-12 STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) outreach. The office is working with local school districts and after-school programs to encourage innovation with K-12 education, particularly focusing on children and teens that, currently and historically, are underrepresented in STEM and the innovation economy. Since 2012, the office has reached over 700 K-12 students in underserved communities.

In each of the offices, we continue to look for talented and dedicated employees to join our team.  If you are interested in working for the USPTO in one of these regional offices, please refer to www.usajobs.gov for openings.

We are very excited about the important role the USPTO regional offices will play in supporting the overall mission of the Agency including ensuring easier access by innovators and entrepreneurs to resources and intellectual property protections they need to compete in today’s global economy. Look for me to provide a new update on regional office activities in the spring, as the USPTO embarks on our next phase of community engagement with four permanent regional offices up and running.

Friday Nov 06, 2015

Enhanced Patent Quality Initiative: Moving Forward

Blog by Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO Michelle K. Lee

Patent quality is central to fulfilling a core mission of the USPTO, which as stated in the Constitution, is to “promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts.” It is critically important that the USPTO issue patents that are both correct and clear. Historically, our primary focus has been on correctness, but the evolving patent landscape has challenged us to increase our focus on clarity.

Patents of the highest quality can help to stimulate and promote efficient licensing, research and development, and future innovation without resorting to needless high-cost court proceedings. Through correctness and clarity, such patents better enable potential users of patented technologies to make informed decisions on how to avoid infringement, whether to seek a license, and/or when to settle or litigate a patent dispute. Patent owners also benefit from having clear notice on the boundaries of their patent rights. After successfully reducing the backlog of unexamined patent applications, our agency is redoubling its focus on quality. 

We asked for your help on how we can best improve quality—and you responded. Since announcing the Enhanced Patent Quality Initiative earlier this year, we received over 1,200 comments and extensive feedback during our first-ever Patent Quality Summit and roadshows, as well as invaluable direct feedback from our examining corps. This feedback has been tremendously helpful in shaping the direction of our efforts. And with this background, I’m pleased to highlight some of our initial programs under the Enhanced Patent Quality Initiative. 

First, we are preparing to launch a Clarity of the Record Pilot, under which examiners will include as part of the prosecution record important claim constructions and more detailed reasons for the allowance and rejection of claims. Based on the information we learn from this pilot, we plan to develop best examiner and applicant practices for enhancing the clarity of the record.

We also will be launching a new wave of Clarity of the Record Training in the coming months emphasizing the benefits and importance of making the record clear and how to achieve greater clarity. Recently, we provided examiners with training on functional claiming and putting statements in the record when the examiner invokes 35 U.S.C. 112(f), which interprets claims under the broadest reasonable interpretation standard and secures a complete and enabled disclosure for a claimed invention. Training for the upcoming year includes an assessment of a fully described invention under 35 U.S.C. 112(a) and best practices for explaining indefiniteness rejections under 35 U.S.C. 112(b).

Second, we are Transforming Our Review Data Capture Process to ensure that reviews of an examiner’s work product by someone in the USPTO will follow the same process and access the same facets of examination. Historically, we have had many different types of quality reviews including supervisory patent examiner reviews of junior examiners and quality assurance team reviews of randomly selected examiner work product. Sometimes the factors reviewed by each differed, and the degree to which the review results were recorded. With only a portion of these review results recorded and different criteria captured in those recordings, the data gathered was not as complete, useful, or voluminous as it could have been. As a result, the USPTO has been able to identify statistically significant trends only on a corps-wide basis, but not at the technology center, art unit, or examiner levels. We are working to unify the review process for all reviewers and systematically record the same review results through an online form, called the “master review form,” which we intend to share with the public. 

What are the implications of this new process and new form? This new process will give us the ability to collect and analyze a much greater volume of data from reviews that we were already doing, but that were not previously captured in a centralized, unified way. As we roll out this new review process the amount of data we collect will significantly increase anywhere from three to five times. This will allow us to use big data analytic techniques to identify more detailed trends across the agency based upon statistically significant data including at the technology center, art unit, and even examiner levels. Also, this new process will give us better insight into not just whether the law was applied correctly, but whether the reasons for an examiner’s actions were spelled out in the record clearly and whether there is an omission of a certain type of rejection. For example, for an obvious rejection we are considering not only whether a proper obvious rejection was made, but whether the elements identified in the prior art were mapped onto the claims, whether there are statements in the record explaining the rejection, and whether those statements are clear.

The end results will be the (1) ability to provide more targeted and relevant training to our examiners with much greater precision, (2) increased consistency in work product across the entire examination corps, and (3) greater transparency in how the USPTO evaluates examiners’ work product. You can read more about these and our many other initiatives, such as our Automated Pre-examination Search pilot and Post Grant Outcomes, which incorporates insight from our Patent Trial and Appeal Board and other proceedings back into the examination process on our new Enhanced Patent Quality Initiative page on our website.

Finally, let me close by emphasizing that our Enhanced Patent Quality Initiative is not a “one-and-done” effort. Coming from the private sector, I know that any company that produces a truly top quality product has focused on quality for years, if not decades. The USPTO is committed to no less. The programs presented here are just a start. My goal in establishing a brand new department within the USPTO was to focus exclusively on patent quality and the newly created executive level position of Deputy Commissioner for Patent Quality will ensure enhanced quality now, and into the future. With your input we intend to identify additional ways we can enhance patent quality as defined by our patent quality pillars of excellence in work products, excellence in measuring patent quality, and excellence in customer service.

To that end, we will continue our stakeholder outreach and feedback collection efforts in various ways, such as our monthly Patent Quality Chat webinars. The next Patent Quality Chat webinar on November 10 will focus on the programs presented in this blog and our other quality initiatives. I encourage you to join in regularly to our Patent Quality Chats and visit the Enhanced Patent Quality Initiative page on our website for more information.  The website provides recordings of previous Quality Chats as well as upcoming topics for discussion. We are eager to hear from you about our Enhanced Patent Quality Initiative, so please continue to provide your feedback to WorldClassPatentQuality@uspto.gov.  Thank you for collaborating with us on this exciting and important initiative!

Wednesday Mar 18, 2015

USPTO Satellite Offices Bring Resources to Innovators

Blog by Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO Michelle K. Lee

Three years ago, we started expanding USPTO operations across the country to Dallas, Denver, Detroit, and Silicon Valley, bringing resources to the doorsteps of innovators. These satellite offices support our core mission of fostering American innovation and competitiveness by offering services to entrepreneurs, inventors, and small businesses, while effectively engaging communities and local industries.

Our satellite offices allow the USPTO to recruit a diverse range of talented technical experts and build the workforce necessary to reduce the current patent backlog, ensure pending applications are examined in a timely manner, and speed up the overall examination process. These operational improvements in turn allow businesses to move their groundbreaking innovations to market faster, provide incentive for investment in new technologies, and directly contribute to the creation of new jobs that grow and sustain our economy.

Since my last blog update regarding our satellite offices, there have been significant developments. I am excited to welcome Dr. Christal Sheppard to our USPTO team as the new regional director for the Elijah J. McCoy satellite office in Detroit. Christal previously served as chief counsel on patents and trademarks for the House Judiciary Committee, and since leaving Capitol Hill, she has been an assistant professor at the University of Nebraska College of Law and a member of the USPTO Patent Public Advisory Committee. She will use her expertise to build on the partnerships the office has already established with stakeholders, the local community, and organizations in the Detroit area.

Our Rocky Mountain Regional Office in Denver continues to reach out to independent inventors, entrepreneurs, and small businesses with events like its Saturday Seminar series that provide valuable information on intellectual property protection and the process for obtaining patents and registering trademarks.

Denver Regional Office Director Russ Slifer says, “The reception and excitement for the USPTO in Colorado has greatly exceeded my expectations. The Rocky Mountain region has a strong innovation community including universities, small and large businesses, and independent inventors. We are passionate about building collaborative relationships to provide the education and resources needed to help the innovators in the region continue to be competitive.”

Our West Coast Regional Office in Silicon Valley is engaging the community and providing services to one of the most active patent filing communities in the world. After holding our first Cybersecurity Partnership Meeting last fall in Silicon Valley, we continue to gather stakeholders’ thoughts, ideas, and insights in the cybersecurity field as well as other industry sectors across the region. We are extremely pleased that the San Jose City Council unanimously approved our final schedule and lease terms and that construction of the West Coast Regional Office is underway.

Silicon Valley Regional Office Director John Cabeca says, "There continues to be an outpouring of support across the innovation ecosystem for the USPTO to establish a permanent west coast office in the Silicon Valley and we are eager to see our permanent facility open in San Jose City Hall. The community is very engaged and I look forward to working with stakeholders, at all levels, to bring educational programs tailored to the specific needs of the region."

For the regional director of our Texas Regional Office, we recently posted and closed a job announcement, and I look forward to updating you once a candidate has been selected. As part of our targeted outreach campaign to the unique entrepreneurial community in Texas, we are reaching out to small businesses and startups across the state. This month, I shared some our 21st century initiatives at the annual SXSW Festival in Austin, where Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and I spoke about how the government is adapting to the rate and pace of technology–and fueling innovation–by retooling our patent system. I look forward to opening the permanent space for our offices in Dallas in the Terminal Annex Federal Building later this year after renovations and infrastructure updates are completed.

To date, we have hired more than 300 employees at our satellite offices, and we will continue to hire patent examiners and administrative patent judges for them. Open positions will be posted on http://www.usajobs.gov/, keyword: USPTO.

I strongly believe in the strategic importance of our satellite offices serving their regional innovation and intellectual property communities. Working with local communities, our offices put tools into the hands of individuals who need assistance at every step of the business lifecycle. I am proud of the progress we have made over the last three years, and can’t wait to open our permanent spaces in Dallas and Silicon Valley as we continue our efforts to serve entrepreneurs from coast to coast.

Friday Jan 30, 2015

User Feedback Plays Key Role in New USPTO Website

Blog by Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Deputy Director of the USPTO Michelle K. Lee

I’m excited to let you know about our newly redesigned website that improves the experience of doing business with the USPTO, and is a key part of our rollout of next generation technologies. Chief Information Officer John Owens and his team of IT specialists are dedicated to modernizing the USPTO’s IT infrastructure in 2015 and beyond.

This redesign is the first phase of upgrading users’ USPTO online experience that focuses on updating the (1) navigation to allow users to access needed information more easily and quickly and (2) to make the presentation of information on our web pages clearer and more streamlined. Following the completion of the first phase, the USPTO team is now working on ways to improve our “transactional sites,” which are the online tools and systems where users transact business with the USPTO such as filing for trademark registrations or paying the fees for patents that we look forward to sharing with you soon.

The official launch date for the website is February 5, 2015, when you will see the results of our phase one redesign.  When users visit www.uspto.gov they will be taken directly to the redesigned site and if you haven’t already visited the site, I encourage you to take a tour of the beta.

In developing the new site, we met with hundreds of users—both frequent users and new visitors to the site—to learn what information they look for, study and how they attempt to find it. We also conducted an in-depth analysis of the site’s navigation including extensive user experience testing of the new design and wide-ranging best practices comparisons. The new navigation makes it easier to access information about our services and learn how to accomplish tasks. It’s also friendlier for those of you using mobile devices. I invite you to watch a one-minute video that highlights some of the site’s new features.

Thousands of USPTO web pages were redesigned and there are many ways we can continue to make the site better, but we can’t do that without your help. When we launched the beta in December, we asked users to take a look at the new site, and more than 15,000 people have so far. We also set up an Ideascale site, a place where you can submit your thoughts and comments about the beta, and vote up or down, or comment on ideas submitted by others. We received some great input and we’re looking forward to continued interaction with you on additional ways to fine tune the new site. We’ll continue to provide improvements even after it becomes the official agency site.

We value your feedback, whether it is about our new website or any of our other initiatives. With your input, we can work together to better meet your needs.

Thursday Jan 22, 2015

IT Innovation at USPTO in 2015

Guest blog by Chief Information Officer John Owens

The start of a new year is a perfect time to reflect on our current successes, and challenge ourselves to continually improve our information technology (IT) systems. As the Chief Information Officer, I am focused on driving innovation at the USPTO while protecting our nation’s cutting edge ideas.

The Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) works hard every day to make sure both our existing systems and our new “next generation” systems enable examiners to accomplish their important work. We are building excellent tools for the public while we drive to fine-tune our own processes for greater efficiency. Supported by more robust, updated IT systems and tools, USPTO examiners will be able to leverage these tools, and new data, to issue the best quality patents. When we improve systems and services for our examiners, the public benefits as well.

Some of our goals for 2015 include:

• Drive service innovation – improve desktop services and support, and provide additional self-help capabilities to customers;
• Strengthen the organization – Improve collaboration, drive up satisfaction, and deliver impactful training;
• Continually improve processes – drive efficiency in the organization and eliminate single points of failure;
• Deliver next generation platforms – deliver totally new patent and trademark examination systems

We will accomplish these goals by developing innovation from within our organization, learning from the private sector, using open source data, engaging with our customers, and hiring outstanding staff.

Developing the innovation within

The key to unlocking innovation lies in our most important asset, our people. I look for the innovators within our ranks, the doers and smart risk-takers whose determination, energy, and grit drive the organization forward. These people soak up change, are nimble with new technology and ideas, and love learning, especially if it helps them do their jobs better. As one of my employees said to me, “Part of my job satisfaction here is based on what I am learning.” People like this are everywhere in our agency. All we need to do is give them the tools to innovate. 

DevOps: learning from the private sector

Within our office, we have eagerly embraced a new technology movement called “DevOps,” which has taken hold in the private sector at such companies as Nordstrom, Disney, Etsy, Netflix and others. This software development method emphasizes collaboration and enhances efficiency, and when teams use key DevOps principles, they can release new software much faster and with higher quality. Given the ambitious projects ahead, learning from DevOps will help our performance now and in years to come. We held a successful and sold out DevOps in Government event January 14th at the USPTO in Alexandria, Va. with the team from Etsy, and we plan to engage with the private sector on additional events in the future.

Embracing open source and open data

The OCIO new user experience division recently debuted a working version of the USPTO design pattern library on Github. Founded by a creator of the Linux operating system, GitHub is a popular tech industry portal for publishing and sharing open source code projects. Several government agencies use GitHub to engage developers and the public to use open source and open data, and these efforts are one of the focal areas for our Chief Technology Officer David Chiles. This library allows any USPTO project team to use the same design principles and patterns when designing applications. Through GitHub, the USPTO can share its user experience designs and principles with other federal agencies, and through such sharing, future library updates could come from sources outside of the USPTO. 

Engaging with customers

We meet continually with internal and external customers, and know that honest conversation improves how we serve one another. Our next generation products and services are co-designed with our customers, with a goal of developing tools for a global, mobile user base. An important part of this modernization process is “agile” development, an IT development method which emphasizes user involvement and ongoing feedback. I wrote about it in a blog last June. As a result of using agile methods and engaging with customers, we are creating products that reflect users’ primary needs.

Innovative hiring

To innovate this year, we need top notch staff to join us to build next generation examination systems for the USPTO. To reach our ambitious hiring goal of bringing in nearly 200 new employees, we are talking to candidates nationwide. So, whether you live in Detroit, Silicon Valley, or here in the Washington, D.C. area, you can contribute to powerful IT work. View our open opportunities on USAJobs. It’s a great opportunity to help build civic systems that matter, last, and will drive the nation’s economic prosperity. We also will invest heavily in staff training this year to keep up with the pace of technological change. To meet the velocity of customer demands on IT, our workforce must have the very latest skills for 21st century innovation and superior performance.

I look forward to sharing more updates with you in the future as we continue to use the latest technology to support the USPTO and the public.

Monday Dec 15, 2014

Guidance on Subject Matter Eligibility Issued

Guest blog by USPTO Commissioner for Patents Peggy Focarino

Following the valuable feedback that we received from the public through written comments and multiple public meetings over the last several months, we are issuing new examination guidance on subject matter eligibility under § 101 in view of the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decisions in Alice Corp., Myriad, and Mayo. You can find the guidance in a Federal Register notice officially published on December 16, 2014, entitled “2014 Interim Guidance on Patent Subject Matter Eligibility.” Claim examples have been developed to illustrate the analysis set forth in the guidance. A set of examples relating to nature-based products are posted on the USPTO website and a set of examples relating to abstract ideas will be released shortly. This guidance is the latest but not necessarily the last iteration of our ongoing implementation of these Supreme Court decisions.

I want to address two aspects about the 2014 Interim Eligibility Guidance in particular. First, the guidance explains the USPTO's interpretation of subject matter eligibility requirements in view of the Alice Corp., Myriad, and Mayo Supreme Court decisions and  sets forth an integrated approach for patent examiners in making determinations regarding subject matter eligibility. This guidance incorporates principles emphasized in Alice Corp. and provides more details than our initial examination instructions issued immediately after the Alice Corp. decision. 

Second, the guidance reflects a significant change from the examination guidance previously issued in response to Myriad and Mayo. The changes were triggered by the feedback we solicited and received from the public, as well as refinements necessitated by the Alice Corp. decision.

More specifically, you may recall that earlier this year we released preliminary examination guidance on evaluating eligibility of claims reciting laws of nature, natural phenomena, and natural products in the wake of Myriad and Mayo. Following that release, the Supreme Court issued the Alice Corp. decision and as per usual, we issued preliminary instructions on eligibility determinations of claims directed to abstract ideas. We sought public feedback on both sets of guidance, through written comments as well as a number of public events. We were pleased to receive numerous comments on both sets of guidance from a diverse group of stakeholders, including legal organizations, industry organizations, law firms, corporate entities, universities, and individuals. We carefully considered input from the public and our own patent examiners in addressing possible revisions both to our guidance stemming from Myriad and Mayo as well as Alice Corp. That led us to make changes to our analysis of subject matter eligibility under § 101, now set forth in the 2014 Interim Eligibility Guidance. We crafted this guidance to be a more straightforward eligibility analysis, one that promotes examination efficiency and consistency while conforming with the principles in the Supreme Court decisions.

We will continue to solicit stakeholder feedback as we further refine our examination guidance. The Federal Register notice outlining our new guidance announces a 90-day written comment period, and we encourage the public to submit comments. In addition, we plan to host a public outreach forum on the 2014 Interim Eligibility Guidance in mid-January, where you will have the opportunity to provide input in person or via the web. Stay tuned for more details, which will be posted on our website.

Through regular public engagement in this process, we welcome and will consider all viewpoints as we continue to refine our examination procedures for claims for subject matter eligibility.

Friday Dec 12, 2014

USPTO Releases its FY 2014 Performance and Accountability Report (PAR)

Guest Blog by Tony Scardino, Chief Financial Officer

I’m pleased to announce the USPTO has published its Performance and Accountability Report (PAR) for fiscal year (FY) 2014. The PAR serves as the USPTO’s annual report, similar to what private sector companies prepare for their shareholders. Each year the USPTO publishes this report to update the public on our performance and financial health.

Our PAR charts the agency’s progress toward meeting goals outlined in our new 2014-2018 USPTO Strategic Plan: optimizing patent quality and timeliness; optimizing trademark quality and timeliness; and providing domestic and global leadership to improve intellectual property policy, protection, and enforcement worldwide. These goals govern the quality and quantity of our service to intellectual property owners and USPTO stakeholders. In addition, the PAR provides information on the USPTO’s progress toward a broader management goal: achieving organizational excellence.

Here at the USPTO, we take pride in producing a PAR that meets the highest standards of quality and accountability. The PAR contains a wealth of data and historical information of interest to our stakeholders, including data on patent and trademark examining activities, application filings, and agency staffing levels. This information is conveniently presented in the Workload Tables section at the end of the PAR.

On the issue of financial performance, FY 2014 marks the 22nd consecutive year that the USPTO’s financial statements received an unmodified audit opinion. Our clean audit opinion gives the public independent assurance that the information presented in the agency’s financial statements is fairly presented and follows generally accepted accounting principles. In addition, the auditors reported no material weaknesses in the USPTO’s internal controls, and no instances of non-compliance with laws and regulations affecting the financial statements.

While the PAR is a record of our achievements, it is also an honest discussion of the challenges we face as an agency moving forward in FY 2015. Among our challenges and opportunities, we will be managing the transition to an inventory maintenance patent processing operation as we come closer to our pendency and inventory targets in the future; promoting trademark application processing efficiency with fee reductions; securing sustainable funding in an era of increased budgetary pressures; and providing information technology (IT) support for a nationwide workforce with a “24/7/365” operational capability.

The PAR is a faithful snapshot of the USPTO’s FY 2014 performance. I hope you find value in this document, and that it allows you to glean greater insights into the agency’s activities and achievements.

Thursday Dec 04, 2014

Update on USPTO Satellite Offices

Blog by Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Deputy Director of the USPTO Michelle K. Lee

In an era where our stakeholders’ businesses are rapidly evolving and the intellectual property (IP) landscape is constantly adapting to new and emergent technologies, it’s important to ensure the USPTO can engage effectively with communities, industries, and innovators. That’s why we’ve expanded our footprint across the country, offering services at the doorsteps of entrepreneurs, and addressing challenges particular industries are facing. Our satellite offices play a crucial role in these efforts, assisting inventors, entrepreneurs, and small businesses in their respective regions, while supporting our core mission of fostering American innovation and competitiveness.

We are moving forward in standing up these regional hubs for innovation and look forward to opening our Texas Regional Office in fall 2015, which will be located in the Terminal Annex Federal Building in downtown Dallas. We recently posted a job announcement for a Regional Director, responsible for general oversight of the office as the most senior ranking official representing the USPTO. We’re looking for the best and brightest candidates to assist businesses throughout the state with the challenges of navigating an IP system, and work with Texas’s burgeoning technology sectors such as the clean tech, semiconductor, and biosciences industries. The application deadline for the Regional Director position is January 10, 2015, and we anticipate appointing the Regional Director prior to the office’s opening in the fall.

On June 30, 2014, we held a memorable opening ceremony for the Rocky Mountain Regional Office located in the Byron G. Rogers Federal Building in Denver, Colorado, attended by a number of government officials and regional stakeholders. The Denver office serves as a one-stop shop for the Rocky Mountain region’s entrepreneurs to get cutting-edge ideas to the marketplace faster, grow their businesses, and enable them to create new, high-skilled jobs. Under the leadership of Regional Director Russ Slifer, the Denver office has already welcomed its third class of patent examiners, putting it well on the path to hire a full staff of 100 by summer 2015. Additional outreach activities have included press interviews, an AIA First-Inventor-to-File Roadshow stop, and a patent examiner hiring event.

Excitement is building as the West Coast Regional Office, operating out of Menlo Park, California since 2012, remains on track to open in spring 2015 in its permanent location in San Jose City Hall. The office continues to expand through training programs, workshops, and partnerships with local innovators, while Regional Director John Cabeca has been reaching out to stakeholders in the unique innovation ecosystems of California, Washington, and Oregon. The office is actively engaging with the entrepreneurial community while tailoring programs and events to the region’s unique industries, such as the USPTO’s first Cybersecurity Industry Partnership meeting on November 14, 2014.

Meanwhile, the Elijah J. McCoy satellite office in Detroit, which opened in one of our nation’s historic innovation hubs in July 2012 as our first satellite office, is thriving. On November 18, the State Bar of Michigan’s Intellectual Property Law Association and Pro Bono Initiative kicked off the Michigan Patent Pro Bono Program, a critical milestone in the expansion of the USPTO Pro Bono Program. Saturday Seminar sessions provide training to independent inventors and small businesses on the importance of IP protection, and the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) is making headway reducing the inventory of trial and appeal cases in a new space that includes a hearing room.  Also, the PTAB twice visited Detroit this year to host educational forums about the AIA trials. We anticipate announcing the name of our new Regional Director of the Detroit office in the coming weeks.

In September, we submitted to Congress our report on satellite offices highlighting our significant outreach activities that have touched major stakeholders and have actively raised awareness of IP in all the satellite locations. Finally, we are currently accepting applications until December 29, 2014 for administrative patent judges in Alexandria, Dallas, Denver, and Silicon Valley, and Detroit.

USPTO satellite offices are critical to accomplishing our goal to support technological innovation and creativity, and I’d like to recognize the support of regional stakeholders, local and federal government officials, and the hard-working USPTO personnel in each location. The upcoming year promises to be an exciting one for our satellite offices as we’ll be cutting the ribbon on the permanent space for our final two. I will continue to keep you informed about the grand openings and other new developments. We look forward to bringing you even better and more convenient services to your local innovation communities.

Tuesday Sep 16, 2014

Expanded 2014 Edison Scholars Program to Focus on Litigation Issues

Blog by Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Deputy Director of the USPTO Michelle K. Lee

I’m delighted to welcome our 2014 Thomas Alva Edison Visiting Scholars to the USPTO. The Edison Scholar program, which began in 2012, enlists the services of distinguished academic researchers to study intellectual property issues that further the USPTO’s mission and the public interest. The scholars devote up to six months of full time service to the agency, or up to a year in part-time service.

Past Edison Scholars have studied ways to improve the USPTO’s efficiency and performance, decrease burdens on applicants, and improve patent quality and clarity. Their work has generated concrete proposals for patent policy and continues to deliver exceptional results.

Because of its success, the White House Task Force on High-Tech Patent Issues directed the USPTO to expand the Edison Scholars program to study an issue that is of particular and urgent interest, abusive patent litigation. Last fall, the USPTO issued a call for proposals and began a competitive selection process to fulfill this mandate. We have five Edison Scholars this year, including three “Research Fellows” who were selected to specifically develop and publish robust data and research on litigation issues. They’ll be working within our Office of Policy and International Affairs, led by Chief Policy Officer Shira Perlmutter. We look forward to the contributions of all the 2014 Edison Scholars on these essential topics.

2014 Thomas Alva Edison Visiting Scholars

Graeme Dinwoodie is professor of Intellectual Property and Information Technology Law at the University of Oxford, Director of the Oxford IP Research Centre, and a Professorial Fellow of St. Peter’s College. Professor Dinwoodie is an international authority on comparative IP law and is the author of five casebooks. He earned his J.S.D. from Columbia Law School.

Research topic: Professor Dinwoodie will study the role of trademark registrations in defining rights as to infringement, whether to confirm market usage rights already in effect or to provide broader protections that enable economic expansion.

Joshua Sarnoff is professor of law at the DePaul University College of Law. Professor Sarnoff has published widely on patent and administrative law and innovation policy, and has been a frequent source of expert testimony on legislative reforms and amicus briefs in the Supreme Court. He earned his J.D. from Stanford Law School and has served on the faculties of American University and the University of Arizona.

Research topic: Professor Sarnoff will study the impact of differing legal standards for patent validity in administrative and judicial settings. 

Jonas Anderson* is an assistant professor of law at the American University Washington College of Law. Professor Anderson is a past Microsoft Research Fellow at the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology. After earning his J.D. from Harvard Law School, he clerked for Judge Alan Lourie at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

Research topic: Professor Anderson will classify and evaluate which types of patent claim terms are particularly difficult for courts and innovators to construe in determining the scope of patent rights. 

Joseph Bailey* is a Research Associate Professor at the University of Maryland Smith School of Business and Executive Director of the interdisciplinary QUEST course of study in innovation and quality systems management. Dr. Bailey studies the economics and public policy of interoperability and e-commerce. He earned his Ph.D. in Technology, Management and Policy from MIT.

Research topic: Professor Bailey will study how machine reading and process improvement can help refine patent examination, particularly in identifying the prior art that legally limits the scope of patent rights. 

Deepak Hegde* is an assistant professor of Management and Organizations at the NYU Stern School of Business. Dr. Hegde has previously served as a visiting scholar in the USPTO Office of Chief Economist and has published on innovation and business strategy in high-technology industries. He earned his Ph.D. in Business Administration from the Haas School of Business at UC-Berkeley.

Research topic: Professor Hegde will study patent examination quality by analyzing of how past policies have affected the USPTO patent quality metrics, with a focus on the downstream incidence of patent litigation.

*Research Fellow focusing on abusive patent litigation

Learn more about the Edison Scholars Program.

Tuesday Aug 05, 2014

The USPTO-MBDA Webinar Series Continues in August

Blog by Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Deputy Director of the USPTO Michelle K. Lee

The USPTO remains committed to helping America’s inventors, small business owners, and entrepreneurs accelerate their innovative products and technologies to the marketplace. Earlier this year we launched a free webinar series in collaboration with the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) as part of our ongoing efforts to extend education and outreach on intellectual property (IP) protection and to better assist the public in navigating the systems for acquiring patents, trademarks, and copyrights.

Each hour-long webinar focuses on specific IP topics. The next installment, “Filing an IP Application Electronically,” will run August 12 through 14 and participants will learn how to use the USPTO’s online tools for filing a patent or trademark application. Online filing is simply the easiest, fastest, and most cost-effective way for filing a patent or trademark application. In 2013, 98.1 percent of all U.S. patent applications were filed with the USPTO Electronic Filing System (EFS-Web) and more than 99 percent of all trademark applications were filed via the Trademark Electronic Application System (TEAS). Filing online reduces processing costs through discounted fees and promotes efficiency for the USPTO and our customers.

While there is no cost for the next USPTO-MBDA webinar, virtual space is limited, so you’ll want to register as soon as you can. Speakers will include experts from our Trademarks, Patents, and Patent Information Management offices along with a representative from the U.S. Copyright Office to discuss the system used for registering copyrights.

Our agency’s core mission is to foster American innovation and competitiveness by ensuring that current and future inventors have access to the resources they need to succeed. Working closely with our Department of Commerce partner agency, the USPTO-MBDA webinar series is another example of our commitment in providing those resources. I encourage everyone to take advantage of this opportunity. It’s never been easier to learn how to protect your IP!

Thursday Jul 03, 2014

Continued Progress Toward Implementing Patent Quality Executive Actions

Blog by Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Deputy Director of the USPTO Michelle K. Lee

Last June, the White House issued a number of executive actions aimed, in part, at ensuring the highest quality patents possible. One of the executive actions addresses the possibility of overly broad patent claims, particularly in the context of software, and called for the USPTO to provide new targeted training to its examiners on scrutiny of functional claims.

I am pleased to report that we are delivering targeted training to the examining corps on this topic. We will have more to report at our next Software Partnership meeting, but I wanted to take the opportunity to provide you with some information now.

Over the last year, we’ve rolled out four training modules focused on examining functional claim limitations that fall under 35 U.S.C. § 112(f)—so-called “means-plus-function” claim limitations. The four training modules cover the basics of interpreting functional limitations under § 112(f), including identifying when § 112(f) is or is not invoked, establishing the broadest reasonable interpretation of the limitation, and determining whether a § 112(f) limitation, especially a software-related limitation, has definite boundaries. Additionally, and most importantly, the training provides tools for examiners to clarify the prosecution record and thereby positively affect the clarity of the claims. These tools include establishing on the record whether the claim limitation is being interpreted under § 112(f), explaining the claim interpretation, and providing written remarks to help define the boundaries of the claim, when appropriate.

Such additional clarification by the examiner will create a more robust record and provide an opportunity for the applicant to provide clarifying remarks as well. We believe that spelling out how the claim language has been interpreted during prosecution will assist the public and the courts in understanding the boundaries of the issued claims.

We will soon be issuing more refresher training, for example on the fundamentals of claim interpretation, particularly with respect to functional claim limitations that do not invoke § 112(f). A list of the previous and planned upcoming training modules can be found at our Executive Actions webpage.

To ensure that training principles are applied by examiners, the Office of Patent Quality Assurance refined the metrics used to evaluate Office Actions. We will be evaluating the frequency at which the examiners are clarifying the record and the accuracy of the interpretation of § 112(f) claim limitations.

If you’d like to learn more or have questions or comments, I encourage you to attend our next Software Partnership meeting Tuesday, July 22, 2014, from 1-4:30 p.m. at our Alexandria campus. You may also attend online via WebEx.

Whether you are a patent applicant or litigant or a representative of either, we welcome your input on any of the above. All of the training materials are posted on our Examiner Guidance and Training Materials webpage, which can also be accessed from the USPTO.gov home page using the “Patent Examiner Guidance” button. We have also created a designated email box for comments at TrainingComments112f@uspto.gov.

We at the USPTO remain committed to issuing the highest quality patents possible. This training is but one part of a much broader initiative to enhance quality, and to do so in concert with the public. I look forward to your continued input.

Monday Jun 16, 2014

Update on Our Satellite Offices

Blog by Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Deputy Director of the USPTO Michelle K. Lee

Welcome to the latest in a regular series of updates on the status of our satellite offices in Dallas, Denver, Detroit, and Silicon Valley. As you know, the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act of 2011 (AIA), signed into law by President Obama, requires the USPTO to establish regional satellite locations as part of a larger effort to modernize the U.S. patent system. These offices are so important to inventors, entrepreneurs, and small businesses in the surrounding regions—and to our agency’s core mission of fostering American innovation and competitiveness.

If you haven’t already heard, June 30, 2014 is the date we’re opening our permanent satellite office in Denver, Colorado. Located in the Byron G. Rogers Federal Building in the city’s central business district, the new office will help the region’s entrepreneurs get cutting-edge ideas to the marketplace faster, grow their businesses, enable them to create new, high-skilled jobs in the Rocky Mountain region, and allow them to more efficiently navigate the world’s strongest intellectual property system.

The other big news is that we have hired a Regional Director for the Denver office—Russell Slifer, who has practiced intellectual property law for the last 20 years. For the past eight years, Russ served as the Chief Patent Counsel for Micron Technology in Boise, Idaho. He also was a design engineer for Honeywell and spent more than nine years in private practice in Minnesota helping high technology clients, including individual inventors, universities, and Fortune 100 companies, build patent portfolios to protect their innovations. Russ is an active member in the legal and innovation communities. These experiences make Russ an ideal person to serve as the inaugural leader of our new satellite office for the Rocky Mountain region, and I look forward to him transitioning in as part of our senior leadership team.

Keep in mind our Denver office needs more than just a director. We’re currently accepting applications for Administrative Patent Judges, a Deputy Regional Director for Outreach, Computer Engineering Patent Examiners and Electrical Engineering Patent Examiners. The deadlines to apply for these jobs vary and some are coming soon, so if you want to apply, please do so quickly.

The Elijah J. McCoy Satellite Office in Detroit opened for business in July 2012 and continues to play a vital role for the agency and the local innovation community. We have hired and trained 100 patent examiners who are processing patent applications in one of our nation’s historic innovation hubs. Our eight administrative patent judges are managing appeal cases and America Invents Act trials, and this summer, will move into a new space that includes a hearing room. We recently posted a job announcement for a Regional Director of the Detroit office, who will be responsible for general oversight of the office as the most senior ranking official representing the USPTO. We have also posted an Administrative Patent Judge vacancy announcement for the Detroit office, for which relocation incentives may be authorized. Please help us spread the word about these vacancies. The application deadline for the Regional Director position is July 1, 2014, and the Administrative Patent Judge position is July 31, 2014.

In April, the San Jose City Council unanimously approved the terms and conditions for our permanent facility in the San Jose City Hall. It will include a large outreach center on the first floor of the wing that is on track to open in the spring of 2015 and office space that will open a few months later. We are also looking for a Deputy Regional Director for Outreach for this office, and the deadline to apply is June 25, 2014. We are also actively engaged with stakeholders in the Silicon Valley and across the region. Since my last update, we’ve hosted several events to gather input and suggestions from our customers as we look for ways to further improve our nation’s IP system. These included discussions on the administrative trials before our Patent Trial and Appeal Board, a focus on Trademark operations, a patent rulemaking roundtable on collecting attributable ownership information, and a multi-stakeholder forum on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Finally, our Dallas satellite office is scheduled to open in the fall of 2015 in the Terminal Annex Federal Building in downtown Dallas. We have hired five Administrative Patent Judges who have been operating out of the Santa Fe Federal Building. We continue to engage with local partners such as the Dallas Entrepreneur Center to support the innovation community, start-ups, and entrepreneurs.

We continue to hire Patent Trial and Appeal Board judges for all of our satellite office locations. Our goal is to have at least 20 in each office who will work to reduce the inventory of trial and appeal cases. In addition, we expect to recruit patent examiners for Silicon Valley and Dallas offices closer to the dates when their respective permanent spaces near completion. All vacancy announcements for these offices will be posted on usajobs.gov.

I feel that these satellite offices are critical to our efforts to support innovation and creativity, help protect and foster American innovation in the global marketplace, help businesses cut through red tape, and create new economic opportunities locally. This is an exciting time, not just for the USPTO, but for the men and women from coast to coast who are building, creating, and marketing America’s future. I will continue to keep you informed about major new developments in these offices as they arise.

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