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Director's Forum: A Blog from USPTO's Leadership

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.

Monday Jun 09, 2014

An Update on Sustainable Funding for the USPTO

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

I’d like to take some time today to follow up a recent guest blog about our FY 2015 budget by our Chief Financial Officer, Tony Scardino. That blog gave an overview of what the USPTO anticipates collecting in fees in FY 2015, what we plan to spend, our staffing levels, and what we intend to accomplish. It also provided a link to the full congressional budget submission

While this budget document provides great information, at 197 pages it can, admittedly, be a somewhat intimidating read. With that in mind, there is one set of numbers in particular that I think are worth noting and taking some time to discuss in the context of our new fee setting authority granted under the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (AIA).

In the “Sustainable Funding” section of the budget, you’ll find charts showing our patents and trademarks “operating reserve balance” (shown on pages 15 and 17, respectively). These operating reserves are a critical part of our sustainable funding model and an important component of our first fee setting in March 2013. The reserves are intended to allow the USPTO to avoid the operational starts and stops associated with the funding uncertainties faced by a fee-funded agency, as well as plan for long-term financial stability. A great example of the importance of these reserves came at the beginning of this fiscal year, when the Congress was not able to reach a budget agreement and a lapse in appropriations resulted in a 16-day shutdown of most of the federal government. Thanks to our operating reserves, the USPTO was able to stay open and continue examining patent and trademark applications during this time.

Our target has been to build an operating reserve of a minimum of three months for our patent operations and a four- to six-month reserve for our trademark operations. We’ve already reached this level in our Trademark business line, and that now has us in a position to be able to propose reducing certain trademark fees in FY 2015. 

As you’ll see on page 15, we’re projecting that our patent reserve balance will increase fairly steadily from the end of FY 2013 through FY 2019—eventually growing to $1.9 billion. While this future growth is based on a number of assumptions that could—and likely will—change, we have greater certainty about the reserve levels over the next year and a half. Based on the latest information available, we expect to be approaching a three month patent reserve balance amount by the end of the current fiscal year and will likely exceed it by the end of FY 2015.

A fair question to ask at this point—especially for those who recall the plans laid out in our 2013 fee-setting to grow the operating reserve to target levels by 2018—might be “Why is the reserve growing so quickly?” The faster than expected growth is due to several factors, including adjustments to many of the assumptions that drive our projections. For example, the economic environment and application filing growth, fee payment behavior after the fee schedule and first inventor to file implementation in March 2013, and patent production estimates have all been modified based on the information that is now available to us.

We recognize the significance of the change in our estimates and are paying close attention to the factors contributing to these changes as we gather more data to fine-tune our projections. Rest assured that the USPTO is aware of the issue and we have not forgotten the commitments we made to our stakeholders when we set our fees last year. We will soon be starting our biennial fee review, proceeding in the same transparent manner that we did in the first round of AIA fee-setting. We’ll be assessing our operating environment (e.g., economy, court decisions, and fee-paying behaviors), operating costs, our fee projections, target operating reserve level, and strategic priorities (including those in the USPTO 2014-2018 Strategic Plan) and agency needs. We will be working with our stakeholder community to gather their input.

We recognize the responsibility entrusted to us under the AIA, and we are hard at work to be good stewards of the agency, its resources, and your trust.

Friday Jun 06, 2014

IT Modernization at the USPTO Drives Productivity and Creates New Jobs

Guest blog by Chief Information Officer John Owens

Information Technology (IT) is fueling our work in an era of escalating demand for patents and trademarks, and to face this challenge, our team is continuously looking for ways to operate more nimbly and deliver services rapidly. This year, we have been working to modernize the systems that support patent and trademark examination and fee processing by using “agile” development. Many successful technology companies use agile, an IT development method which emphasizes user involvement and ongoing feedback. (Read more about USPTO’s initial rollout of agile into its processes.) By working to provide our examiners with enhanced examination tools, we are striving to improve the way that examiners work.

One new system, Patents End to End (PE2E), is already in beta use by some examiners and is targeted for a wide introduction to the examiner corps late this year. PE2E creates a more streamlined way for examiners to process patent applications, enhancing the way they view documents, search, take notes, and complete tasks. Another landmark project is Trademarks Next Generation, a faster, more feature-rich Trademarks system for both examiners and the public to use.

Systems such as PE2E and Trademarks Next Generation follow industry best practices, which include:

  • Build shared IT services and tools to support global customers and maximize cost effectiveness.
  • Use web-based systems with open technology standards that scale. 
  • Write code once and deploy everywhere for more stable, portable, and cost effective tools.
  • Provide easily searchable IP information by converting all information into searchable technology formats.

As one employee said, the new tools are designed “by examiners for examiners.” We are designing and testing our systems incrementally, and gathering input throughout the process; and this iterative development and constant interaction ensures that the end product has the necessary features. In addition, our expert team in the User Experience Division is ensuring that our products are always created for optimal engagement and efficiency, in order to deliver value to the public. Finally, cloud and open source technology will be used extensively so that we can concentrate on what we can’t buy – a Patent and Trademark examination system.

To meet our aggressive IT goals this year, we plan to continue to hire the most qualified technical staff. Attracting the right talent is critical to our mission, and so far in fiscal year 2014, we’ve already hired more than 60 new staff members. We are hosting an IT Veteran Hiring Fair on our Alexandria, Virginia campus June 13th and 14th and encourage veterans with top IT skills to join the USPTO, recently voted the #1 Best Places to Work in the Federal Government®. The registration deadline is June 10, so sign up quickly. I look forward to sharing more updates with you in the future as we continue to use the latest technology to support innovation.

Tuesday May 27, 2014

National Day of Civic Hacking 2014

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

The second annual National Day of Civic Hacking will take place on May 31 - June 1, 2014, in communities around the world. This event brings together technologists, social activists, entrepreneurs and others to grow communities of innovation across the nation. As an agency that helps nurture and protect innovation, we are pleased to be joining this effort for the second year in a row.

Last year, the USPTO challenged civic hackers to use the trademark dataset and other open data sources to develop applications that identified federally registered trademarks that comprise an entity’s portfolio or brand, or are used on specific products, in designated industries, or in geographical areas. Citizens answered the challenge by developing innovative applications that searched for trademarks by dominant color, "translated" words based on their relationship to concepts in the trademark data, and a trademark classifier that used machine-learning to extract key concepts and statistically important phrases.

The USPTO currently makes patent and trademark public data available in bulk form, which can be used to load into databases or other analytical tools for research and analysis and provides an application programming interface (API) for the Trademark Official Gazette. We are working to provide more APIs in the near future to enable better access to data at the USPTO.

This year, we are challenging National Day of Civic Hacking participants to use the patent and trademark datasets and other open data sources to develop innovative applications that can be used on mobile devices including smartphones and tablets. Based on feedback from our recent Crowdsourcing Prior Art roundtable, one potential area of interest is an application that would allow citizens to subscribe to alerts when applications are published that meet user specified criteria such as inventor, assignee, classification information, and/or keywords in the claims. It would be wonderful to have an application developed to achieve this.

I urge all those looking for a unique way to volunteer in your community through technology to consider participating in the National Day of Civic Hacking. You can learn more at hackforchange.org or read our specific patent challenge or trademark challenge.

Friday Mar 14, 2014

Our Vision for 2014-2018

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

I’m pleased to announce today the publication of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s 2014-2018 Strategic Plan. We appreciate the helpful feedback we received on the draft we released last year. The final product is stronger as a result.

My senior management team and I put a lot of care and thought into this plan, because we take seriously our role as a driver of creativity and economic growth in the 21st century innovation economy. For the last five years, we have worked diligently to achieve the goals of our 2010-2015 Strategic Plan, such as significantly reducing our unexamined patent application backlog and pendency; modernizing our information technology systems; implementing the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act; and securing sustainable funding. Our progress is significant and quantifiable.

Our new strategic plan raises the bar. We will continue to enhance our human resources, retaining and hiring more talented examiners while continuing to ensure that the USPTO remains one of the Best Places to Work in the Federal Government. That, in turn, will allow us to further improve the quality and transparency of our patent and trademark operations while continuing to reduce patent pendency.

Increased quality and transparency of our operations and output is necessarily coupled with continued and expanded engagement with our stakeholders and the public. We are seeing that now in our efforts to build a better patent system through our implementation of executive actions offering positive reforms. That engagement has and will come in many forms, from multiple public events to outreach through our satellite offices in Dallas, Denver, Detroit, and Silicon Valley.

We of course remain focused on ensuring a sustainable funding model to best serve our stakeholders. That means pursuing spending authority for all fee collections; establishing permanent fee-setting authority; and using private-sector business tools. This effort also will involve close engagement with all of our stakeholders.

Please take a moment to peruse the 2014-2018 Strategic Plan. We look forward to working with you to help meet—nay, surpass—the outlined goals.

Thursday Mar 13, 2014

USPTO Submits its Fiscal Year 2015 Congressional Budget Justification

Guest Blog by Chief Financial Officer Tony Scardino

I’m pleased to announce that the USPTO has published its fiscal year 2015 Congressional Budget Justification. The USPTO budget is formulated every year to gain access to our agency’s operational funds. Each year the USPTO submits a budget justification to Congress, through the Department of Commerce.

Our FY 2015 budget documents our requirements to aggressively continue reducing patent application pendency and backlog in order to help bring innovations to the marketplace and create jobs for the American people. It also enables us to continue maintaining trademark application pendency; implementing the America Invents Act (AIA); providing domestic and global intellectual property leadership; and modernizing our information technology (IT).

In FY 2015, the USPTO expects to collect $3.4 billion in fee revenue, which is derived primarily from patent and trademark fee collections. These collections will cover our total spending requirements and allow us to grow our operating reserve.

Our FY 2015 projected spending of $3.2 billion will support 13,203 full-time-equivalent patent, trademark, and related support positions, including 9,013 patent examiners.

Here is what we will be able to do in FY 2015 under this budget:

  • With additional patent examiner hiring in FY 2014 and FY 2015, we will continue on our path of reducing patent application pendency to achieve our goals of first action pendency to 10.9 months and total pendency to 19.8 months in FY 2019—and aligning the backlog of unexamined applications with increased manpower by FY 2018. 
  • The budget also supports administrative efforts to address abusive patent litigation practices and repeats the president's call for Congress to enact legislation that promotes greater transparency in the U.S. patent system and prevents frivolous lawsuits that stifle innovation.
  • In Trademarks, the budget supports hiring additional trademark examining attorneys to maintain first action pendency at 2.5-3.5 months and total pendency at 12.0 months or less. 
  • The budget assumes continued substantial capital improvement investments in critically-needed IT modernization including Patent End-to-End and Trademark Next Generation systems, and related infrastructure.
  • This budget also supports USPTO domestic and global leadership to improve IP policy, protection, and enforcement.

The FY 2015 Congressional Budget Justification proposes how the USPTO wishes to expend its funds in the upcoming fiscal year. I hope you find value in the purpose of this document, and that it allows you to glean greater insights into the agency’s activities and achievements.

Thursday Jan 23, 2014

Moving Forward in 2014

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

Over the last five years, working in concert with Congress and the Obama administration, the USPTO has built a firmer foundation to support a more effective IP system. The agency continues to optimize the quality and efficiency of our patent and trademark examinations, as well as strengthen our overall patent system through the implementation of the historic 2011 Leahy-Smith America Invents Act. The USPTO has enhanced the IP process for American businesses by launching a network of regional satellite offices and establishing bilateral and multilateral IP agreements with offices from other nations. I am particularly excited about the satellite offices (located in Dallas, Denver, Detroit and Silicon Valley), as they bring many of the services offered by the USPTO closer to more communities, provide excellent venues for stakeholder and public engagement, and offer enhanced opportunities for the agency to recruit and retain top talent. All of this enables the agency to issue better quality patents and trademarks, not to mention increased customer satisfaction for the users of our services. In short, the agency’s senior leadership has made good progress to ensure our country has a strong and robust patent and trademark system for the 21st century.

We aim to keep up that work and do even more in the coming years. Going forward, the USPTO will continue to actively engage with our stakeholders, members of Congress from both political parties, as well as with others in the administration, to further improve our patent and patent litigation systems. That includes supporting Congress’ current consideration of legislation to target abusive patent litigation tactics and speed resolution of disputes over IP rights. And the USPTO will work to further the U.S. Department of Commerce’s vital role in ensuring the effective protection of IP to encourage innovation and retain America’s global competitiveness in a rapidly evolving online marketplace. I am especially eager to work with Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker to ”foster a more innovative U.S. economy—one that is better at inventing, improving and commercializing products and technologies that lead to higher productivity and competitiveness,” one of the key strategic goals articulated in the Commerce Department’s “Open for Business Agenda.”

Most importantly, my team and I will continue to work with all our stakeholders and user communities to assess new challenges and identify new opportunities to build an agile system of IP protections that catalyzes innovation, incentivizes commercial research and development, and promotes good jobs that support our nation’s competitive edge.

Having been born and raised in Silicon Valley—one of the most innovative regions in our nation—and having built my 25-year career as an engineer and IP attorney there, I have spent most of my life focused on creating innovative technologies and/or supporting and enabling those who do. It is indeed an honor to be able to continue on this path at the USPTO in my new role as Deputy Director of the agency. I am committed to working together with all our stakeholders to advance our shared goal of fueling the unique American ingenuity that fuels our nation’s job growth and economy.

It is a tremendous honor to begin my new role this month as Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Deputy Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). I have served the USPTO for the last few years, first as a member of the agency’s Patent Public Advisory Committee and most recently as the first Director of the Silicon Valley USPTO. Through those roles, I have seen the incredible accomplishments the agency has made toward advancing a balanced intellectual property (IP) system that promotes innovation, supports economic growth, and helps create American jobs. I am eager to help the agency carry forward the progress it has made over the last few years.

Friday Dec 20, 2013

Celebrating our #1 Ranking as a Best Place to Work in the Federal Government

Blog by Commissioner for Patents Peggy Focarino

This week, the non-profit Partnership for Public Service (PPS) released its annual Best Places to Work in the Federal Government® rankings, and it is an incredible honor for all of us to see that the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) was ranked #1 out of 300 federal agency subcomponents for 2013.

This tremendous accomplishment represents the pinnacle of a dramatic climb in the PPS rankings for the USPTO, from 172nd place in 2007, to 105th place in 2009, to 56th place in 2010, to 19th place in 2011, to 5th place in 2012. The rankings are based on the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (EVS) of more than 700,000 federal employees conducted by the Office of Personnel Management, in categories like employee satisfaction with: leadership, managers, and supervisors; agency work/life programs; and overall work experiences. In fact, our EVS results show positive improvement in all of the categories measured by the survey, as well as increased scores in all major indices used to measure employee engagement.

At the USPTO there is no such thing as “good enough for government work.” As evidenced by the EVS, our employees perceive the importance of their work in relationship to the agency’s goals and priorities. They take great pride in what they do and rise to every challenge, with a singular focus on providing high-quality intellectual property (IP) rights and protections in a timely and efficient manner so new technologies can get to the marketplace faster and create more jobs.

What I find especially gratifying about our #1 ranking is that the survey was conducted at a time of significant challenges for this agency, as sequestration was being applied to the agency (despite our fully user fee-funded status), and many people in the agency were also completing the critically important work to fully implement the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act—the most sweeping overhaul of our nation’s patent system in generations. Change and uncertainty are stressful, and yet USPTO employees remained focused and engaged in our important work.

I am also extremely proud that this #1 ranking is a clear and direct reflection of the collective opinion our employees hold of the USPTO as an employer. We have strong and talented leaders and managers, and a union-management relationship that is highly collaborative, collegial, and productive, with a palpable sense that we are all part of the same team in everything we do. We eagerly seek our employees’ input through town hall meetings, focus groups, blogs, and creativity challenges, which have generated some great ideas and suggestions on improving work processes and the work environment.  And we also benefited from the strong leadership of former Director David Kappos and former Deputy Directors Terry Rea and Sharon Barner.

I want to deeply thank each and every employee of the USPTO for the outstanding work and enthusiasm that made this year’s #1 ranking a reality, and I want to make this promise to our employees, our stakeholders, and user community: we will not rest on our laurels in 2014. We will continue to work tirelessly to further strengthen our agency and its operations, and we will continue to further advance the cause of American innovation, competitiveness, and economic growth.

Thursday Oct 31, 2013

Veterans Day 2013

Guest blog by Chief Administrative Officer Fred Steckler

Ninety-five years ago, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the “war to end all wars” came to an end. Originally proclaimed Armistice Day by President Woodrow Wilson, the annual holiday was renamed Veterans Day in 1954 to honor the veterans of all of America’s wars.

Today, November 11 has an even broader purpose: to honor all men and women who have served or continue to serve our nation in uniform during peacetime and war. In 2011, there were roughly 21.5 million living veterans in the United States, including 3.5 million with service-connected disabilities—a sobering reminder that freedom is not free, that it requires selfless citizens willing to sacrifice their time, comfort, and, when necessary, their lives, in support of a cause greater than themselves.

At the United States Patent and Trademark Office, 2,194 of our employees are veterans—more than 19 percent of our workforce. They include men and women who served in the Cold War and Vietnam eras and those who have served more recently in the Balkans, Iraq, Afghanistan, and countless other posts within the United States and abroad, in peacetime and war. Some of these employees still wear the uniform as members of the reserve forces, attending monthly drills, annual training, and deploying into harm’s way when needed.

In fiscal year 2013, over 12 percent of new patent examiner hires and over 19 percent of all other new hires were veterans or transitioning service members. Four student veterans started the Student Trainee Patent Examiner -Veteran Internship Program in June of this year, and that same month the agency was approved to participate in Operation Warfighter, a federal internship program developed by the Department of Defense for active-duty recovering service members who are seeking to transition back to the military or civilian workplace.

On behalf of a grateful agency, I want to thank each and every one of these veterans, the family members who support them, and all the others who make up our diverse and talented workforce. The wealth of experience and maturity they bring to their jobs is evident in the high quality of their work, and it makes a huge difference in helping accomplish our agency’s many ambitious goals on behalf of the American people.

United States Patent and Trademark Office
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