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

Thursday May 01, 2014

Trademark Performance Update

Guest blog by Commissioner for Trademarks Deborah Cohn

The results for the second quarter of fiscal year 2014 demonstrate continued high performance by our Trademark team in meeting our strategic performance goal targets. I invite you to take a look at our updated performance, filing, and registration data that are now available on the Trademark dashboard.

The office has made great progress towards setting and achieving high quality standards. Quality results are evidence that the specialized training, online tools, and enhanced communication efforts we’re using are proving effective. The results for our newest quality standard for assessing efforts that go beyond procedural and statutory correctness continue to exceed our expectations. They demonstrate ‘exceptional’ results preparing a first action.

First action pendency—the time from filing to the initial examination—has been consistently maintained within the target range to issue a first action between 2.5 and 3.5 months from filing. Pendency to registration continues to remain at historically low levels. Disposal pendency—the time from when an application is filed until a trademark is registered or abandoned or a notice of allowance is issued for applications that are not in use—averaged 10.2 months, under the 12-month target. These results are due in part to the progress made from greater acceptance of electronic filing and in particular use of TEAS Plus applications which now make up 40 percent of new filings and more than 36 percent of new classes. Electronic filing and communications promotes more efficient and cost effective processing now comprises 80 percent of all applications processed to disposal.

Trademark application filings continued an upward trend, increasing by more than 4 percent compared to a year ago. New applications are expected to increase by nearly 5 percent this fiscal year to 455,000 classes.

We welcome any feedback you have on how we can improve the information presented through the Trademark Dashboard. Simply email a comment to our dedicated mailbox. We look forward to hearing from you.

Friday Apr 25, 2014

World IP Day

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

Today I had the opportunity to discuss the importance of intellectual property during a World IP Day event at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. I want to share my remarks with you through this blog:

Thank you, Sean, and good morning, everyone! I’d also like to acknowledge Mindy Bickel, the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s Innovation and Outreach Coordinator for the Greater New York Region. Working through the Department of Commerce’s partnership with Cornell Tech, Mindy helps educate and empower businesses and innovators throughout the region to create jobs and new economic opportunities through intellectual property protection and other government resources.  In effect, Mindy is doing some of the same work that our new satellite offices in Dallas, Denver, Detroit, and Silicon Valley are doing, but unlike them she’s a one-person shop, and she’s doing a great job at it. So thanks, Mindy.

I’d also like to commend the Cardozo School of Law for having one of the finest intellectual property law programs in the nation. This is especially remarkable because the school is still relatively young, having graduated its first class of lawyers in 1979. So kudos to the faculty and staff for your outstanding work, and for helping shape the future of a profession that is very near and dear to my heart. And best wishes to the students, who have exciting and rewarding careers ahead of them.

One of the challenges I’ve come to appreciate in my own career in IP law, and particularly as Deputy Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office, is how to facilitate a better and broader public understanding of the importance of intellectual property in our daily lives. Let’s face it: As engineers, scientists, academics, and lawyers, we don’t always do a great job helping get the public as excited about intellectual property as we are, or in helping them see the connection between intellectual property, the products they enjoy, and the IP-related jobs created every year in our innovation economy. As recently as 2012, a Commerce Department study found that IP-intensive industries support at least 40 million jobs and contribute more than $5 trillion dollars to, or 34.8 percent of, U.S. gross domestic product (GDP). That’s a huge part of our economy.

As a child of the Silicon Valley, I saw the power of innovation and intellectual property up close and personal. My parents were immigrants, drawn across the Pacific Ocean by the promise of the American Dream. My father was an engineer, and so were all of the dads on the street where I grew up. They worked for tech companies of all sizes, often founded by just one person who grew their businesses through the power of intellectual property. Many of them had the experience of creating an invention, patenting it, and using the protection that patent provided to obtain venture capital funding, hire employees, and begin producing and selling new products and services. Seeing that process as a child made an indelible impression on me, and I never had much doubt about what I wanted to do when I “grew up.” But of course my childhood was shaped by intellectual property in other ways that I didn’t always recognize or appreciate.

Consider the innovative work of Garrett Brown, who last year was inducted into our National Inventors Hall of Fame, a program we conduct in partnership with the non-profit Invent Now, to promote the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship. How many of you recall the thrilling speeder-bike chase in RETURN OF THE JEDI, when Luke and Leia are zooming through the forest in pursuit of Imperial Stormtroopers, or Sylvester Stallone running up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art in the first ROCKY film? Those iconic moments in movie history and many others like them were filmed by Garrett Brown, using an invention he created called the Steadicam, which is so ubiquitous today we take it for granted.

In the old days, before Steadicam technology, camera operators were limited to using riggings, tracks, and bulky tripods and dollies, with only pans and or sweeping crane shots to give movies a sense of motion. But after Garrett’s pioneering work on stabilizers, moviegoers could—for the first time—be truly immersed in the action on screen. They could feel the thrill of those high-speed chases. It’s hard to imagine now what movies would be like without the Steadicam. How many millions of young imaginations have been captivated and influenced—truly transported somewhere else, in the way that only movies can do—because of Garrett’s innovation, combined with a compelling story, good actors, and an experienced director?

Movies, after all, truly embody the concept of intellectual property in one of its most spectacular, memorable, and collaborative forms. Every person involved in a movie, from writers and producers to the makeup artists and camera operators like Garrett Brown, works hard to bring a work of art to the audience. And like everyone, they deserve to be paid for their work. Intellectual property rights ensure that the fruits of their labors remain valuable and marketable. But those rights aren’t just about fairly compensating creators—patents, trademarks, and copyrights promote innovation and creativity by encouraging others to come up with new ideas and better ways of doing things, as Garrett Brown did. They facilitate the spread of human knowledge and fuel the inspiration for humanity’s accomplishments. They help us tell new stories and find new possibilities.

For hundreds of years, intellectual property has been the driving force of progress in technology, art, and, culture. This is true around the world. It’s part of our shared human experience, no matter where we come from. Which is why the intellectual property offices of the world—including the United States Patent and Trademark Office—work together to ensure that IP rights continue fostering creativity and innovation.
 
We are here today because April 26 is World Intellectual Property Day, a tradition that began in 2000 by proclamation of the member states of the World Intellectual Property Organization. Every year since, WIPO and its member states have celebrated World IP Day with activities, events, and campaigns to increase public understanding of what intellectual property really means, and to demonstrate how the IP system fosters not only music and the arts, but also serves as the incentive for creation of all the products and technological innovations that shape the modern world. April 26 is, as many of you know, the birthday of WIPO itself. Like the Cardozo Law School, it is still a relatively young organization. The Convention Establishing the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) was adopted in 1967 and came into force on April 26, 1970. Thus the selection of this day for World IP Day.

Today, WIPO has 187 member states and administers 26 treaties. The most recent of those treaties was adopted last June in Marrakesh, to facilitate access to published works by visually impaired persons and persons with print disabilities. It’s that kind of work that makes WIPO such an important and valuable organization. In addition to facilitating strong IP rights in multiple jurisdictions, WIPO also provides IP capacity building, training, and technical assistance on IP protection and enforcement. Through the WIPO Academy, the organization has trained thousands of officials dealing with IP worldwide, including officials from IP offices, police, prosecutors, judges, and customs officials. Through the WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center, WIPO provides alternative dispute resolution services, including domain name dispute resolution. WIPO has committees dedicated to discussing patent, trademark, copyright and traditional knowledge issues. When member states agree that an issue is ripe for an international agreement a diplomatic Conference is convened to adopt a treaty or update a treaty.

In short, WIPO is a force of great good in the world of intellectual property, and while we are here today in honor of World IP Day and movies in particular, we would be remiss not to pay tribute to WIPO itself for the great work it has done, and will continue to do, on behalf of intellectual property worldwide. I want to also congratulate Director General Francis Gurry, who was recently reelected to another six-year term as the head of WIPO. The United States Patent and Trademark Office looks forward to working with Director General Gurry and his team on a number of important matters across the full spectrum of intellectual property.

In the meantime, here at home we must continue to find new and innovative ways to promote the importance of IP to the American public, and especially to our nation’s children. Tapping into the “global passion for movies”—the theme of this year’s World IP Day—is a great start. It’s not only a powerful example of IP, but a tremendously useful means of communication as well. Last year, the USPTO, the National Science Foundation, and NBC Learn, the educational arm of NBC News, launched an 11-part “Science of Innovation” video series to coincide with the 165th birthday of American inventor Thomas Edison.

Narrated by NBC News’ Ann Curry, the series featured innovators from across the country, including scientists and engineers working on projects in industries as diverse as healthcare, energy, transportation, agriculture, and more. “Science of Innovation” looked beyond the popular concept of innovation as the result of a single event or brilliant idea. Instead, it examined the processes and steps that anyone from a garage tinkerer to a federally funded scientist can take to discover new solutions to pressing problems or to add value in new ways to existing products, services, or technologies. Not only was this a clever means of reaching younger audiences, but it was also a great example of federal agencies, industry, and educators working together to demonstrate the connection between IP and the science, technology, engineering and math fields.

Was it as memorable as RETURN OF THE JEDI or ROCKY? Probably not. That’s tough competition! But it was a good use of harnessing our global passion for movies to the advantage of IP and STEM education, and the kind of creative public-private partnership that we should build upon. At the end of the day we all have a role to play in educating the public about the importance of IP, and we can do that best by working together, collaboratively and creatively, with a view toward directing that global passion for movies toward a global passion for IP.

Thank you again for having me here today, and for what you as members of AIPLA, WIPO, and the public at large do to support the cause of intellectual property. I hope you enjoy the rest of the program, and that you get a chance to see a good movie this weekend!

Thursday Apr 17, 2014

Inspiring the Next Generation of Inventors

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

What do physicist Charles Hull, chemist Richard DiMarchi, and the late silver screen star Hedy Lamarr have in common? For one, they each patented inventions that revolutionized their industries and changed people’s lives. Second, they will be inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame (NIHF) on May 21st here at USPTO headquarters. But they also, at some point in their lives, were inspired to pursue new horizons in science.

Hull is considered the father of additive manufacturing, more popularly known as 3D printing. He came up with the idea while developing lamps for ultraviolet-curable resins, and now his technology is being used to create everything from aircraft components to artificial limbs. DiMarchi has improved more than a million lives with his development of the first rDNA-derived peptide approved as medicine; his Humalog® insulin is an indispensable part of the lives of many diabetes sufferers. And Lamarr? The accomplished actress once partnered with composer George Antheil to patent a “secret communication system” that reduced the danger of detection or jamming of radio-controlled torpedoes.

My path to becoming an engineer in the field of artificial intelligence did not involve the performing arts. I am a second-generation American who grew up in Silicon Valley—our nation’s main hub for innovation. My father was an engineer, as were all of the other dads on our street, and I never imagined any other career path. But we need to help encourage our next generation of inventors to pursue all kinds of different fields. That’s why I’m glad the USPTO manages the NIHF program, in partnership with the non-profit Invent Now. The partnership involves inspiring programs for inventive college students and curious grade schoolers, such as Invent Now’s Camp Invention.

At Camp Invention, students get to play inventor for a week at a national summer program focused on creativity, innovation, and real-world problem solving. This week-long summer day camp for 1st through 6th graders includes robust STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) curriculum while also providing insights on the role of patents and trademarks in innovation. Established in 1990, the program is currently held at more than 1,200 sites in 50 states. Students learn through teamwork and subject immersion, while the certified teachers guiding the camps receive materials they can utilize in their regular school curriculum during the normal academic year. Perhaps most importantly, Invent Now puts great focus into finding teachers and schools located in economically disadvantaged communities to host Camp Invention, ensuring that children of all backgrounds can benefit.

But our partnership with Invent Now doesn’t only focus on children and accomplished inventors. We also work with Invent Now on the very popular Collegiate Inventors Competition (CIC), another program in operation since 1990. NIHF inductees and USPTO subject-matter experts serve as judges of individual and team submissions from undergraduate and graduate students across the country. These inventors develop groundbreaking innovations to address vexing problems, and finalists and winners are honored here at the USPTO in a special ceremony. Last year’s entries included a next-generation cancer chemotherapy patch, a mechanical leech for post-surgical treatment of tissue reattachment patients, and an upper-body exoskeleton for physical therapy and occupational lifting. Applications are now being accepted for the 2014 competition.

In short, our partnership with Invent Now supports a path of innovation, from grade school to college to the heights of a professional career. That story will be told soon in our National Inventors Hall of Fame Museum housed at our Alexandria headquarters. We are working with Invent Now to overhaul our existing museum and turn it into a true shrine to innovation and the great patent owners who have been inducted into the NIHF. A portion of that museum will be opened at our May 21st induction ceremony, where 2014 attendees will be able to see their names, innovations, and related patent numbers on permanent display. Visitors will be able to track paths of innovation, following the first childhood spark of an idea to the moment when it changed the world.

When we induct the 2014 NIHF class next month, I’m sure I won’t be alone in wondering how many future inductees will be veterans of Camp Invention or the Collegiate Inventors Competition. It’s really only a matter of time.

Friday Mar 28, 2014

USPTO’s Office of Policy and International Affairs Continues Building Support for U.S. Innovators and Entrepreneurs

Guest blog by Chief Policy Officer and Director for International Affairs Shira Perlmutter

In the first quarter of fiscal year 2014, the Office of Policy and International Affairs (OPIA) conducted dozens of programs designed to provide intellectual property (IP) capacity-building and technical assistance to domestic and international audiences. These programs to boost IP awareness and understanding are managed through our Global Intellectual Property Academy (GIPA), and tracking them is one of the ways we measure our performance.

In the first quarter of FY14, we conducted three domestic programs that reached 360 participants. A particularly interesting program that I’d like to point out was designed to support veterans who have either started or want to start a business, and it was carried out in cooperation with the Small Business Administration and Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families. This program, the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities (EBV), has a curriculum tailored to the unique challenges and opportunities associated with being a veteran business owner. Attorneys from the GIPA also participated in EBV’s third annual National Training and Alumni Conference on October 25-27 in Dallas. The attorneys guided veterans through an interactive exercise that highlighted the role IP plays in building businesses, and provided one-on-one advice throughout the conference.

Internationally, we conducted 35 programs in 41 countries that reached 1,211 foreign officials. A good example of our international outreach includes a colloquium on IP rights for approximately 30 judges, prosecutors, and investigators in Morocco. The colloquium was held November 19-22 and covered topics such as the investigation of IP crimes, the importance of cooperation with law enforcement, and adjudication of criminal IP cases.

For more information on our FY 2014 Q1 activities and OPIA’s performance metrics, I invite you to visit our Policy and International Affairs dashboard.

Tuesday Mar 25, 2014

An Update on Our Satellite Offices

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

As we’ve done in the past, I’d like to take a moment to fill you in on the status of our satellite offices in Dallas, Denver, Detroit and Silicon Valley. Having spent the last year leading our team at the Silicon Valley office, keeping on top of all the developments related to our satellite offices is of particular interest to me. 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.

Our Elijah J. McCoy Satellite Office in Detroit, which opened for business in July 2012, is meeting and exceeding the needs of the agency and the local innovation community. With approximately 100 patent examiners and eight administrative patent judges, the Detroit office continues to process patent applications, as well as manage appeal cases and America Invents Act (AIA) trials.

Having an office in Detroit has also enabled us to foster new partnerships with stakeholders, the local community and organizations such as the Henry Ford Museum and the Auto Harvest Foundation. Through these partnerships, Detroit office staff are participating in numerous outreach events, including IP conferences, IP bar association meetings, elementary school science fairs, and an initiative to help the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History start a program for children to understand the correlation between science, technology, engineering, math, art, and design and the creation and protection of intellectual property. The office has also been holding quarterly “Saturday Seminars” to train independent inventors and small businesses on the importance of IP protection (If you’re in the area, come to our next one on April 12).

In Silicon Valley, we’re moving forward with the city of San Jose to ensure our permanent office has the perfect space to suit our needs and the needs of local stakeholders. When it comes to community engagement, we’ll be doing a lot of what we do in our Detroit office, including local training programs and workshops while building partnerships with local innovators and others in the IP field. We’re aiming to start operations in San Jose City Hall in the spring of 2015. USPTO senior executive John Cabeca, who took over serving as Director of the Silicon Valley Office when I left, has been leading USPTO’s outreach in the region. A 25-year veteran of the agency, he is actively engaged with stakeholders across the Bay Area and doing a superb job.

Meanwhile, this Wednesday we’re hosting a Livestream recruitment event with U.S. Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado as part of our search for top talent to hire for the Denver office. The event will feature a panel of USPTO supervisory and patent examiners who will talk about what their job entails, share their experiences working at the USPTO, and answer live questions. Concurrently, we’re reviewing candidates for the Denver office regional director and plan to make our selection in the coming months. We are also on track to move from the Denver Federal Center to occupy permanent space in the Byron G. Rogers Federal Building this July.

In Dallas, our staff has been operating out of the Santa Fe Federal Building since March 2013. The design-and-build phase of the permanent space in the Terminal Annex Federal Building will start early this spring with a planned occupancy in fall 2015. In the meantime, the USPTO and the Dallas Entrepreneur Center are collaborating on programs and exchanges designed to educate local entrepreneurs on the effectiveness of IP protection, similar to our Detroit “Saturday Seminars.”

For now, the temporary offices in Dallas, Denver, and Silicon Valley are staffed with Patent Trial and Appeal Board judges, whose main job is helping reduce the inventory of trial and appeal cases. We continue to hire judges as qualified candidates become available, and we will recruit patent examiners for each office as their permanent spaces near completion. All vacancy announcements for these offices are posted on usajobs.gov, so if you’re interested—or you know someone who might be—that’s where to look.

These satellite offices are critically important to the regional IP communities, and getting all of them operating at full strength is one of our major priorities as an agency. We are grateful to local government officials and regional stakeholders who have responded so enthusiastically to our satellite offices, and extend kudos to the hard-working USPTO personnel in each location. These offices would not exist without the hard work and support of many people inside and outside of our agency.

This year promises to be an exciting one for our satellite offices, and we will continue to keep you informed about major new developments.

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.

Calling on the Crowd to Help Increase Patent Quality

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

Protecting and promoting our ideas-driven economy is essential to economic growth. By issuing patents for novel and non-obvious inventions, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) plays a critical role in ensuring that America’s intellectual property system continues to be a catalyst for American companies and entrepreneurs to innovate.

The White House and the General Services Administration recently announced the next round of the Presidential Innovation Fellows (PIF) program. As part of this effort, USPTO is seeking a fellow to help in carrying out the agency’s goal of “Using the Crowd to Improve Patent Quality,” specifically by ensuring that patent examiners have the best prior art before them during examination.

To determine whether an invention is patentable, a patent examiner must evaluate it in light of the state-of-the-art. But innovation moves fast and important advances may be documented only in hard-to-access corporate records or any number of other far-flung repositories. Finding, among a sea of documents, the most relevant ones, especially in areas where terms are non-standardized, can be difficult. The PIF program, which pairs top innovators from the civil sector with top innovators in the government to collaborate during focused 6-13 month “tours of duty,” will help overcome these challenges.

Applications will be accepted through April 7, 2014, and can be found here. We encourage interested members of the public to apply.

The PIF project is just the latest chapter in the Obama administration’s long-standing partnership with the community on patent issues. For example, the USPTO’s Software Patent Partnership recently completed a roundtable on prior art issues for which public comments are being solicited. The agency is also planning a roundtable on crowdsourcing for April 10, 2014, in Alexandria, Virginia, at which it intends to solicit feedback about innovative ways to leverage crowdsourcing techniques to help acquire difficult-to-locate prior art. The roundtable will also explore the range of crowdsourcing resources available for examiners to use, as well as bring together subject matter experts to discuss ways for examiners to access this material, such as by building a database of hard-to-find prior art.

These efforts build on three new executive actions the administration announced on February 20th at the White House. In that announcement, the USPTO committed to refining the current third party submission process and exploring other ways that the public can provide potential prior art to the agency. The agency also committed to updating its guidance and training of examiners for using crowd-sourced prior art, particularly non-patent literature (NPL). The USPTO further committed to building upon its existing “Patent Examiner Technical Training Program” to make it easier for technologists and engineers from industry and academia to provide technical training and expertise to patent examiners, as well as appointing a full-time pro bono coordinator to ensure broad access to the patent system.

Further, we are pleased to see a growing number of organizations from a wide range of industries who have already expressed a willingness to help advance the shared goals of these three new executive actions. While the list of public support is growing every day, some examples of those pledges to date include:

Cisco – which has committed to assembling its public product documentation, electronically publishing many invention submissions that are not internally approved to be patent filings, and continuing to provide examiners access to senior Cisco technical talent in the form of training;

The Clearing House – an industry association comprised of over 20 of the nation’s leading banks, which has committed to developing educational materials and hosting education sessions with patent examiners, as well as providing the USPTO with access to non-patent materials describing the national financial infrastructure;

IBM - which has committed to continue sharing prior art and providing technical training to patent examiners, as it has for decades;

Microsoft – which has committed to providing USPTO examiners a free, searchable database aimed at giving access to more than 10 million archived Microsoft technical corporate documents;

Rackspace – which has committed to sharing with the USPTO complete technical information about all of its prior products, including documents that were previously considered confidential, and to provide ongoing information to the USPTO detailing each product that it develops and releases;

SAS – which has committed to making 38 years of user documentation and technical papers available to the public and USPTO through publication at IP.com;

Verizon – which has committed to updating examiners on the state-of-the-art developments in communications technology, including on network architecture and media delivery;

Yahoo! – which has committed to sharing prior art relevant to their business and publishing technological developments it does not pursue as patents to aid examination and encourage innovation.

In addition to these, a growing number of organizations are offering their public support for these three new executive actions and pledging to engage with the administration to develop their own unique methods of leveraging the crowd to advance these efforts. Some of those include: the American Intellectual Property Law Association (AIPLA); Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO); BSA | The Software Alliance (BSA); Coalition for 21st Century Patent Reform (21C); Intellectual Property Owners Association (IPO); and Qualcomm.

We applaud the leaders in the private sector who are already answering the administration’s call with these efforts and we encourage others to join them, as we continue to explore the power of the crowd to further strengthen our patent system and foster American innovation.

Monday Feb 24, 2014

Progress Continues in our Transition to an Improved Patent Classification System

Blog by Commissioner for Patents Peggy Focarino

We remain hard at work implementing the Cooperative Patent Classification (CPC) system launched in January 2013. CPC, let me remind you, is a joint patent classification system between the USPTO and the European Patent Office that enables patent examiners and patent system users worldwide to conduct more efficient prior-art searches. Compared with the current U.S. Patent Classification System, CPC offers more targeted searches with more focused results. We expect the CPC to lead to enhanced efficiency by reducing unnecessary duplication of work. One can now search patent documents using CPC classifications. 
 
In our last update we noted that implementing the CPC would require extensive patent examiner training leading up to full implementation in January 2015. The patent examining transition began in November 2013 and will run through the end of this year. Training focuses on enabling patent examiners to effectively search in CPC and place CPC symbols on published patent applications and granted patents. 

The transition to CPC is an investment in the future of IP. Through the implementation of CPC, applicants and the IP community will derive many benefits, including:

o Enhanced examination efficiency;
o Improved access to more documents from patent offices around the world;
o Improved navigation and understanding of a single classification system;
o Facilitated work sharing on patent applications filed in multiple IP offices;
o Improved consistency of classified search results across IP Offices; and,
o Adaptive and actively maintained classification schemes.

Patent Examiner CPC training includes approximately 20 hours of training that focuses on how to search and classify in CPC as well as technical subject training related to the nuances of a particular CPC field. In addition to this, on average examiners receive approximately 120 hours of CPC on-the-job training. This on-the-job training is used to complete parallel searches in CPC and the prior United States Patent Classification (USPC) system in 40 to 50 applications. Doing these parallel searches enables examiners to learn the best places to search in CPC for a particular technology and to master the details of their assigned portion of the CPC schedule.

As I am sure you can appreciate, transitioning about 8,000 patent examiners to a new classification system is no small feat. This investment of examiner training time is an important investment in quality, and it is having a temporary impact in our examination output. This impact, combined with continued increases in filings, is resulting in a temporary increase in our new application backlog. We expect the backlog to rise as high as 650,000 by May 2014 before resuming its decline again falling below 600,000 by the end of this fiscal year, which ends September 30th. During the next fiscal year we will continue to reduce our backlog, which remains a core mission as stated in our proposed 2014-2018 Strategic Plan.

We are excited to report continued progress on the build-out of a dynamic classification system coupled with the highest standards in patent examination.

Thursday Feb 20, 2014

Building a Better Patent System

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

Today I had the opportunity to update the public on the USPTO’s continuing efforts to support President Obama’s initiatives to build a better patent system through his executive actions. I want to share my remarks with you through this blog:

“Thank you. I’m pleased to be here at the White House today with Secretary Pritzker, Director Sperling, and Chief Technology Officer Park to discuss what we collectively are doing to advance our nation’s innovation economy. That task is at the core of our mission at the United States Patent and Trademark Office. We do so by issuing the highest quality patents possible; adding ever-more transparency to our patent system; and leveling the playing field for all players, big and small.

The USPTO is approaching its 225th anniversary next year, and throughout the agency’s history our focus hasn’t wavered. Our commitment was—is—and will be—to do everything we can to help foster an intellectual property system that provides American entrepreneurs:

  • the incentives they need to innovate;
  • the tools to help them produce and protect their creative output;
  • and the certainty they need to seek investments and balance risk while developing new technologies that benefit us all.

Even before the president’s call to do more on patent reform last year, the USPTO had efforts underway to:

  • Improve patent quality and metrics;
  • Enhance examiner training, including input from industry experts; and
  • Weed out troublesome patents through post-grant review proceedings.


Furthermore, ever since the administration’s announcement on June 4th, 2013—as my colleagues before me noted—the USPTO has been hard at work implementing four executive actions.

EXECUTIVE ACTION #1

The first executive action aims to bring greater transparency of patent ownership information to the public. To this end, the USPTO has begun a rulemaking process. Under our proposed new rule—which reflects significant public input—the USPTO would collect patent ownership information for a patent or application and make that information available to all via our website. The result would be increased transparency aimed at:

  • enhancing competition,
  • facilitating technology transfers,
  • helping to ensure the highest quality patents, and
  • leveling the playing field for innovators.


We are now collecting input from the public on the proposed rule and are pleased to announce today two public events: one at our Alexandria, Virginia, headquarters on March 13th, and another in San Francisco, California, on March 26th. We welcome your input.


EXECUTIVE ACTION #2

The second executive action called for new, targeted training for patent examiners to scrutinize certain types of patent claims that may be overly broad and to increase patent clarity. We have since implemented a multi-phased training program for all examiners to do just this. In addition, in the coming weeks we will launch a pilot program that uses glossaries to define terms in a patent with the goal of further promoting patent clarity.

We have also conducted numerous public engagements to share ideas, feedback, experiences and insights on further ways to improve patent quality, particularly for software-related patents, such as through our four, well-attended Software Partnership Roundtables held within this past year. We recognize that a patent with clearly defined boundaries provides notice to the public to help it avoid infringement, as well as costly and needless litigation down the road, when the patent is in litigation.

EXECUTIVE ACTION #3

I am very pleased to announce today the culmination of the third executive action calling for new education and outreach to assist those receiving a patent infringement letter. We have just this morning published a new online toolkit of such resources, which you can find at www.uspto.gov/patentlitigation. These resources will help level the playing field for smaller “Main Street” retailers and consumers—those who are not steeped in patent law or who cannot afford teams of patent attorneys—with a variety of complementary resources. These include ways to find information about the patent being asserted (such as assignment information or its past litigation history) to ways to determine if other businesses are being sued on the same patent.

We know of no other online resource, where a recipient of a patent infringement letter can go to get as much information as is available in this toolkit. And, importantly, the new online toolkit features a two-way communication stream so the public can assist us in identifying additional, and we hope even better, resources for all to use.


EXECUTIVE ACTION #4

Finally, our fourth executive action called for an expansion of our already extensive public outreach efforts, as well as more empirical research. I’ve already mentioned some of our outreach, which we’ve ramped up from an already high level. As for empirical research, we are proud to announce that we have expanded our Thomas Alva Edison Visiting Scholars program. That’s where we bring on board for a limited time talented scholars to examine intellectual property issues.

We’ve already recruited three distinguished scholars to research key issues related to patent litigation —Joshua Sarnoff of DePaul University, Jonas Anderson of American University, and Elizabeth Bailey of U.C. Berkeley. We’ll be announcing more scholars soon. By engaging legal and economic scholars with agency experts, we anticipate a wealth of new research and data. Empirical examination of the interaction of various aspects of our patent system will provide insights on how to further reduce unnecessary litigation and improve the quality of patents.

So that is a quick overview of our work to date on these executive actions, all designed to strengthen our patent system for our country now and in the long run. I’m also pleased by the administration’s announcement today that we will be renewing our USPTO Patents for Humanity program. You can learn more at www.uspto.gov/patentsforhumanity.

In his State of the Union address, President Obama said “The nation that goes all-in on innovation today willown the global economy tomorrow. This is an edge America cannot surrender.” At the USPTO, we are dedicated to a strong intellectual property system that empowers American businesses to succeed by keeping pace with the ever-growing rate of technological breakthroughs. We are working hand in hand with our colleagues throughout the administration, and with our stakeholders, to advance that goal.

Our work also includes actively engaging with the House and Senate as the legislative process moves forward. The patent system is the engine that powers our 21st century innovation economy. Even the most high-performance engine occasionally needs some fine-tuning. But I am confident our collaborative reform efforts will result in a patent system that performs at an unprecedented level of quality and economic output, benefiting us all.  Thank you.”

 

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.

Tuesday Nov 26, 2013

USPTO Revises MPEP Publication Process

Guest blog by USPTO Commissioner for Patents Peggy Focarino

The USPTO continues to use ever-more efficient electronic publication tools. The latest example of this is its revised process to update the Manual of Patent Examination Procedure (MPEP). We will now be able to more quickly incorporate changes in the law and patenting procedures. 
 
The USPTO will soon begin to re-publish the entire MPEP with each updated section identified with the date of publication.  Sections that are not updated will retain their most recent revision date.   All updates will be published as clean text with no revision markings. 

Before releasing a new revision, the USPTO follows several critical steps.  First, the MPEP staff and USPTO subject matter experts update the relevant MPEP sections.  The updated sections are then sent for internal agency review and clearance before being further reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).  Based upon the feedback received through the clearance processes, the MPEP staff makes final modifications before publishing the new edition.  The MPEP publication process is depicted in this graphic:

General Publication Progress

 
The USPTO will release three MPEP editions during FY 2014. Each revision will correspond to the enactment and/or adoption of new patent law.  The first new edition will incorporate provisions of the America Invents Act (AIA), enacted in September 2011.  The second updated edition will provide guidance on the Patent Law Treaty implementation.  The third update will provide guidance on the Geneva Act of the Hague Agreement Concerning the International Registration of Industrial Designs.
 
With each new MPEP revision, the agency will release a plain-language summary highlighting changes and additions.  The agency also plans to develop a computer-based training (CBT) module to further explain the changes and additions. The USPTO also plans to post newly published MPEP chapters on IdeaScale, an online tool that enables users to provide feedback and suggestions. We are very excited to take this next step in serving our stakeholders and the public.

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.

Friday Oct 04, 2013

When, Where, and How You Can Provide Input on Copyright and Innovation

Guest blog by Chief Policy Officer and Director for International Affairs Shira Perlmutter

***UPDATE October 11, 2013: The public meeting has been rescheduled to December 12, 2013 and there have been further clarifications issued regarding public comment deadlines. Read more in the USPTO press release.***

We are moving forward on our promise to solicit your input on copyright policy and innovation as outlined in the recent U.S. Department of Commerce Internet Policy Task Force (IPTF) green paper titled Copyright Policy, Creativity, and Innovation in the Digital Economy and on this blog. You may have learned from a USPTO press release or a Federal Register Notice from the USPTO and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) of an IPTF public meeting that—barring a need to reschedule due to the current government shutdown—we’re holding on October 30th. We’d very much like to see you there.

As explained in the Federal Register Notice, we are particularly seeking comments on five specific topics raised in the green paper: (1) establishing a multistakeholder dialogue on improving the operation of the notice and takedown system for removing infringing content from the Internet under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA); (2) the legal framework for the creation of remixes; (3) the relevance and scope of the first sale doctrine in the digital environment; (4) the application of statutory damages in the contexts of individual file sharers and of secondary liability for large-scale infringement; and (5) the appropriate role for the government, if any, to help improve the online licensing environment, including access to comprehensive databases of rights information.

Some questions have been raised about the relationship of the two separate dates for comment submission provided in our Federal Register Notice. We invited early comments to be filed by October 15, 2013, in order to allow them to be read prior to the October 30th public meeting and to inform the discussion there. But this was not a deadline either for submissions or for enabling participation in the meeting. Anyone can still participate in the meeting even if they don’t submit comments by October 15th. The actual deadline for comment submission is two weeks after the meeting, on November 13th.

I also want to assure you that there will be ample opportunity for public participation and comment beyond those dates. We plan to engage in a robust conversation about these important digital copyright issues, and we recognize that many interested parties will have a lot to say. The October 30th meeting is intended as an initial exploration of the issues, and will be structured around moderated panel discussions on each of the five topics identified in the Federal Register Notice. We are currently developing an agenda and inviting speakers who will represent a wide range of views.

Our hope is that the October 30th meeting will provide a meaningful and informative discussion on these topics and serve as a launching pad for the next phase of our public engagement. We anticipate there will be further roundtables and other opportunities for input on each of the individual topics going forward.

Pre-registration for the conference is available online. More information about the green paper is available at http://www.uspto.gov/ip/global/copyrights/index.jsp.

Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have further questions. You can contact Hollis Robinson or Ben Golant in the Office of Policy and International Affairs at (571) 272-9300, or hollis.robinson@uspto.gov or benjamin.golant@uspto.gov. For further information regarding the public comments, please contact Garrett Levin or Ben Golant at (571) 272-9300, or garrett.levin@uspto.gov or benjamin.golant@uspto.gov.

We look forward to receiving your comments and seeing you at the conference on October 30th.

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