Director's Forum: A Blog from USPTO's Leadership
Director's Forum: A Blog from USPTO's Leadership
Friday May 29, 2015

Reduced Trademark Filing and Renewal Fees

Guest Blog by Mary Boney Denison, Commissioner for Trademarks
The USPTO is dedicated to serving the public in the most efficient and cost-effective manner possible. In January 2015 we implemented reduced trademark application and renewal fees. Lower fees lessen the burden for entrepreneurs and small businesses to obtain the crucial trademark protection they need to grow their businesses, while increased electronic processing enhances the USPTO’s efficiency of examination.

An important part of the USPTO’s mission is to optimize trademark quality and timeliness.  Our Trademark Electronic Application System (TEAS) allows easy electronic filing by applicants. Since January 17, a new reduced trademark application filing fee option, TEAS Reduced Fee (TEAS RF), has been available to the public. This new filing option promotes electronic communication and application processing while giving applicants more flexibility in identifying their goods and services. With the TEAS RF option, applicants pay a reduced fee if they agree to two-way electronic communication throughout the process. This option has proven to be popular with the majority of trademark filers. In addition to introducing TEAS RF, we’ve also reduced the TEAS Plus initial application fee and reduced the fee to renew a trademark registration electronically. Visit the Trademarks page of the USPTO website for specific information on the reduced fees.   

Prior to January 17, the electronic trademark application options consisted of a TEAS “regular” application and a lower-cost TEAS Plus application with stricter filing requirements, introduced to encourage end-to-end electronic processing of applications. While these options did increase the number of applicants submitting initial applications electronically, approximately 20 percent of applicants were still filing subsequent documents on paper. We conducted outreach to determine what specifically discouraged filers from filing electronically. I personally called many of the firms which did not, or rarely file completely electronically in order to get an idea of what we could do to encourage end-to-end electronic filing. The feedback we received led us to add the TEAS RF option and reduce the TEAS Plus fee and trademark registration fee.

Since introducing the reduced fees in January, TEAS “regular” applications have dropped while TEAS RF filings have increased. The increase in online filing is beneficial to the USPTO’s workflow processes, data collection, and file management, while supporting our objective of end-to-end electronic processing of applications. We will continue to engage with the public to identify ways to streamline our processes, lessen the financial burden on applicants, and efficiently process trademark applications.

Wednesday May 20, 2015

USPTO Assistance for Independent Inventors and Small Businesses

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

Helping small businesses and independent inventors with limited resources is an important goal of the USPTO, and supports the Obama administration’s commitment to leveling the playing field for all American workers and businesses. Despite comprising only 1 percent of all businesses, entrepreneurs and small business owners have generated more than 65 percent of new jobs over the last two decades and start-ups in high-tech hubs account for more than 40 percent of new jobs each year (Small Business Administration, May 2014). The USPTO has several free or reduced fee programs to assist independent inventors and small businesses in securing patent protection for their inventions: the Patent Pro Bono Program, Pro Se Assistance Program, and Certified Law School Clinic Program.

First, through the Patent Pro Bono Program, the USPTO partners with non-profit organizations and law schools to establish regional programs throughout the country. By working with their regional patent pro bono program, under-resourced independent inventors and small businesses may secure free legal representation to help them file and prosecute patent applications. Each regional program has certain requirements that independent inventors and small businesses must meet. In general, an independent inventor or small business need only show income in a certain range, some knowledge about the patent system, and possession of an invention and not just an idea.

After ascertaining that the eligibility criteria are met, the regional pro bono program matches independent inventors and small businesses with volunteer patent attorneys to provide them assistance. To date, patent pro bono programs are available in 49 states with nationwide coverage coming this year. Visit the Patent Pro Bono Program on our website to learn more, or to volunteer to help an under-resourced independent inventor or small business.

Second, the USPTO recognizes that many independent inventors and small businesses file patent applications without the assistance of a registered patent attorney or agent—also known as "pro se" filing. The USPTO has tools to assist pro se filers with this process, as well as a dedicated team available to answer filing questions. To learn more, visit the Pro Se Assistance Program page of our website.

Third, the USPTO has partnered with 45 law schools to offer programs through which law students draft and file either patent applications or trademark applications for clients under the supervision of law school faculty. Since its inception, over 1,850 law students have participated in the program and have filed more than 340 patent applications and more than 1,125 trademark applications for clients. Information about requesting free legal services through a participating law school clinic is available on our website.

Another advantage that the USPTO offers for independent inventors is reduced fees for “micro entities” and “small entities.” If you meet the micro-entity requirements, you are eligible for a 75 percent reduction on most fees, and small entity status offers a 50 percent fee reduction. View the full USPTO fee schedule.

All of these resources and programs will be discussed in more detail during a free webinar on Thursday, May 21, 2015, from 2:00 PM to 5:00 PM ET. USPTO experts will explain these free and reduced fee resources and inform independent inventors and small business about how to secure legal representation to better navigate the patent system. It’s a great chance to learn if any of these programs might help you and hear answers to your questions.

The Patent Pro Bono Program, Pro Se Assistance Program, and Law School Certification Clinic Program, along with our discounted fee programs, serve vital roles in the marketplace of innovation. They ensure all creators benefit from their intellectual property and in turn that society can benefit from their inventions. I hope you will participate in the webinar and take advantage of these programs to protect your inventions.

Tuesday May 19, 2015

Redesigned and Updated Patents Dashboard

Guest blog by Commissioner for Patents Peggy Focarino

In direct response to feedback we’ve received from the public, we have updated our online Patents Dashboard. The Patents Dashboard is one of several tools the USPTO makes available to the public to track our progress in areas such as pendency, quality and timeliness. 

The new dashboard provides information on major metrics with sub-pages organized by topic. A considerable amount of additional data has been added that relates to designs, petitions, after final responses, amendment turnaround, patent term adjustment, and other pendency metrics and filing information. One new feature of the updated dashboard is a “statistic of the quarter.” The statistic we are featuring this quarter shows the impact of recent court decisions by comparing the allowance rate for business methods, biologics and diagnostic methods and the overall allowance rate.

Much of the data, including the statistic of the quarter and petitions and patent term adjustment, is being provided to the public for the first time, and in response to public requests for it. We are releasing the data as part of our continuing efforts to be open and transparent about our operations and to provide useful information to our stakeholders in a timely manner. These updates also directly support our Enhanced Patent Quality Initiative.

We hope our users will find these new dashboard updates useful and informative and we welcome your comments and suggestions about them. Please send comments and suggestions to

Wednesday May 13, 2015

Attend a Patent Public Advisory Committee Meeting

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

Input from the public is invaluable to us so we can best serve the needs of our innovation community.  To this end, our Patent Public Advisory Committee (PPAC) plays an important role in advising us on public input regarding important USPTO matters. PPAC is a group from a cross-section of our stakeholders who engage with the public to share agency developments, collect feedback, and share it with us. It’s all in an effort to gather input on, and be as transparent as possible about, all our operations. The PPAC holds quarterly meetings, during which the committee receives updates from across the agency and takes deep dives into the operation of different business units on a rotating basis. As a former PPAC member, I can tell you that these meetings are an excellent way to stay up to date on many facets of the agency, and I encourage you to attend our upcoming PPAC meeting tomorrow, May 14, at our headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia, or to watch the livestream.

The PPAC was created by statute in the American Inventors Protection Act of 1999 and advises the USPTO on policies, goals, performance, budget, and user fees. The committee also prepares an annual report on these matters, which is published in the Official Gazette. Committee members consist of U.S. citizens chosen to represent the interests of diverse stakeholders, including independent inventors, private practitioners, corporate attorneys, and academics. Appointments to PPAC are made by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce based upon applications submitted by the public, and appointees are special government employees for their tenure. The PPAC is led by a chair and vice chair, and members sit on a variety of subcommittees to focus on different areas of the agency, for instance, on quality, international relations, and the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB). Subcommittee membership offers exposure into the intricacies of the agency’s operations and helps members foster relationships with USPTO leaders.

After tomorrow’s meeting, there will be two more PPAC meetings in 2015 that will take place on August 20 and November 19.

Before becoming a USPTO employee, I was fortunate to serve as a PPAC member. I found the experience to be quite rewarding, and the meetings to be very informative about the programs and operations at the USPTO.  Some of the topics on the agenda for tomorrow’s meeting include updates on the quality initiative, patent examination policy, next generation systems, legislation, and our international efforts.

Additionally, I encourage you to consider serving as a PPAC committee member; we accept applications annually in the fall. Watch for announcements regarding the next open application cycle. Through these experiences, you can make your voice heard, learn more about USPTO programs and operations that affect your business interests and at the same time, help the USPTO.

Monday May 11, 2015

New Tool for Examiners Helps Streamline Examination Process

Guest blog by Chief Information Officer John Owens

The USPTO recently launched a critical new tool for patent examiners, marking the beginning of the retirement of certain legacy IT tools, and furthering our commitment to sharpening operating efficiencies as we modernize IT systems. Newly released to the patent examining corps is Version 2.0 of the Docket and Application Viewer (DAV), a customizable, searchable tool to help examiners manage their work load and prioritize tasks. This tool replaces the Desktop Application Navigator (eDAN) tool they use now.

This new tool, like others to come, will help the agency in the drive to increase patent quality. Once fully deployed, the USPTO’s “Patents End-to-End” (PE2E) system will provide examiners with an improved way of processing patent applications, integrating activities currently managed across separate systems into a central place, and leveraging modern technology. Late in 2016, we expect to launch more releases critical to examiners including Office Action and Search tools. Between now and the end of 2016, there will be incremental software releases for a pilot group of examiners to use.

The DAV was successfully deployed to over 120 servers in 48 hours in late March by the USPTO’s Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) in close collaboration with our Office of Patent Information Management and the Patent Office Professional Association union. Training for this tool began in late March. The DAV tool also reflects our teams’ use of “agile” practices that focus on user involvement and feedback, while “DevOps,” provides a method of emphasizing tight collaboration. In the last few years, we have used agile and user-centered design to enhance how we develop and deliver new software to users.

Getting public input is critical to us. That’s why we host public events with tech experts to spur discussion, generate ideas, and help us operate at maximum efficiency. On June 11-12, 2015, we will host the inaugural DevOps Days DC, an international forum on “DevOps” at the USPTO campus in Alexandria, Virginia. We look forward to providing more updates on the agency’s IT transformation as we rollout more software and systems to strengthen examination processes and support the nation’s innovators.

Thursday May 07, 2015

TTAB Gathers Public Feedback on its Processes

Guest Blog by Chief Administrative Trademark Judge Gerard F. Rogers

In early 2015, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) held two public events, an Electronic System for Trademark Trials and Appeals (ESTTA) Users Forum and a Roundtable on Evolving TTAB Processes, in Alexandria, Virginia, which resulted in valuable comments and suggestions which TTAB will use to continue improving its public-facing IT systems and its appeal and trial processes.

The ESTTA Users Forum was held for the purpose of gaining stakeholder input on the capabilities of TTAB’s Electronic System for Trademark Trials and Appeals (ESSTA) e-filing system. Eighty individuals participated in the forum, either in person or via webinar. Representatives from such professional associations as the American Bar Association, the American Intellectual Property Law Association, the International Trademark Association, and the Intellectual Property Owners Association, joined in the interactive discussion, along with numerous practitioners from around the country. Feedback from the forum will be used to enhance ESTTA’s functionality in the near term, but also for planning the future implementation of the USPTO’s end-to-end electronic processing of trademark matters, known as Trademarks Next Generation (TMNG), which will significantly increase the functionality and flexibility of the USPTO’s systems.

The Roundtable on Evolving TTAB Processes was held to discuss how procedural rules and related processes for proceedings have evolved since TTAB’s rulemaking in 2007. The discussion included input from representatives of varied professional associations and the general public, and focused on their experiences with TTAB processes, and what could be improved in future TTAB appeal and trial proceedings. The engaging discussion lasted over three hours and covered a broad spectrum of topics, including: TTAB’s handling of extensions of time to oppose; scheduled changes in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and consideration of the appropriate extent of discovery for TTAB trial cases; the value of TTAB attorney participation in discovery conferences and possible means for attorneys to aid in phone conferences on other subjects, such as motions for summary judgment; streamlined procedures for making evidence of record in TTAB proceedings; and the obsolescence of  interference proceedings at the Board.

We would like to express our gratitude to stakeholders for their valuable insights and helpful suggestions. TTAB will continue to focus on improving its procedures and processes to make them more transparent and responsive to the needs of stakeholders. Visit the TTAB page of the USPTO website to learn more.

Monday May 04, 2015

Successful Transition to the Cooperative Patent Classification System

Blog by USPTO Commissioner for Patents Peggy Focarino

On January 1, 2015, the USPTO successfully transitioned to the Cooperative Patent Classification (CPC) system from the United States Patent Classification (USPC) system. The CPC is a collaborative venture between the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and the European Patent Office (EPO), designed to develop a common, internationally compatible classification system for technical documents used in the patent granting process. It offers a more robust and agile classification system for both offices’ user communities and enables more technical documents to be classified, because the USPTO and EPO are both entering documents into the system. Since its launch, the USPTO has successfully issued about 47,000 U.S. patent documents under the CPC. 

As we transitioned to the CPC, we made sure to keep patent applicants and owners updated on the transition process. Leading up to the changeover, throughout 2013 and 2014, numerous bilateral CPC events were held with external stakeholders, providing notice that the USPC would become a static document collection for utility patents after December 2014. Stakeholders may continue to see a limited number of U.S. patent grants still issuing with USPC symbols due to allowed applications already in the publication cycle, but the USPTO will no longer actively assign USPC symbols to issued utility patents. However, plant and design patents are not covered in the CPC, so they will continue to be published with USPC symbols.

To facilitate searching for documents, the USPTO’s existing tools have been modified to provide all users the ability to search documents classified in the CPC, the USPC (now a static document collection), and the International Patent Classification (IPC) systems. USPTO examiners are now required to classify and search using the CPC, and we want our user community to understand that the CPC will be continuously updated through bilateral revision and reclassification projects between the USPTO and the EPO. We are also working on creating a bilateral examiner-focused collaborative environment for discussions, work-sharing initiatives and training opportunities.

As a leader in the global patent community, the USPTO is dedicated to providing a quality classification system for employees and stakeholders, and one that is compatible with the international patent community. Most importantly, we will ensure that the quality of the classification system remains strong and agile.

The CPC provides a more comprehensive search result set that includes national documents from China and Korea,  as well as several other countries that are classifying their national documents into the CPC; documents that were not previously available for viewing or retrieval under the USPC. We intend to keep the quality of the CPC documents at a high level by helping more countries classify their national documents into the CPC, and we will continue to work with the EPO to perform an ongoing number of CPC revision projects.

We welcome your thoughts on the transition from the USPC to the CPC. More information, including frequently asked questions, is available on the CPC page of our website. Please send any questions or comments to

Friday Apr 10, 2015

First Patent Quality Summit – a Productive Discussion with the Public

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

At the end of March, the USPTO engaged in a productive exchange of ideas with the public on patent quality. We held an unprecedented event, a Patent Quality Summit at our headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia, on March 25-26, with more than 300 in person attendees and over 1,200 online participants over the two days. The summit was the kickoff event for our comprehensive Enhanced Patent Quality Initiative, which focuses on improving patent operations and procedures to provide the best possible work products, to enhance the customer experience, and to improve existing quality metrics.

The Patent Quality Summit provided a forum for a robust discussion and exchange of ideas where the public, experts from the USPTO, industry, and academia examined ways to enhance patent quality, and also considered six specific proposals. In particular, we discussed whether applicants would use in-person interviews with examiners, and if so, what logistical arrangements would need to be made to enable those interviews given the agency’s telework program. We also considered what steps examiners and applicants could take to clarify the prosecution history record and how the agency might better achieve compact prosecution. Further, we explored whether the agency should conduct an automated pre-examination search for all applications and what tools might be available to do so. And we addressed how to best measure patent quality and whether applicants should be able to request a quality review of selected actions during prosecution.

If you read my opening remarks, you’ll learn that I’ve seen firsthand from the business side the importance that patents can play for certain businesses, especially as they look to enter markets that may be filled with established competitors. So our ability to issue patents promptly and accurately can be critically important for encouraging people to invest in these markets. I’ve also seen what happens because of a patent that should not have been issued or that was issued with a scope that is too broad or vague. Litigation based on these patents imposes a cost on business and society. That’s why the USPTO recognizes the extreme importance of issuing the best quality patents possible in a timely manner.

Thanks to all who participated in the summit, both in person and online. Your input is critical to us and we will carefully consider all the feedback we received. We want to continue hearing from you as well; whether you are a longtime patent owner, a Main Street retailer who has only recently begun to focus on patents; a patent prosecutor, patent litigator, patent applicant or patent licensee. With your help we are working to build a world-class patent quality system together.

If you were unable to participate in the summit, you can still provide your feedback on our patent quality initiative via email to on or before May 6, 2015. Our detailed summit agenda is available on the Patent Quality Summit page as well as notes from the sessions. The USPTO is planning additional events throughout the country in the upcoming year to gather more public feedback on our patent quality efforts, including a roadshow to several cities this summer. I hope we hear from you.

Thursday Apr 09, 2015

Implementing Executive Actions to Further Improve our Patent System

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

We’ve been working on a number of exciting initiatives at the USPTO that will benefit most of you. These programs all support White House executive actions designed to strengthen the patent system. They focus on making information more accessible to the public, generating ideas through crowdsourcing, assisting under-resourced inventors, and offering more robust technical training to patent examiners. Here is an update on our progress.

Patent Assignment Search

In furtherance of our goal to increase transparency of patent ownership information, we have improved our Assignment Search database to make it simpler for the public to locate patent assignment information. The new Assignment Search database has several improved features. First, it uses faster technology and features a modernized user interface that quickly and easily displays patent ownership results. Second, it offers more searchable fields. Using multiple search terms, a user can now search by a patent application number and by the entity that submitted the assignment information. After getting initial search results, the user can use filters to narrow the results to a more manageable subset and print search results.

The USPTO has maintained an assignment database for patent ownership information since 1980. Because recording in the database is voluntary, it is not a comprehensive source for all patent or patent application ownership information, but it is an excellent source of much information that is free to the public and updated daily. In preparation for our next phase of improvements, more than 50,000 public users accessed our Assignment Search database, and many offered valuable feedback that we will incorporate into future enhancements of the tool.

Patent Examiner Technical Training Program in 2015

Next, the USPTO’s Patent Examiner Technical Training Program (PETTP) has announced dates for Technology Center Technical Fairs in 2015, and we’re looking for scientists, engineers, professors, and industrial designers to participate as volunteer guest lecturers. PETTP improves the patent process by ensuring patent examiners are aware of emerging trends, maturing technologies, and recent innovation. Presentation formats are flexible, and training sessions typically last up to one hour, followed by questions and answers. Speakers are welcome to visit the USPTO Headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia, or our satellite offices in Denver or Detroit for in-person presentations. Alternatively, they may present by webcast from their own locations. Read the Commerce blog post from December 2014 to learn more about the success of the most recent PETTP training, and visit the PETTP page on the USPTO website to sign up to volunteer your time and expertise as a guest lecturer.

Patent Pro Bono Program Expansion

Finally, we continue to expand our Patent Pro Bono Program that provides free legal assistance to under-resourced inventors and small businesses interested in securing patent protection for their inventions. The program now operates in 47 states, with nationwide coverage coming soon.

Recently, we have supported new program launches as well as expansions. The New York Patent Pro Bono Program has expanded to include New Jersey and Connecticut. In February, the Georgia Patent Pro Bono Program held its launch event, and the Missouri Patent Pro Bono Program—covering the states of Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma—also held its launch event. On April 20, the Minnesota Patent Pro Bono Program will launch an expansion into North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin, and on April 30, the Massachusetts Patent Pro Bono Program will launch an expansion into Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Maine.

The Patent Pro Bono Program serves a vital role in the marketplace of innovation, and we are pleased with its success so far. Visit the Patent Pro Bono Program page of our website for more information on how to volunteer to represent an under-resourced inventor or small business or secure assistance from a volunteer attorney.

We look forward to updating you on many more programs and initiatives this year that support implementation of the White House executive actions, which remain a priority for the USPTO.

Tuesday Mar 31, 2015

Recognizing Women in Science and Technology

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

In observance of Women’s History Month, the USPTO is celebrating the generations of women who have helped shape America. Their stories of achievement—much like the story of America itself—are about a daring and resilient few, willing to take a risk on a new cause, a new idea, or a new invention.

Throughout history, women have played a critical role as innovators, inventors, and entrepreneurs. Take for example some of the women inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame: Stephanie Kwolek, the inventor of Kevlar™; Elizabeth Hazen and Rachel Brown, the inventors of the antifungal antibiotic, Nystatin™; and Patsy Sherman, the inventor of Scotchgard™.

Several well-known Hollywood actresses also expanded their creative spark beyond the big screen. Hedy Lamarr, with the help of composer George Antheil, invented and patented a secret communication system in 1941 in an effort to help the allies in World War II, while Julie Newmar, best known for her captivating role as Catwoman™, patented ultra-sheer, ultra-snug pantyhose.

Thanks to innovative women like Mary Anderson, who was inspired by a sudden downpour while traveling to New York City at the turn of the 20th century, modern car drivers, airplane pilots, and even astronauts can see clearly when driving or flying in inclement weather due to her novel windshield wiper, that was patented in 1903.

The USPTO proudly marks such achievements, and I look forward to inducting four women into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in May including Mary-Dell Chilton, Edith Clarke, Marion Donovan, and Kristina M. Johnson. Their work in a wide range of fields proves the enduring strength of American innovation. In addition, the National Inventors Hall of Fame and Museum at the USPTO headquarters in Alexandria highlighted all women inductees in a special "Women of Innovation" exhibit during the month of March.

I am truly honored to be the first woman director of the USPTO in our nation’s 200+ year history. At the USPTO, we have created an environment where talent can thrive and where ability leads to advancement, regardless of gender. While women represent less than 15 percent of executive officers in the private sector, nearly 40 percent of the USPTO’s executive officer positions are filled by women.  In today’s innovation based economy, an organization can’t afford to overlook the unique talent and ingenuity that women bring to the workplace. Our nation’s economy cannot grow to its full potential unless we ensure that no innovator or entrepreneur is left behind.

More than fifteen years into the 21st century, there are far too few women entering into the science and technology fields. To fix this, we need to start educating kids when they are young. We currently partner with Invent Now and its Camp Invention program, which helps spur inventive thinking in young girls and boys. Our work with the Girl Scouts to support an IP patch also reinforces innovative thinking, specifically among young girls.

At the USPTO, we’re going to continue to find ways to support girls and young women as they enter professional careers and grow to join the ranks at the executive levels.

Join me in a commitment to better prepare more girls and young women to pursue careers in technology, and then empower them to thrive in those careers for the benefit of our economy and society.

Together, we can play a pivotal role in fostering, inspiring, and supporting innovative women, as well as empowering all innovators–men, women, and children.

Friday Mar 27, 2015

PTAB’S Quick-Fixes for AIA Rules Are to Be Implemented Immediately

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

In recent appearances before the Technology Policy Institute and the IPO Education Foundation’s PTO Day, I highlighted the popularity (at least based upon number of filings) of our Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) America Invents Act (AIA) trials over the last three years. I also promised a series of rulemakings later this year so we could seek public input on how we could make these proceedings even better. We are well along in the process of issuing our first set of rules and I want to give you a hint now of what is to come.

The USPTO issued rules and guidance for the new AIA proceedings in 2012.  Despite best efforts, we never envisioned that our rules or guidance would be perfect at the outset, but instead anticipated making refinements along the way. In June 2014 we asked for your input on how these proceedings were working. I am pleased to tell you about the feedback we collected and how that feedback is shaping the direction of our AIA trials going forward.

In response to our request for input, we received 37 written comments. Members of the Board have carefully reviewed your thoughtful comments about ways that we can improve the AIA proceedings. To implement some of the changes spurred by your input we have devised a three-part roll-out plan.

This spring we plan to issue a first rule package containing what we call "quick fixes"—changes of simple scope that will immediately improve the trial proceedings.  Later this summer, we will issue a second proposed-rule package containing more involved changes to our Patent Trial and Appeal Board Trial Rules that govern the conduct of the AIA trial proceedings. We also plan to modify our Trial Practice Guide that provides guidance to the public concerning various aspects of PTAB practices in AIA trial proceedings. The Trial Practice Guide advises the public on the general framework of the rules, including the structure and times for taking action in AIA trial proceedings. These modifications will clarify our trial operations and by implementing the roll-out in stages, we aim to bring improvements to our proceedings as quickly as possible.

As to our first “quick fix” rule package, I wish to highlight some of the improvements you can expect to see. Many of you advised us that fifteen pages for a motion to amend that includes a claim listing is not sufficient to explain adequately why the amended claims are patentable. Similarly, others noted that fifteen pages for a petitioner’s reply brief is not a commensurate number of pages to respond to a patent owner’s response. We have heard you, and we agree. One of our quick-fix changes will nearly double the number of pages for a motion to amend, granting up to twenty-five pages for the motion along with the addition of a claims appendix (with a commensurate amount of additional pages for the opposition and reply briefing). Another change will nearly double the number of pages for a petitioner’s reply brief, granting up to twenty-five pages. Notably, even before these two changes appear in the first rule package, judges will begin implementing them through scheduling orders effective immediately.

As to our second rule package of more involved changes, we are considering proposing a number of other revisions to rules including: further modifications to the motion to amend process; adjustments to the evidence that can be provided in the patent owner preliminary response; and clarification of the claim construction standard as applied to expired patents in AIA proceedings. We also are considering several other changes, including adjustments to the scope of additional discovery, how to handle multiple proceedings before the Office involving the same patent, use of live testimony at oral hearings, and whether the parties should be required to make a certification with their filings similar to a Rule 11 certification in district court litigation.

Additionally, regarding motions to amend, we are contemplating proposed changes to emphasize that a motion for a substitutionary amendment will always be allowed to come before the Board for consideration (i.e., be “entered”), and for the amendment to result in the issuance (“patenting”) of amended claims, a patent owner will not be required to make a prior art representation as to the patentability of the narrowed amended claims beyond the art of record before the Office. Of course, the duty of candor and good faith requires the patent owner to make of record any additional prior art material to patentability known by the patent owner. These contemplated changes would be intended to more noticeably limit the burden on the patent owner, even though the patent owner is the party moving for the change in the patent.

As with the revisions we are making via the first rule package, the changes being considered in our second rule package are the direct results of your feedback. And because we plan to issue the changes in the second rule package in the form of a proposed rule, you will have an additional opportunity to give your feedback before we finalize them.

As to our Trial Practice Guide, we are contemplating proposing even more updates and refinements. Although we are not prepared to change the scheduling order to specify that live testimony will automatically be allowed at a hearing, we will address the subject of live testimony to bring greater clarity to its usage. Specifically, because there has not yet been a current practice of denying motions for live testimony and we do not want to diminish the possibility of live testimony, we plan to emphasize the availability of live testimony upon the grant of any such motion for live testimony, except where not suitable.

Further, we understand that the existence of ample discovery to establish the real-party-in-interest (RPI) of the petitioner has been a concern. And we want to be sure that the availability of appropriate RPI evidence does not pose a problem for patent owners. While the Board increasingly has been granting motions for such discovery, we plan to update the Trial Practice Guide to emphasize the importance of RPI discovery as to determinations of standing and as to possible later estoppel consequences.

Lastly, to the extent that there has been concern that the judges participating in a decision to institute a trial may not be completely objective in the trial phase, we are considering developing a single-judge pilot program for institution. Under this pilot, a single judge would make the decision on whether to institute a trial. Two new judges would be added to the panel only when and if a trial is instituted. In the interest of efficiency, the first judge would remain on the panel; but in the interest of having “fresh eyes,” the two additional judges would not have participated in the matter prior to institution. After running this pilot for a select number of cases, we would study the results to determine the approach to follow in the future.

In closing, we appreciate your input on our AIA trial proceedings thus far. Our intention is to continue this iterative approach of seeking your input after this round of changes has been in effect for some time. We are committed to fulfilling our Congressional mandate to provide a quick, inexpensive alternative to district court litigation and improve patent quality and to ensuring that the AIA trials are as effective and fair as possible. And we can do so only by regularly monitoring and correcting our course as usage of our AIA trials evolves in time.

Wednesday Mar 18, 2015

USPTO Satellite Offices Bring Resources to Innovators

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday Feb 13, 2015

USPTO Submits Fiscal Year 2016 Congressional Budget Justification

Guest Blog by Chief Financial Officer Tony Scardino

Each year, the USPTO submits a budget justification to Congress in order to access the resources we need to operate. I’m pleased to announce that the USPTO has published its fiscal year (FY) 2016 Congressional Budget Justification.

The FY 2016 Congressional Budget Justification provides detailed information on how the USPTO plans to spend its funds in the upcoming fiscal year. Our fiscal year 2016 budget documents our requirements to enhance quality and aggressively continue reducing patent application pendency and backlog. This helps bring innovations to the marketplace and create jobs for the American people. It also enables us to continue maintaining trademark application pendency; carrying out the provisions of the America Invents Act; providing domestic and global intellectual property leadership; and modernizing our information technology (IT).

In FY 2016, the USPTO expects to collect—and has requested an appropriation of—$3.2 billion in fee revenue, which is derived primarily from patent and trademark fee collections. This is approximately $250 million below our FY 2015 appropriation, but approximately $65 million above what we currently anticipate collecting in FY 2015.

The USPTO FY 2016 budget tells the story of a dynamic organization that is continually adapting to the ever-changing environment in which we operate. Our FY 2015 and 2016 estimated fee collections have been modified from the projections included in the FY 2015 President’s Budget. Notably, projected patent fee collections for FY 2015 and the out years have been lowered to reflect new assumptions about the growth rate in patent application filings—due to factors such as the global economy and international filings, recent judicial rulings, and internal process changes—producing a $1.2 billion reduction in estimated patent fee collections over the six-year period from 2014-2019.

At the same time, however, our budgetary requirements—what we plan to spend—for both this year and next have increased from what we had outlined at this time last year. Investments in IT were elevated in FY 2015 and beyond in order to support critical agency priorities and in response to stakeholder feedback, with a net increase in spending of $500 million over the same six-year period. In FY 2016, the USPTO will fund these requirements using a combination of our 2016 appropriation along with $267 million from our operating reserves and $28 million in other income.

The spending and revenue adjustments included in the FY 2016 budget have resulted in a $1.7 billion cumulative reduction in the patent operating reserve over the next six years compared to what we projected in our FY 2015 budget. These changes demonstrate the important role the operating reserve plays in supporting the agency’s progress. Even as fee collections vary from year to year, the operating reserve allows us to continue to make critical, multi-year investments to improve the USPTO and its operations.

Looking to the future, we will continue to closely monitor fee collections and assess the ideal size of the operating reserve. The USPTO leadership team is aware of the potential risk associated with maintaining a patent operating reserve that is below our optimal target of three months and a trademark operating reserve that is below the optimal target of four to six months of budgetary resources. We are prepared to enact risk mitigation measures if they are needed at some point in the future. Our decision to move forward with smart, scalable growth reinforces the USPTO’s commitment to sound business and financial practices.

Additional details on our plans and estimates can be found in the pages of our FY 2016 Congressional Budget Justification. I hope you find value in this document, and that it allows you to glean greater insights into the USPTO’s activities and achievements.

Monday Feb 09, 2015

USPTO Trade Secret Symposium

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

On January 8, 2015, the USPTO held a trade secret symposium at USPTO headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia. The public event featured experts from academia, law, private industry, and the government discussing the importance of trade secrets to innovators.

The protection of U.S. trade secrets from misappropriation is a top priority for the administration and the USPTO, as trade secret theft threatens American businesses and the U.S. economy. Trade secrets are also important internationally since U.S. innovators need to be positioned to succeed when they operate in a global marketplace in which all IP rights are secure. When someone steals a trade secret, it undermines a company’s ability to compete in the global marketplace and can pose a threat to businesses, workers, and the U.S. economy.

In her opening remarks at the trade secret symposium, Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Deputy Director of the USPTO Michelle K. Lee noted this was a first of its kind event at the USPTO, and its importance toward helping entrepreneurs and businesses start, grow and innovate. I was pleased with the variety of panels at the symposium, which discussed:  the economics of trade secret theft, the changing ways innovators are looking to IP laws to protect their assets, the relationship between patents and trade secrets, litigation of trade secret misappropriation, and international trade secret protection. Panelists included representatives from the World Intellectual Property Organization, the London School of Economics, Intel Corporation, Proctor & Gamble, law firms, Congressional offices, and more. View the full agenda and panelists.

The symposium sparked meaningful dialogue on such topics as whether a shift has occurred toward greater reliance on trade secrets, issues inherent to trade secret litigation, legislative initiatives, and the challenges of global enforcement. Going forward, the USPTO will continue to lead substantive discussions of the policies involved in trade secret protection both domestically and internationally. We look forward to continuing the conversation. Learn more about the USPTO Symposium on Trade Secret Protection.

Wednesday Feb 04, 2015

USPTO Launches Enhanced Patent Quality Initiative

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

As improving patent quality lies at the core of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s mission, I’m pleased to announce the launch of a comprehensive new program, our Enhanced Patent Quality Initiative. You can read about it in more detail in the Federal Register and on our website, but let me highlight a few key details for you now.

As you may know, we’ve already been hard at work at the USPTO on numerous initiatives focused on improving patent quality. We’ve offered robust technical and legal training for patent examiners while rolling out new programs such as the Glossary Pilot, Quick Path IDS Program, First Action Interview Pilot, and After Final Consideration Pilot. We’ve worked to improve operational capabilities and information technology tools while expanding international work sharing efforts.

Our Enhanced Patent Quality Initiative allows us to further improve patent quality through direct and ongoing engagement. What do I mean by engagement? I mean robust discussions with the broader public, from a longtime patent owner to a Main Street retailer who has only recently begun to focus on these issues; from patent prosecutors to patent litigators and from patent applicants to patent licensees. We’re also having productive conversations within the agency—from examiners and IT staff to policy experts. By engaging all of these stakeholders, we are working to ensure the USPTO issues the best quality patents possible.

If you want to be a part of that process, we’d love to have you at our first-ever Quality Summit, an intense, two-day deep dive into patent quality that will include discussions among USPTO leadership, experts from the agency, industry and academia, and you. The Summit will be on March 25th and 26th at USPTO headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia. We’ll be looking at possible new initiatives the USPTO could undertake, all of which fall under our three identified Enhanced Patent Quality pillars:  (1) excellence in our work products; (2) excellence in measuring patent quality; and (3) excellence in our customer service.

You’ll find our agenda for the Quality Summit in our Federal Register notice. But even if you can’t attend our Quality Summit in person, you can participate via webinar and the Summit will be recorded for later viewing.  Also, the Federal Register notice lets you know how you can directly provide us your written comments, including reaction to the overall effort, thoughts on the initiatives under discussion at the Quality Summit, and any other suggestions for agency initiatives or undertakings. The formal comment period will remain open until May 6, but please understand that this in an ongoing dialogue. There will be many more opportunities for us to hear from you.

One person at the USPTO who will be particularly eager to read your comments and hear your thoughts at our Quality Summit is Valencia Martin-Wallace, the USPTO’s first Deputy Commissioner for Patent Quality. This newly created leadership position ensures a dedicated focus on the agency’s patent quality efforts. Deputy Commissioner Martin-Wallace brings a wealth of experience to this position. She’s worked at the USPTO for twenty-two years, serving as an examiner, Technical Center Director, and Assistant Deputy Commissioner for Patent Operations.

Our Enhanced Patent Quality Initiative is ambitious. But it is essential as the USPTO continues to support ambitious innovations and economic growth. We look forward to further engagement with the public and our employees as we continue to build a world-class patent quality system together.

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