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

Monday May 14, 2012

Focusing on Funding Continuity

Blog by Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO David Kappos

As USPTO continues to work toward improving effectiveness, a key to maintaining progress will be financial stability, predictability, and sustainability.

Towards this end, the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (AIA) authorized a 15 percent surcharge on most patent fees, which went into effect on September 26, 2011.  The AIA also entrusted the USPTO with the responsibility to set fees through regulation— a new authority that the Office, in collaboration with our stakeholders, is working to put in place in the coming months.  Our target is to have a new fee schedule operational by the middle of FY 2013.

In addition to these in-process AIA fee adjustments, the USPTO recently published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that proposes an increase to statutory fees based on inflation as of October 1, 2012, using the Consumer Price Index.  CPI adjustments have routinely been implemented in the past—generally on an annual basis—to help the Office adjust to the higher costs of doing business resulting from increases in the price of products and services. Given this mix, it is quite understandable that I am sometimes asked why we need the additional fee increase, given the 15 percent surcharge already in place and plans to implement a revised fee schedule by the first quarter of next year.

The answer is: leveling, cash flow, continuity -- much like with any large enterprise.   Think of the CPI adjustment as ensuring “bridge funds.”  This planned CPI adjustment will provide a small but needed increase in funding, allowing the USPTO to continue reducing the backlog and pendency until our new fee schedule--which will provide long-term financial resources--is in place.

An adequately funded USPTO will optimize the administration of the U.S. intellectual property system, moving your innovative ideas to the marketplace more quickly, while creating and sustaining U.S. jobs and enhancing the health and living standards of Americans and indeed people everywhere around the globe.

Wednesday May 09, 2012

USPTO Official Honored for Public Service

Blog by Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO David Kappos

One of our stars here at the USPTO was honored this morning for her excellent work as a public servant. Senior Telework Advisor Danette Campbell is one of 33 Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal finalists in the category of Management Excellence. Under Danette’s guidance, the USPTO has created a teleworking program that is a model not just for the federal government but for any employer. A full two-thirds of USPTO employees telework in some manner, which saves millions of dollars, increases productivity, and boosts employee job satisfaction and retention.

The “Sammies,” as the awards are known, is a project of the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service, which honored the finalists at a breakfast today at the Ronald Reagan Building here in DC. Danette and her fellow finalists were profiled Monday in The Washington Post, and we’ve already been contacted by TV and radio outlets looking to hear Danette’s story. Of course, her story is really the story of the thousands of USPTO employees who have embraced teleworking to everyone’s benefit. We all will be pulling for Danette when they announce the winners on September 13th.

Monday Apr 16, 2012

We Mean Business About Diversity

Blog by Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO David Kappos

April is Celebrate Diversity Month, and in the spirit of this month, I want to take this opportunity to provide you with updates on various diversity initiatives underway at the USPTO.
 
On Tuesday, April 17, the USPTO is hosting the first-ever White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (WHIAPPI) Federal Sector Conference. The WHIAPPI conference theme is “Empowering Asian American and Pacific Islander Communities through Federal Service.” We are expecting attendance of up to 400 government employees.
 
Last December, I shared with you the good news about our efforts to improve the retention of patent examiners beyond their probationary period through the New Examiner Mentoring Program pilot, a voluntary, peer-based program. I am pleased to report that we will soon be kicking off an expanded pilot mentoring program through the support of the USPTO's associated affinity groups and the Patent and Trademark Office Society. The New Examiner Mentoring Program 2.0 will pair mentors with new patent examiners arriving in May. As I previously mentioned, when we look at the benefits associated with retaining examiners -- who are costly to recruit and on-board, we are quite optimistic about the pilot’s expansion.
 
In addition to our diversity and inclusion programs within USPTO, I want to take a moment to highlight our diversity efforts beyond the USPTO. For example, Chief Judge of the BPAI James Smith joined Deputy Director Rea at the Minority Corporate Counsel Association (MCCA) Continuing Legal Education Expo in Chicago. Deputy Director Rea and Chief Judge Smith participated on discussion panels presenting to a diverse audience of IP professionals.
 
In addition to the MCCA, we are working on sending USPTO representatives to present at several important conferences as follows: The National Bar Association; the National Asian and Pacific American Bar Association; the National Black Chamber of Commerce; Blacks in Government National Training Conference; Out in Science, Technology & Math; the Society of Women Engineers; the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers; and the American Indian Science and Engineering Society.
 
In response to fiscal year 2012 hiring goals, our Office of Equal Employment Opportunity and Diversity (OEEOD) has launched an important diversity hiring initiative, now underway. In advance of USPTO recruiters reaching college campuses, a member of the OEEOD contacts university engineering organizations, such as the National Society of Black Engineers or the Society of Women Engineers, to provide them with a personalized invitation to meet with our recruiters, along with our recruitment schedule. We hope that this diversity outreach will get the word out about the USPTO through diverse networks on college campuses and, in turn, encourage more students from diverse backgrounds to apply for positions at USPTO.
 
We can all be proud of USPTO's inclusive culture in which diversity is welcomed, encouraged, and appreciated. Enjoy this month’s theme, and celebrate diversity!

Thursday Mar 22, 2012

Recruiting for Innovation

Guest Blog by USPTO Chief Administrative Officer Patricia Richter

USPTO is on the move. The enactment of the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act has allowed the USPTO to launch several transformative initiatives that are not only making it easier for businesses to navigate the patenting and trademark processes—but also helping the U.S. usher groundbreaking innovations to the marketplace, faster. Inherent in the realization of this goal is our ability to attract and retain top talent.
 
The agency is actively seeking exceptional individuals for patent examiner positions. We’re looking for individuals who hold (or will within the next 12 months) engineering and science degrees in a variety of disciplines. We are also seeking candidates who have accredited state law degrees and experience with intellectual property law. As we all know, a career as a patent examiner at the USPTO is one where we can—quite literally—imagine the possibilities. We represent one of the world’s largest and most sought-after patent systems, conducting research and interacting with applicants who are working on inventive, modern breakthroughs. And we offer a benefits package that is highly competitive with strong salaries, promotion potential, and access to bonus programs, paid overtime, top notch healthcare and retirement plans. Furthermore, we frequently hear positive comments on the work/life balance we achieve here, with access to telework, alternative work schedules, world-class fitness centers and onsite childcare—elements that are hard to put a price on.

Meanwhile, the agency has a goal to hire 10 percent of its total recruits from our nation’s veteran and transitioning military servicemember population. Veterans who transition into the civilian workforce have a strong track record of success at USPTO, with robust training and instruction and access to a USPTO Military Association made up of individuals who can help mentor you as you grow.

Additionally, we’re excited to open our first satellite office in Detroit, Michigan in July of this year. This is a great opportunity for new patent examiners to be a pioneering presence in the heart of America’s manufacturing sector. (Don't forget our Open House event in Detroit this Saturday!) While the big recruitment push is focused primarily on patent examiners, there are other exciting opportunities for IT professionals, trademark attorneys, and administrative patent judges, just to name a few.

Just like in our daily, mission-related work, we’re looking for ways to be innovative in our recruitment efforts as well. If you have ideas on how we can more effectively target exceptional candidates, we’d love to know. Please share them in the comments section below. And you can learn more about a career with the USPTO and see our job vacancies at USPTOcareers.gov.

Monday Mar 12, 2012

National Export Initiative Second Anniversary

Blog by Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO David Kappos

This week marks the second anniversary of the National Export Initiative (NEI), established by President Obama with the ambitious goal of doubling U.S. exports by 2014. The United States Patent and Trademark Office plays an important role in three of the initiative’s central efforts: removing barriers for American businesses and expanding their access to foreign markets, providing global education and training to better enforce trade rules, and promoting trade and exports.

Removing Barriers and Expanding Access

The USPTO has worked hard to reduce the amount of time it takes to get a new product or technology from the lab to the market, where it can spawn new industries, generate sales, and create new jobs. An important part of that process takes place at the USPTO, where examiners study the novelty of patent applications to ensure that a proposed intellectual property (IP) is suitably unique and therefore demands the legal protection of a U.S. patent. Since the establishment of the NEI, our agency has implemented several major initiatives to make that examination process faster and more efficient: 

1) Following passage of the America Invents Act, the USPTO began an accelerated examination program known as Track One that allows businesses of all sizes to bring their technologies to the marketplace faster and more efficiently than ever before—offering decisions on patent applications in under 12 months, and 50% discounts for small enterprises using the option. Since its inception we’ve received 2,311 patent applications and more than 713 entrepreneurs have taken advantage of those discounts. During that time we completed 1,196 first office actions in an average of 35.8 days and issued a total of 14 completed patents.

2) The First Action Interview program encourages applicants to meet with examiners earlier on to work through potential issues and bring greater certainty to a product’s IP rights. To date about 2,900 innovators have benefitted from this kind of direct communication with the USPTO. The “first action allowance rate” (the average rate of applications initially determined to be patentable) for those who use the program is 24.9%, a significant improvement over the 11% chance for applicants not using the program and a strong boost to getting new ideas and innovations into development and the marketplace.

3) Under our Green Tech pilot program, nearly 3,500 patent applications addressing 21st-century energy and environmental challenges were fast-tracked and reviewed in about 10 months. With about 890 U.S. patents issued to date, the program is an important step forward in expanding our “green-collar” economy—one of President Obama’s signature goals—and making the United States a responsible world citizen and exporter of renewable energy technologies.

4) Additionally, a series of international work-sharing agreements called the Patent Prosecution Highway has helped more than 9,300 patent applications receive IP protections in 22 different countries—faster and at a lower cost. This kind of international collaboration is especially important in breaking down the legal barriers that exist for smaller companies trying to export their products into a global economy.

Education and Training on Enforcement of Trade Rules

The USPTO places a high priority on the effective enforcement of IP rights throughout the world and is working to enforce global trade rules on a number of fronts. Through our IP Attaché Program we have placed seven IP attachés in U.S. embassies throughout the world—two in Geneva, one in Thailand, one in Brazil, one in India and two in China—to improve regional IP enforcement efforts for American businesses competing abroad. The Attachés have worked to introduce legislation in countries to strengthen criminal IP laws and have ensured that governments maintain patent protection for certain inventions in U.S.-heavy export areas. The ongoing implementation of country-specific action plans by our IP Attachés is a key step towards the NEI’s goal of enforcing trade rules.

The USPTO also initiated the Strategy for Targeting Organized Piracy (STOP). In addition to targeting the criminal enterprises responsible for counterfeiting and piracy, STOP assists U.S. businesses in recognizing, protecting, and enforcing their IP rights abroad through a one-stop hotline and resource center, and through numerous outreach and education events.

We are also working with counterpart offices in Europe and Japan on the Trilateral Identification Project, a harmonized system that simplifies the process for obtaining trademark registrations in multiple jurisdictions and makes it easier for businesses to protect their brands worldwide. To date there are about 13,000 entries, with approximately 50 to 100 new entries added per month. The Russian Federation, South Korea, Mexico, the Philippines, Canada, and Singapore have all recently signed on to the project. By creating greater consistency in trademark registration practices, this USPTO-led effort is helping promote a set of international “best-practices” for regulating trademark law and reduces the threat of “copycat brands” that imitate American products.

In addition, we are establishing an Enforcement Working Group to increase inter-departmental collaboration in effectively enforcing trade rules abroad. And by partnering with the International Trade Administration (ITA), we’re helping build a set of metrics that tracks how effectively trade rules are being followed abroad, and collaborating to implement programs that protect IP for American businesses while facilitating their expansion into foreign markets.

Promoting Trade

To promote trade, the USPTO operates a number of training programs to bring awareness and tools to businesses seeking to engage overseas markets. Through the Trademark Assistance Center we provide general information about the U.S. trademark registration process and respond to inquiries about the status of trademark applications and registrations abroad. And in 2012, our agency is instituting an initiative to educate Minority Business Development Agency Centers through 15 outreach events that train businesses on how to navigate the IP terrain in China—with the goal of helping minority American businesses get their products into the fastest-growing consumer market in the world.

What does this litany of programs mean to American citizens and taxpayers who are not inventors or entrepreneurs? It means that the USPTO—one of only two fee-funded agencies in the U.S. government�����is delivering real and measurable results in our economic recovery. Exporting the fruits of American innovation from the lab to the global marketplace faster, more efficiently and with greater clarity means more new products, more profits for entrepreneurs, and more employees they can afford to hire. At the same time, stronger protection for their brands and products overseas multiplies the effect—more profits, more jobs, and more economic growth.

The NEI is an ambitious and epic undertaking worthy of our nation’s greatness, and the men and women of the USPTO are working hard on behalf of U.S. citizens to make sure it succeeds—and succeed it will.

Wednesday Feb 29, 2012

In Celebration of Women Entrepreneurs

Guest blog by Deputy Director Teresa Stanek Rea

It was about one year ago that I was appointed Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Deputy Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). When I started working here last March one of my first charges was to give opening remarks at the 1st Annual Women’s Entrepreneurship Symposium co-hosted by the USPTO and the United States Women's Chamber of Commerce (USWCC). At the event, I had the pleasure of meeting U.S. Senator Mary L. Landrieu (D-La.), chair of the Senate’s Small Business Committee, who served as the symposium’s keynote speaker. What an amazing way to begin my journey here at the USPTO!

Now, one year later, I am excited to be able to blog about some of the special activities that are happening for Women’s History Month this year. To kick off the month, the USPTO and the National Women’s Business Council (NWBC) will be paying tribute to women whose ingenuity and inventions have improved our lives. "Women Entrepreneurs: Celebrating the Past, Inventing the Future," is being held March 1 in the USPTO’s Madison building auditorium in Alexandria, Va., and is open to the public. The event will highlight the passage of the America Invents Act and one provision specifically that allows the USPTO to begin tracking the gender of patent applicants.

Tracking the gender of patent applicants is of particular interest to NWBC, because they recently commissioned a comprehensive study on women who applied for and received patents or trademarks over the last 35 years. The results of this study will be released at the March 1 event, but preliminary findings already indicate that the number of women obtaining patents has accelerated in recent years. The largest spike came in 2010, when 22,984 patents were granted to women, a 35 percent jump over the previous year.

Meanwhile, a new exhibit will be opening from our friends from the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame (NIHF) on “Feminine Ingenuity – How Women Inventors are Changing our World.” The exhibit highlights how women inventors have changed our world. It features 19 women inductees of the NIHF and their significant innovations that have changed the way we work and live.

Later in the month in Shreveport, Louisiana, the USPTO will sponsor its 2nd Annual Women’s Entrepreneur Symposium. The symposium provides opportunity to learn about patents and trademarks, get tips from experienced inventors, as well as gather important information on how to start or grow a business in the 21st century. It will focus on women entrepreneurs, the importance of IP protection for their innovations, and how to leverage economic opportunities for women-owned businesses. Agenda topics will include IP in the global marketplace, strategies to leverage IP assets, accessing financial resources, driving business growth by leveraging business relationships, and federal contracting. The conference will be held March 25 - 26 and Senator Landrieu will participate once again. 

There are also more intimate events that may be of interest to you. On March 3, the USPTO is partnering with the Smithsonian Institution to present a Family Day program entitled “Women’s History Month:  A Celebration of Innovation and Invention.” The program will be held in the Kogod Courtyard of the National Portrait Gallery, the building that once was the home of the USPTO, and will feature musical performances, historical interpretations, and an inventors’ corner with hands-on art, science, and engineering activities.  

On March 10, the USPTO will host a panel discussion of the Girl Scout Research Institute Generation STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) report that was released in February. We are doing this in collaboration with the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital and the Mid Atlantic Girls Collaborative (MAGIC) organization. The event will include volunteers, leaders, teen girls, community partners, and others in the GSUSA STEM network. And on March 12, the 100th anniversary of Girl Scouts, two local Brownie troops will be coming to the museum and the USPTO for a visit to see the Women’s History Month display and conduct an experiment in connection with earning their Inventor’s Badge. 

It should be an exciting month at the USPTO and as a scientist and a patent attorney, I am glad to see all these activities celebrating women involved in STEM activities. I hope you will join me in celebrating Women’s History Month.

Friday Feb 17, 2012

Finding America's Top Innovators

Blog by Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO David Kappos

Throughout history, innovation has been the driving force behind improving the human condition. Creative minds in areas as diverse as medicine, transportation, agriculture, energy and computer science have developed and delivered new technologies to better the lives of generation after generation.

The United States, in its law and culture, has recognized the importance of innovation from its earliest days. The Constitution directly emphasizes the promotion of “science and useful arts.” New and advanced technologies are a source of national pride, and innovators are honored for their achievements.

Since 1985, presidents of the United States have formally recognized America’s creative pioneers by awarding them the National Medal of Technology and Innovation, the highest honor that can be attained for making contributions to America's competitiveness, standard of living, and quality of life through advances in what the Framers called “the useful arts.”

Steve Wozniak, who, with Steve Jobs, was awarded one of the first Medals, had this to say of the honor: “The National Medal of Technology hits at the sort of science and development that really changes life for Americans. It represents not only great scientific breakthroughs in technology areas (and a great deal of sweat) but also the importance of such breakthroughs in an economic sense. These are the technologies that really change how we live and lead to higher quality lives.”

In keeping with this tradition of recognition, and to encourage future progress, the USPTO now seeks nominations for the 2012 National Medal of Technology and Innovation. Nominees will be judged on the basis of how their contributions to the nation’s economic, environmental and social well-being have advanced the development and commercialization of technological products, processes and concepts, technological innovation, and the strengthening of the nation’s technological work force.

Anyone can make a nomination for the National Medal of Technology and Innovation by submitting the nomination form and six letters of support at www.uspto.gov/about/nmti/guidelines.jsp. However, the deadline is fast approaching; nominations will close on March 31, 2012.

Monday Feb 13, 2012

In Celebration of Black History

Blog by Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO David Kappos

Every year, Black History Month provides a golden opportunity for employees of the United States Patent and Trademark Office to remember and honor the invaluable contributions African-Americans have made, and continue to make, to the success of the American Experiment—the proposition, to use President Lincoln’s famous words, “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Among those to whom we owe our nation’s success are a number of innovative African-Americans who distinguished themselves in the field of intellectual property, even before the American Civil War and Emancipation. Although slaves were prohibited from receiving patents on their inventions in the antebellum period, free black inventors were not. Thomas L. Jennings, born in 1791, was 30 when he received a patent for a dry-cleaning process, making him what historians believe was the first black inventor to receive a patent. Jennings’s income went mostly to his abolitionist activities, and in 1831 he became assistant secretary for the First Annual Convention of the People of Color in Philadelphia.

Judy W. Reed patented a hand-operated machine for kneading and rolling dough. She was the first known African-American woman to obtain a patent. Granville T. Woods invented more than a dozen devices to improve electric railway cars and many more for controlling the flow of electricity. George Washington Carver developed about 100 products made from peanuts, including cosmetics, dyes, paints, plastics, gasoline, and nitroglycerin. Madame C. J. Walker and Marjorie Joyner revolutionized the hair care and cosmetics industry through their innovations.

Since the 1830s, when Anthony Bowen became the first black patent clerk, thousands of African-Americans have served at the USPTO, including Henry Baker, an assistant patent examiner who was dedicated to uncovering and publicizing the contributions of black inventors. Around 1900, the patent office conducted a survey to gather information about black inventors and their inventions. Letters were sent to patent attorneys, company presidents, newspaper editors, and prominent African-Americans. Baker recorded the replies and his research provided the information used to select black inventions for exhibition at the World’s Fair in Chicago and the Southern Exposition in Atlanta.

Today, approximately 22 percent of USPTO employees are African-American. Sometime this year the USPTO will cross an historic threshold, employing more than 1,000 African-American scientists and engineers. 

One of these truly exceptional employees is Patricia Carter Sluby: a freelance writer, registered patent agent, lecturer, past president of the National Intellectual Property Law Association, and a former primary patent examiner. She received a Bachelor of Science in chemistry from Virginia Union University, pursued graduate studies at Fisk and American universities, and worked as a chemist at the Radiocarbon Dating Laboratory of the U.S. Geological Survey before becoming a patent examiner in the fields of chemistry and chemical engineering. From 1979 to 1980, while Patricia was a Science and Technology Fellow for the Commerce Department, she drafted a bill (H.R. 6735) on the staff of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Domestic Monetary Policy Subcommittee. She was also a technical advisor on the independent film, From Dreams to Reality: A Tribute to Minority Inventors, and has received numerous awards, including the Norbert Rillieux Presidential Award from the National Patent Law Association, the Employee of the Year award from the Commerce Department for her outstanding contributions to Minority Enterprise, the USPTO’s Equal Employment Opportunity Award, and the Bronze Medal Award for superior government service.

As a primary patent examiner, Patricia was surprised to learn of the contributions and improvements that African-American inventions have made in every field of endeavor, and of their ubiquitous impact on our way of life. Her books—The Inventive Spirit of African Americans: Patented Ingenuity and Creativity and Inventions: The Genius of Afro-Americans and Women in the United States and Their Patents—chronicle these accomplishments and pay homage to the inventive spirit, creativity, and entrepreneurship of countless African-Americans.

Last Thursday, thanks to the superb efforts of the USPTO's Black History Month Planning Committee, our staff celebrated the achievements of remarkable African-American women like Madame C.J. Walker, Zora Neal Hurston, Gwendolyn Brooks, Bessie Coleman and, of course, Rosa Parks, all of whom played such an immensely important role in American history and culture. Innovation and greatness cannot happen without a firm and principled commitment to diversity and opportunity—a self-evident truth for the USPTO, as well as our nation.

Thursday Jan 26, 2012

No Time for Gridlock at USPTO

Blog by Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO David Kappos

In an era where bitter partisan divide can often inhibit action in Washington, one need look no further than the United States patent system to observe how government can work to provide real and meaningful results for Americans. Since the enactment of the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act—bipartisan legislation signed into law by President Obama last September—USPTO in cooperation with our stakeholder community has been launching transformative initiatives to improve the way Americans innovate, and the way the USPTO handles those innovations. And before the ink of the President's signature had even dried, we hit the ground running in rebuilding our intellectual property system from the ground up.
 
We have already implemented seven provisions of this huge federal legislation—all on time—and we are in the process of getting draft rules out for ten more right now. We're building out a dynamic IT infrastructure and we've been hiring more examiners to aggressively tackle our patent backlog. We've submitted two studies to Congress, analyzing rights available to manufacturers (prior user rights) and international protections for small businesses. And just yesterday, I joined Chief Judge Randall Rader of the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit and Chief Judge James Smith of the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences to welcome 14 new administrative jurists to the Board. These new judges will help the Office aggressively tackle the backlog of appeals waiting at our Board.

More generally, our Board will be instrumental in shaping a new in-house review process for challenging granted patents—a process that is much faster and less expensive than litigation. For both our post-grant review process and our inter partes review process, we’re building state of the art procedures that will balance the interests of third party challengers and patent owners—all within a 12-month time frame.

We have also launched an examination acceleration program (Track I) that is allowing patent applications to be reviewed in 12 months, and offers small businesses a discount on this service. We have already started putting out office actions and even issuing patents under Track I, which is enabling new technologies, new industries and new markets to blossom quicker than ever before. And we’ve pushed our unexamined patent application backlog down to about 660,000.

Our Trademarks team continues to perform at world-best level, handling record numbers of new applications last year, launching a 21st century total quality program that would keep pace with any private sector equivalent, and serving as voice and conduit for US brand-owners small and large, west and east, south and north.

This is action. These are results. The growing, dedicated, professional staff of the USPTO is unquestionably productive and is meeting the challenges before us. Yes, there is much left to do and many challenges ahead. But I simply can’t stress enough that the USPTO is on the move. Even in an era of partisan rifts, government can and is working to advance American industry and American ingenuity.

Friday Jan 06, 2012

Full Speed Ahead for 2012

Blog by Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO David Kappos

Happy New Year and welcome back from what I hope was a restful holiday break!
 
As I wrote in my last blog entry, 2011 was a year of historic achievements for our Agency, none of which would have been possible without the hard work and dedication of the entire USPTO team.  Once again, and simply: THANK YOU. 
 
We have strong momentum heading into 2012, and I want to capitalize on that momentum to the fullest. In that spirit I’d like to take a few moments to discuss what lies ahead and how we can make this another great year for the American inventor, the American economy and the American intellectual property community.
 
The mission of the USPTO is clearly stated in our Strategic Plan: fostering innovation, competitiveness and economic growth, domestically and abroad, by delivering high quality and timely examination of patent and trademark applications, guiding domestic and international intellectual property policy, and delivering intellectual property information and education worldwide, with a highly skilled, diverse workforce. It is important to remind ourselves of these words at the beginning of a new year, as they orient our efforts toward a common purpose.
 
Consider the superb progress we are making to reduce our backlog of unexamined patent applications, with an emphasis on resolving the oldest cases as expeditiously as possible. While reducing the backlog is an important goal in itself, it is absolutely critical to our Agency’s mission of fostering innovation, competitiveness and economic growth. Our daily work here is vital to the nation’s economic recovery.
 
Similarly, in our Trademarks operation, we will keep up the stellar momentum in excellent office actions, responding to increased filings, and leading the way on global enforcement issues such as in areas of counterfeiting and piracy, to ensure that American businesses can protect their brands and reap the full rewards of their initiative and creativity.
 
The continuing implementation of the America Invents Act (AIA) makes it imperative that our employees be prepared with the training, knowledge, and hands-on experience necessary for us to crisply implement this landmark legislation.
 
In our legal department, we'll be advocating for strong and balanced IP legal interpretations and advancing the IP laws generally, through close cooperation between the Solicitor's Office and the Trademarks and Patents teams as applicable, and with proactive policy support from our External Affairs team.
 
Our productive engagements with partner agencies overseas will continue as we collaborate on key projects like our Cooperative Patent Classification (CPC) initiative with the European Patent Office, the Patent Prosecution Highway (PPH) with a growing host of countries as diverse as Japan, Australia, China, and Russia. We’re also looking forward to working with the other members of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) to advance an international treaty protecting the rights of audio/visual performers, at what will be the first IP diplomatic conference in a decade.
 
Long gone are the days when patent and trademark offices worked in isolation from one another. Now more than ever, we must think and act as concerned citizens of a global IP community. That’s also why we will continue to advance our global patent law harmonization agenda that works towards greater efficiency and quality in patenting across multiple jurisdictions—and does so in a way that incorporates the views, processes, and perspectives of both developing and developed nations.
 
Finally, we will continue to deploy new, state-of-the-art technologies at the USPTO to improve our information technology systems and support infrastructure which is instrumental to optimizing the quality of our trademark and patent examination work, and the efficiency with which our user communities conduct business with the Office.
 
We have made a lot of progress with an extremely talented team of dedicated professionals. With the increased confidence that comes from success, I have no doubt we will go even farther in 2012.
 
We get big things done around here. If you thought 2011 was a great year for team USPTO, you ain’t seen nothing yet!

Wednesday Dec 21, 2011

2011 Was Quite a Year

Blog by Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO David Kappos

As December draws to a close and we reflect on all that we’ve accomplished, it’s difficult to imagine a more historic year for the United States Patent and Trademark Office than 2011. The dedication and hard work of our talented public servants has enabled the Agency to make significant strides in the quality, efficiency, and certainty of patents and trademarks granted to technological enterprises. And our collaboration with the small business community has allowed us to level the competitive playing field by offering new tools and resources for independent inventors to acquire intellectual property rights with more ease. So with the holiday season upon us, I want to take a moment to recount what our extended USPTO family has helped accomplish for American inventors and American innovation.

For the first time in several years, the Patent and Trademark Office was able to reduce the backlog of unexamined patent applications to below 665,000, a remarkable achievement considering the 5 percent increase in patent applications filings in FY2011. Through improved practices and processes, we are on track to push the backlog down even further, helping deliver new technologies to the marketplace faster, which in turn spurs job creation and drives economic growth for our country.

Moreover, under our Green Technology Pilot Program, the USPTO recently issued the program’s 500th patent for a wind turbine rotor blade—yet another important step forward in advancing the Administration’s goal of doubling our nation’s renewable energy capacity. Through our commitment to green technologies, environmental quality and renewable energy, we are able to spur innovation and help create new jobs that provide our world with sustainable alternatives to harmful energy practices.

We’ve even harnessed the power of the Internet and the global technology community to strengthen the patent examination process by expanding our Peer-to-Patent (P2P) pilot program. This initiative improves the quality of the American IP process by allowing outside subject matter experts to contribute prior art—expanding the scope of our examination process. In an era of Wikipedia and crowd-sourcing, not only does this model allow the USPTO to stand ahead of the patenting curve by including inventive ways to improve patent quality, but it also increases our overall transparency—a goal vital to the Administration’s Open Government initiative.

It’s also why we’re proud of tools like our Dashboard and our newly revamped website. Such features give visitors real access to tools for navigating the IP system, and real insight into our performance, whether it’s the state of our backlog, inventory positions, or pendency. Ultimately, this doesn’t just show the public where we stand, it also motivates us to take an honest look at how differing processes are faring in terms of efficacy and efficiency—and improve upon them. Measures like the Dashboard and P2P help make our government more transparent and accountable to the American people.

And in Trademarks, for the fifth consecutive year, our outstanding Trademark Organization exceeded its pendency targets for first action and final disposition. Notably, the new “Excellent Office Action” quality measure—which indicates comprehensive quality of the First Office Action search strategy, evidence, writing and decision making—came in at 23.6 percent, handily exceeding the goal of 15 percent. In addition, Trademarks continued to meet and exceed its pendency goals and achieved an increase in the use of electronic filing and processing.

I am also very proud of the teamwork behind the highly successful 2011 National Trademark Expo, which attracted more than 15,000 people—our largest attendance to date—and featured more than 27 exhibitors, a 50 percent increase from previous years. Events like this help educate the public about the importance of IP and its ubiquitous role in our society.

In addition to these accomplishments, this year also marked the historic passage of the America Invents Act. This sweeping legislation, signed into law by President Obama in September, equips the USPTO with the resources necessary to operate an efficient IP system that processes patent applications and issues high-quality patents quickly. By transitioning to a simpler, more objective, and more inventor-friendly system of issuing patents, the new law helps ensure that independent inventors and small entities have greater clarity and certainty over their property rights and will be able to navigate the patent system on a more equitable footing with large enterprises.

The AIA also allows the USPTO to implement a fast-track examination option under which the patent examination process will be completed within 12 months. Getting a key patent can be critical to an entrepreneur hoping to raise capital and grow their business, with 76 percent of startups in the US reporting that venture capital investors consider patents when they make funding decisions. So with over 2,000 applications already submitted under the new acceleration program, many hundreds of office actions mailed and over 20 notices of allowance, businesses of all sizes are already leveraging the new tool to develop, grow and market their products and services with unprecedented swiftness, under the AIA.

For the first time, the USPTO has the ability to recover the actual costs of the services it provides, and a reserve fund, solely for the Agency’s use, to access all of those fees. These provisions have allowed us to hire and train new personnel, educate examiners and the public about changes to the USPTO review process, aggressively modernize our IT infrastructure, expedite application processing and issue higher-quality patents—all without adding a dime to the national deficit.

The bi-partisan passage of the Leahy-Smith American Invents Act and its tangible impact on the way we do business shows that government can work, fostering innovation, investment and job creation for the benefit of all. It has also led to strengthened work-sharing programs with other patent agencies overseas through the Patent Prosecution Highway (PPH), which allows each office to benefit from work previously done by others, reducing examination workload and improving patent quality. The expedited examination in each office also allows applicants to obtain corresponding patents faster and more efficiently in each country. 

In the last few weeks alone we’ve announced a number of PPH programs with our international partners, including a landmark work-sharing agreement with China’s State Intellectual Property Office (SIPO) under the Paris Convention (“Paris Route”) and the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT). The agreement comes at a very opportune time as China and the United States together make up a significant global market share for patent stakeholders.

For a more exhaustive look at these and other accomplishments, I encourage you to take the time to read our Performance and Accountability Report for 2011.

While all of these efforts point to our country’s commitment to innovation, perhaps no one event of the year tells that story better than the USPTO’s issuance of Patent No. 8,000,000—a sight restoration tool that gives the blind greater independence in their daily lives. It took 75 years to get from patent No. 1 to patent 1 million, yet just over five years to go from patent 7 million to 8 million. So beyond aiding the blind, this remarkable milestone is a testament to the enduring American spirit of innovation—a spirit that continues to unleash new breakthroughs, new markets and new economic opportunities.

That’s why we remain committed to building the world’s strongest Patent and Trademark Office, and that’s why we’re excited about some of the new challenges we face in the year ahead. For the first time in the history of the Agency, the USPTO will be opening a satellite office outside of the nation’s capital. The Elijah J. McCoy U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in Detroit will provide a significant boost to that city’s innovation economy with more than 100 technologically-focused, secure jobs. And more satellite offices will soon follow, in other cities throughout the nation. The goals of this ambitious expansion are to improve the hiring, recruitment and retention of top-quality Patent Examiners, to recruit directly in other geographic areas in the U.S. where engineering talent exists, and to increase our interaction with the IP community. 

While continuing to improve the diversity and talent of our workforce, we are also drafting a “Green Paper” on copyright policy in the digital era, in order to ensure that the 21st century best balances strong IP protections with the free flow of information over the Internet. Additionally, in 2012 we’ll draft a broader-based “National IP Strategy” to outline this Administration’s key IP priorities, our plan to improve patent protection for small businesses at home, and our efforts to increase our engagement with China on issues of IP enforcement.

Finally, after soliciting public comment on the America Invents Act and seeking input from a variety of stakeholders, we will complete the rulemaking to establish a new post-grant review process that is faster and significantly cheaper than costly and prolonged litigation—resolving questions about patent rights more efficiently. Unlike the re-examination process available today, the new post-grant review will allow issues of “subject matter” to be looked at and revamp the existing inter partes review system to adjudicate claims within 12 months; earlier resolution of disputes will weed out poor-quality patents sooner and add greater certainty to the US patent system.   

For all that we’ve accomplished and the great things yet to come, the credit is due to the talent, dedication, and innovative spirit of USPTO employees who are working hard every day to produce positive results for the American people and our economy. I couldn’t be more proud to be part of such an outstanding team of professionals, and I truly look forward to another historic year with the world’s first and only 21st Century Patent and Trademark Office.

Happy Holidays!

Monday Dec 19, 2011

A Farewell Message

Guest blog by USPTO Commissioner for Patents Bob Stoll 

Earlier this month, with a mixture of excitement and sadness, I submitted my letter of resignation as Commissioner for Patents, effective Dec. 31. I can say without reservation that it was an honor to serve as Commissioner for the past two years and at the USPTO for the bulk of my career. During my tenure leading the Patents organization we achieved some lofty goals, including the reduction of our patent backlog to less than 670,000, in spite of a five percent increase in filings, and we are on a trajectory to eliminate unacceptable backlogs in the future.

But the achievement that cheers me the most is the major culture shift we nurtured in the USPTO toward a more collaborative environment—supervisors mentoring examiners, examiners helping applicants, and the technical support folks helping move applications through the system. Through training, educating, establishing joint work efforts, and undertaking listening campaigns we have created a truly 21st-century agency that is lauded for its service and highly praised by applicants, bloggers, unions and the public at large. The USPTO is now regarded as a top employer, listed 19th in the annual ranking of Best Places to Work in the Federal Government.

The bi-partisan passage of the America Invents Act was a seminal event in patent history, the culmination of many years of discussion within the diverse patent community. Together we created a patent system that provides inventors with more certainty that they will reap the benefits of their labors while at the same time providing more information and products to the citizens of the world. This new patent framework will aid in the creation of new jobs and the recovery of our economy, and I am very proud to have been a part of its enactment and implementation.

I want to acknowledge the contributions of my mentor, boss and friend, Director Kappos, to my success as Commissioner for Patents. His leadership and vision are unparalleled in government service. He encourages thoughtful risk-taking and creative solutions to cure the ills of the agency. I will truly miss the almost hourly discussions, including weekends and holidays, about ways to improve the USPTO.

As I move on to other opportunities, I will also miss the rest of my friends at the USPTO and Department of Commerce, but I will still be a strong proponent of the great work being done here and a vocal participant in the patent dialogue as we continue to improve this system for the benefit of all.

Good luck to you all, and thank you for your great work and friendship.

Friday Dec 09, 2011

Investing in our Newest Employees Pays Dividends

Blog by Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO David Kappos

I have some good news to share about our efforts to improve the retention of patent examiners past their probationary period. New employees seem to be most vulnerable to attrition during their first three years with the USPTO. So a little over a year ago, we established the New Examiner Mentoring Program pilot, designed to help new employees transition into the USPTO and even the Washington, D.C. area if they were moving to the community as new residents. Fifty of the examiners who joined us on either August 30 or September 27 last year requested a mentor. Most mentors were selected from the agency’s network of 11 affinity groups.

Throughout the probationary period for these new employees, affinity groups held structured enrichment sessions on soft topics – things of interest in D.C., transitioning to the technology center, etc. In the end, attrition of examiners with mentors was 4% (2 out of 50), compared to 8.4% (7 out of 83) for examiners without mentors. The program sustained itself without use of nonproduction time.

These results are leading us to expand the New Examiner Mentoring Program pilot to 200 new examiners in FY 2012, partnering with the Patent and Trademark Office Society, and acquiring mentor-matching software. When we look at the benefits associated with retaining examiners who are costly to recruit and on-board, we are quite optimistic about expanding this pilot project.

Wednesday Nov 09, 2011

Office of Policy and External Affairs Fiscal Year 2011 Dashboard Overview

Guest blog by Al Tramposch, OPEA Administrator

The 2011 fiscal year recently came to a close and the Office of Policy and External Affairs (OPEA) is excited to share its progress in strengthening and enforcing intellectual property policy and protection both domestically and internationally. OPEA has had an especially productive year by supporting passage of the America Invents Act in Congress and taking initial steps to implement the new law, while continuing our goal of increased collaboration with global IP Offices. The latest comprehensive statistics on OPEA’s efforts can be found on our Policy and External Affairs dashboard.

As I explained in previous blog posts, the dashboard provides you with access to important metrics we track – such as the number of Patent Prosecution Highway (PPH) cases filed with the USPTO, as well as the number of programs, officials, and represented countries trained by the Global Intellectual Property Academy (GIPA). We believe collaboration with other countries can result in more efficient global intellectual property protection and enforcement systems so we are active participants in the PPH and the Patent Cooperation Treaty – Patent Prosecution Highway (PCT-PPH) projects.

PPH is a framework in which an application whose claims have been determined to be patentable in one country’s patent office is eligible to go through an accelerated examination in another country’s patent office. Under the PCT-PPH, patent applicants can request a fast-track examination procedure in participating offices where patent examiners can make use of the work products from other offices.

This past fiscal year the number of requests for PPH has increased by greater than 67%, and the number of requests for PCT-PPH has increased by nearly 300%.

Educational programs are instrumental in our efforts to strengthen intellectual property protection and enforcement worldwide. Through GIPA programs, foreign officials learn about international IP obligations and norms, and are exposed to a U.S. model of protecting and enforcing IP rights and discussion of IP issues in a collaborative learning environment.

In fiscal year 2011, OPEA staff conducted 149 programs for more than 5,300 participants. These programs included foreign officials from 138 countries – 16 more than last year. We are proud to report that this is a 100% increase in the number of training programs from last year with an increase of nearly 20% in participants. Our dashboard also provides specific countries represented by attendees each month here.

Thank you for following the OPEA’s progress and please contact us with any feedback on how we could improve our public access dashboard.

Monday Jun 20, 2011

New Pilot Program to Provide Pro-Bono Legal Assistance to Independent Inventors

Blog by Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO David Kappos

On June 8, it was my pleasure to participate in the kick-off of the Minnesota Pilot Pro-bono Inventor Assistance Program. The USPTO has worked with a committee of attorneys and a non-profit legal organization, LegalCORPS, to develop a pro-bono program to assist financially needy, independent inventors and small businesses in the Minnesota area. The Inventor Assistance Program is designed to provide IP legal services to individuals and businesses that otherwise may be unable to afford solid patent protection. With this pilot program, no qualifying independent inventor’s idea will perish for lack of access to competent IP counsel, and we expect examiners will receive better quality applications that they can examine more readily and effectively.
 
The Minnesota Pilot is the first of its kind in the US and perhaps globally, and we hope it’s a model we can grow. I envision many cities and regions and states across the country having similar programs within the next 5 years. There are already people lining up to learn about the Minnesota Pilot and we are actively talking with representatives from other cities hoping to replicate the LegalCORPS model.
 
The Minneapolis Pilot will ask inventors to put in some preparatory effort before they enter the program. Each participant will complete a training program on intellectual property and to conduct a patent search to determine if their idea is new. The USPTO’s website will host training modules on our independent inventor page.
 
An inventor can perform a search online using the USPTO website along with other online search engines, or they may visit a Patent and Trademark Depository Library (a list of them can be found on the USPTO website).
 
The Minnesota Pilot requires the filing of at least a provisional patent application to enroll. The program also limits participation to certain income levels, and requires participants to pay a small charge for administrative costs. Once these requirements are met, the inventor will be matched with an attorney who will provide legal assistance.
 
It is exciting and encouraging to see a project like the one in Minneapolis moved forward with such strong support. Not only has the IP bar made this a reality, but many pillars of the local business community have enthusiastically joined in with both financial and legal support. Jim Patterson of Patterson Thuente, Candee Goodman of Lindquist & Vennum, Michael Vitt of LegalCORPS, and their teams deserve congratulations and thanks for their leadership and action in getting this program off the ground.

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