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

Thursday Dec 13, 2012

USPTO Named One of Federal Government’s Best Places to Work

Guest blog by Chief Administrative Officer Frederick Steckler

Today our agency had the great honor to be named one of the U.S. Federal Government’s Best Places to Work today by the non-profit Partnership for Public Service (PPS), which ranked the USPTO # 5 out of 292 federal agency subcomponents based on a survey of more than 700,000 civil servants conducted earlier this year by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). The USPTO has climbed the rankings in recent years, from 105th in 2009, to 56th in 2010, to 19th in 2011—a remarkable achievement that speaks volumes about the dedication to excellence of every employee in our agency.

One large component of this success is our hugely successful telework program, which PPS recognized earlier this year with a nomination for its annual Samuel J. Heyman Service to America (Sammies) awards. This improved flexibility in work location for more than 64 percent of our workforce has reduced examiner turnover to historically low levels, increased examiner productivity, and saved the agency millions each year in overhead costs. Building collaborative team-based approaches to projects and increasing technical and leadership training opportunities have also paid huge dividends in improving the morale and effectiveness of our highly talented and creative employees. And of course thanks to the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act signed into law last year, the agency has been able to accelerate our hiring of patent examiners from just over 6,000 five years ago to nearly 8,000 patent examiners today. At the same time, our backlog of unexamined patent applications has dropped from 760,000 at the start of 2009 to 605,000 today—despite an increase in patent applications during that same period.

Last week, OPM released the results of the 2012 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (EVS). The USPTO had a 76 percent participation rate, and its scores had increased across all of the categories measured by the survey—including areas like Effective Leadership and Strategic Management—with the agency ranked in or near the top 10 percent in each category. This, too, is a tribute to the tireless dedication of our employees and agency leaders. Agency leadership is currently examining each of the categories in greater depth so we can improve or sustain those things that we are doing well and fix any problems that may have been identified in the survey responses. The business units will be preparing an overview of the results in their individual areas to share with employees.

If you conduct business with the USPTO and have the opportunity to interact with agency staff, you should know how truly fortunate we all are to have some of the most knowledgeable and hard-working employees anywhere in the federal government or the private sector. I join with Director Kappos in being very proud of the great work our managers, examiners, and other professionals have done these past few years, during a period of historic change for our nation’s intellectual property laws and our agency itself. As Director Kappos has said many times over the past few years, the three words you won’t hear around the USPTO is, “Business as usual.” The results of the EVS and PPS rankings prove that beyond any shadow of a doubt.

Monday Dec 03, 2012

USPTO Releases its FY 2012 Performance and Accountability Report (PAR)

Guest Blog by Tony Scardino, Chief Financial Officer

The USPTO has published its Performance and Accountability Report (PAR) for fiscal year (FY) 2012. Think of the PAR as our annual report, similar to what private sector companies prepare for their shareholders. Each year, the USPTO publishes this report to inform the public on the agency’s performance and financial health. Here at the USPTO, we take pride in producing a PAR that meets the highest standards of quality and accountability.

Our PAR charts our progress toward meeting three goals in our 2010-2015 USPTO Strategic Plan: optimizing patent quality and timeliness; optimizing trademark quality and timeliness; and providing domestic and global leadership to improve intellectual property policy, protection, and enforcement worldwide. These goals govern the quality and quantity of our service to intellectual property stakeholders. I’m proud to say that the USPTO met all 11 of its strategic goal performance targets in FY 2012. 

The PAR also contains a wealth of data and historical information of interest to our stakeholders, including data on patent and trademark examining activities, application filings, and agency staffing levels. This information is conveniently presented in the Workload Tables section at the end of the PAR.

On the issue of financial performance, FY 2012 marks the 20th consecutive year that the USPTO’s financial statements have received an unqualified audit opinion. Our clean audit opinion gives the public independent assurance that the information presented in the agency’s financial statements is fairly presented and follows generally accepted accounting principles. In addition, the auditors reported no material weaknesses in the USPTO’s internal controls, and no instances of non-compliance with laws and regulations affecting the financial statements.

The PAR is a record of our achievements, but it is also an honest discussion of the challenges we face as an agency moving forward in FY 2013. We will be proceeding with our fee setting efforts, implementing new training requirements in our patent examining corps, and encountering other challenges as we continue implementing the America Invents Act.

We hope you find value in the PAR as a faithful snapshot of our FY 2012 performance, and gain greater insight into our activities and accomplishments.

Thursday Nov 01, 2012

A Day Like Any Other...

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

“It is probably safe to say this week did not turn out like anyone had originally planned.” I first used those words in this blog more than two-and-a-half years ago when the “Snowmageddon” snowstorm crippled the Washington, D.C. area. And like February 2010, this week’s “Frankenstorm” of Hurricane Sandy brought much of the East Coast to a standstill.

Despite the emergency circumstances and federal government closures, the USPTO and its employees shifted gears and performed admirably, demonstrating our leadership in telework for government agencies. During a natural disaster that closes our offices, USPTO employees must first care for their homes and families. And yet once everything was in order this week, they still showed an extraordinary ability to carry on business as usual in the face of extreme challenges.

Despite the emergency government shut down on Monday and Tuesday, our patents and trademarks teams nonetheless averaged more than 70% productivity. A remarkable achievement, considering many of our examiners couldn’t participate because of widespread power outages. Our Trademark Assistance Center—the call center for trademark owners and attorneys to contact with general questions about the trademark process—was fully operational during the Hurricane Sandy closure, with 100% participation from the work-at-home employees.

This level of performance does not come easily and it does not come overnight. Under the guidance of our telework coordinator Danette Campbell, we created and implemented the systems and processes necessary for a premier telework program. Events like this week’s hurricane remind us how far we’ve come in service to the public and to our employees. And I thank our employees for the tremendous job they’ve done to make our telework program world class.

All of us at the USPTO are thinking of our families, friends, colleagues, and fellow Americans who are suffering hardships because of this natural disaster. We wish them comfort, safety, and a return to “normal” as soon as possible.

Thursday Oct 18, 2012

USPTO Harmonizes Professional Conduct Rules

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

Today I’d like to take up a topic that affects many of us, and one that is getting significant focus these days at the USPTO—our professional conduct rules. We are proposing to modernize our Code of Professional Responsibility for attorneys and agents. Admittedly, this move is overdue. The last substantial update was based on the ABA Model Code of Professional Responsibility. Since that time, decades ago, almost the entire country has moved to update their local bar rules to conform to the newer ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct.

In keeping with the mandates of the Leahy Smith America Invents Act of 2011, USPTO recognizes the concurrent need to follow nationally applicable standards of ethical and professional conduct. Additionally, our current proposal eliminates the annual practitioner maintenance fee.

Under our proposal, most ABA Model Rules provisions have been adopted wholesale or with minor revisions. By updating, streamlining, and conforming USPTO rules, the proposal harmonizes most practitioners’ professional responsibility obligations by aligning them with state bar requirements.

As an important consequence of adopting rules consistent with practitioners’ state bars, the USPTO will provide practitioners with uniform ethical obligations when practicing before the Office. Practitioners would no longer have to go back and forth between the old Model Code and the new Model Rules. Practitioners would also have the benefits of comments, annotations, case law and other resources to guide compliance. Moreover, the proposed rules, like the existing rules, largely serve to codify obligations that already apply to the practice of law under professional and fiduciary duties owed to clients.
 
A comparison chart of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct and the proposed USPTO Rules of Professional Conduct, along with information regarding future outreach, is located on the USPTO website.

We are eager to know what you think of the proposal. There is a 60-day comment period which closes on December 17, 2012. Comments should be sent by email to: ethicsrules.comments@uspto.gov. And while they won’t be entered into that record, you are also welcome to leave comments here on the blog.

Monday Aug 27, 2012

Up and Running in Detroit

Guest blog by Deputy Director Teresa Stanek Rea

Our first-ever USPTO satellite office is off and running. I saw evidence of that first-hand after a recent, post-opening visit to the Elijah J. McCoy satellite office in Detroit. The examiners and their colleagues on the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences (BPAI) are our first “western pioneers,” so I was curious about their experiences so far and it prompted my return to Detroit.

It was only mid-July when I participated in the opening of the office, and on my subsequent visit in August, patent examiners had recently finished their month-long training program in the lab and moved to their new offices. We are committed to ensuring that all our examiners, whether they are located in Alexandria or in our satellite offices have the tools they need to do the best job they can. And, indeed, they’re doing that job. In fact, when I visited in August they had already completed their first in-person examiner interview.

When I was there, I spent some time with our senior staff, including our Regional Manager Robin Evans and Resource SPE Boyer Ashley, who told me of the interview. It turns out that the examiner doing the interview works from home full time and lives in the Detroit region. The attorneys flew from Denver and Silicon Valley—coincidentally the location of two of our future satellite offices—for the interview, and the primary examiner participated via a video conference from his home office in Pennsylvania. At the conclusion of the interview, the attorneys were excited that they were the first interview held in the Detroit satellite office, and they were of course also pleased with the indication of possible allowable subject matter. This is a great example of how the Detroit USPTO and the future satellite offices will serve the needs of our entire country, engaging attorneys and applicants throughout the country and allowing our employees to telework or work in the satellite offices.

I also met with our BPAI (soon to be Patent Trial and Appeal Board) Detroit judges. I am a member of the Board, and I shared with them some of my experiences working on cases. We talked about the challenges they face using new software and procedures and familiarizing themselves with the BPAI’s procedures and systems. The Detroit judges are excited to be a part of our USPTO team and are looking forward to working with their Alexandria counterparts. They are especially looking forward to conducting oral hearings and conferencing cases using some of our collaborative software tools.

It was such a pleasure to me, a native of the Detroit area, to go home and see the great work that our folks are doing on the ground in Michigan. At the one-month mark, the USPTO Detroit satellite office is up and running and serving the needs of patent applicants. I couldn’t be prouder of the work they are doing.

Thursday Aug 16, 2012

Got an Idea as Big as Texas?

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

The USPTO’s mission is empowering U.S. innovators to protect great ideas with patents and trademarks. The small business and independent inventor community is responsible for many of those great ideas, and we know the challenges they face in filing and earning IP protection. That’s why, for the last 17 years, we’ve been reaching out to independent inventors and small business owners with regional conferences designed to educate entrepreneurs working to turn innovative ideas into marketable goods and services.

This time we’re bringing our program to beautiful Austin, Texas. Our Texas Regional Independent Inventors Conference will take place September 14–15. If you’re an entrepreneur—or even an aspiring entrepreneur—please consider attending.

At the conference you will have the opportunity to hear presentations from a variety of experts on intellectual property. Sessions are designed to appeal both to the first-time filer as well as those who have gone through the process before. You’ll be able to choose from a range of subjects, including basics of patents and trademarks, advanced patent prosecution, as well as discussion of local resources available to Texas innovators.

Attendees will have the opportunity to meet one-on-one with the presenters. Visit www.uspto.gov/Austin2012 to learn more, and please share the notice with others who may be interested.

Our job at USPTO is to help steward innovation so that it can reach the marketplace as effectively as possible. We do this by protecting intellectual property and by encouraging the smart folks who create it. The Texas Regional Independent Inventors Conference exemplifies the USPTO’s commitment to ensuring that the next wave of American inventors is well-equipped to continue leading the world in turning great ideas into positive marketplace outcomes.

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.

United States Patent and Trademark Office
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