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

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!

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