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| The White House Executive Actions |
Patents are a hot topic these days. Sometimes it seems everyone is talking about them. The White House is no exception.
Back in February, President Obama called on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to work on implementing eight executive actions designed to make the patent system more transparent and accessible for the public. (Five of the actions were previously announced in June 2013.) Since then, the USPTO has been hard at work on these actions. So what's the buzz all about and, more importantly, what's in it for independent inventors and small businesses? More engagement with the USPTO, better quality patents that provide stronger protection in the marketplace, tools and information for consumers and small businesses confronted with patent infringement letters or lawsuits, and assistance for inventors and small businesses in preparing and prosecuting applications through the USPTO.
What exactly do these executive actions entail? "Claims" are the part of a patent that define the scope of its legal protection. They are the heart and soul of the patent, but they can be complicated and difficult to understand for people who are not patent examiners or attorneys. The president has called for better clarity in the way claims are written so that the boundaries for what is legally protected by the patent can be clearly understood by anybody who reads it. In addition to clearer claims, we are exploring ways to make sure that the most pertinent and relevant technical information is considered by examiners. This is one of the keys to ensuring that claims are not overly broad. To do this, we are looking to enhance the use of "crowdsourcing" for these publications, which harnesses the power of the Internet to find relevant publications that can be submitted to the patent examiner for consideration. Finally, we are enhancing examiners' training so that they stay up to date on the latest technological developments.
President Obama has also directed the USPTO to seek more public engagement through the use of round table discussions on such topics as glossaries in some patent applications and examiner access to documents that may not be in the public domain. Several sessions have already been held, and valuable data has been collected, which we are currently analyzing. We were also called upon to provide a tool that small business owners, entrepreneurs, and consumers can use if they are confronted with the threat of a patent lawsuit. This patent litigation tool kit provides useful links to resources and information about the legal process. In this same vein, we are also exploring new rules that allow the public to know clearly the actual owner(s) of a patent, and to store their information in a database at the USPTO for all to see. We have referred to this as naming the real party in interest or "attributable patent ownership."
Finally, we're examining ways to provide more assistance to inventors and small businesses that may not have the income or other financial resources needed to get started in the patent application process. We are currently expanding the Pro Bono program to cover the entire United States so that under-resourced inventors may find an attorney that they can turn to for free services. Additionally, we are looking to expand our own services for under-resourced inventors and small businesses with assistance before their applications are filed. Stay tuned to Inventors Eye for more information about this exciting service. Close Article
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| Innovation Development on the Move in 2014 |
If you're a regular reader of Inventors Eye, you've probably heard of our Office of Innovation Development (OID), but what exactly does OID do?
OID was formed in 2011 within the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) with the goal of ensuring entrepreneurs, independent inventors, small businesses, and pro se applicants better understand, secure, and utilize patents. Since 1999 the USPTO had assisted these stakeholders under the old Office of Independent Inventor Programs. The creation of OID allowed the USPTO to refocus and expand outreach to additional segments of the inventor community, including university-affiliated inventors, and inventors from minority and underserved communities. Since its formation, OID has provided a national campaign of education and awareness regarding all forms of intellectual property (IP) in a variety of ways. In fulfilling that role, the office plans and participates in a number of events to support innovation. In fact, things have been pretty busy since the start of our current fiscal year back in October, with lots of events and programs. We'd like to take a moment to share some of the highlights.
Last fall, we launched a new program at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library in Washington, D.C. OID partnered with the USPTO's Office of Education and Outreach, Trademark Outreach, and Global Intellectual Property Academy to offer the community a chance to learn from patent, trademark, and copyright experts from the USPTO. It was a big success, and we learned a lot from it. We hope to try this program in other locations in the future, including our satellite office locations.
OID continues its popular Saturday Seminars in the Detroit Satellite Office, and just recently we wrapped up our first Saturday Seminar in New York City, as part of our Department of Commerce partnership with Cornell University. Much like the D.C. library program, Saturday Seminars are an opportunity for the community to talk with IP experts from the local community, including attorneys and individuals from the Small Business Administration or local Small Business Development Centers.
OID continues to lead the USPTO's collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution, which has led to several innovation-focused activities at various Smithsonian museums in Washington, D.C. Last November, our "Innovation Explorations in Sound" family event took place at the National Museum of the American Indian. Along with bringing an interactive exhibit on how sound works to the event, OID sponsored a meet-and-greet with Inventors Hall of Fame member James E. West, co-creator of the electret foil microphone. A speaker forum on Dec. 8 brought together innovators and intellectual property policy experts for a day of stimulating conversation on the future of innovation at the Smithsonian S. Dillon Ripley Center. Several more exciting collaborative events with the Smithsonian are planned for 2014, so be on the lookout for more information!
Other highlights from the past year include participating in the International Home and Housewares Show in Chicago, where we shared information on patents and trademarks with the thousands of attendees who have dreams of invention and entrepreneurship. We also participated in the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Innovation and Entrepreneurship Collaborative; America Makes Program Management Review; National Science Foundation SBIR/STTR Phase I and Phase II Conferences; "From Your Garage to the Assembly Line," an Inventors Conference sponsored by Senator Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.); and the Minnesota Inventors Congress Invention Expo.
Along with public engagement at many events, OID provides outreach focused on institutions of higher learning. Our experts visit classrooms, technology transfer offices, and university-affiliated businesses to provide information for innovators pursuing exciting technologies. Visits this year have included institutions in Georgia, North Carolina, Illinois, Maryland, Virginia, Oregon, Colorado, California, Texas, and the District of Columbia.
OID also partnered with the Minority Business Development Agency to create a series of free webinars on patents, trademarks, and copyrights. These webinars are designed to teach entrepreneurs and business owners what they need to know about intellectual property when creating and operating their businesses.
Last but not least, OID's year-to-date efforts culminated in the Women's Entrepreneurship Symposium, which just wrapped up in Denver at the end of May. The USPTO partnered with Senator Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), the Colorado Bar Association, the University of Denver, the Colorado Small Business Development Center, and the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce to organize this program that spanned two days and focused on women entrepreneurs. Attendees learned about the importance of intellectual property protection for their innovations and how to leverage economic opportunities for women-owned businesses.
OID staff is always available to assist independent inventors with specific patent questions. Give us a call at 571-272-8877 or email Independentinventor@uspto.gov. For general questions about patents and the application process, you can also call the Inventors Assistance Center at 800-786-9199. Close Article
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| Patents Pick-5 |
The Patents of My Career
Every patent examiner has a list of patents that hold special meaning to him or her, from the first application they examined to the one for a groundbreaking new technology.
As I get ready to retire from the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) after 24-plus years, I have been looking back at the many people who have been part of my life during my career. It has been a privilege to work with a number of great examiners, managers, attorneys, agents, and so many wonderful and inspiring inventors. I have seen many interesting and not-so-interesting inventions and patents. These five have special meaning to me.
Note: This article is part of an ongoing series detailing some of the Inventors Eye staff's favorite patents. For each article, the writer selects five patents under a given theme. This list is from Senior Advisor John Calvert. You can read more about John's career helping independent inventors in our April Spark of Genius .
U.S. Patent No. 4,951,357
Stop Motion Apparatus for a Roving Drafting Device of a Textile Machine
My career as an examiner started in 1990. After two weeks of training, I began examining real applications in the technical area of my college education and work experience: textiles and knitting technology. The very first application I sent a Notice of Allowance for was a stop motion device that helps eliminate excessive fiber waste when a particular part of the machine fails to have the proper amount of fiber moving through the device. While other stop motion devices were previously known, I found that the improvement in this device was new and nonobvious. And so it began.
U.S. Patent No. 5,515,585
Process for Forming Needled Fibrous Structures Using Determined Transport Depth
When I first read this application, I knew it was different from any other I had ever examined. The subject matter was intriguing; it used mathematical calculations to determine the proper depth of penetration of a needle, so that fiber could be transported without breaking or slipping back and entangling. The invention was intended to create a brake pad disk for use on an aircraft. After extensive searching, I failed to find any patents that disqualified the application. I did find one article in Russian that appeared to show that the invention was not new. However, after a complete translation, I discovered the article did not describe the same invention. For me, this application was one the most difficult and most rewarding.
U.S. Patent No. 5,590,548
Circular Knit Legged Panty Having Knit-in Shaping Panels and a Blank and Method for Making
This was one of many garment patents I examined during my career. The technology provided areas within the legged panty that had more elastic properties for increasing pressure, which resulted in a slimming feature. The real significance of this application for me is not the technology but the attorney who filed the application. Before I joined the USPTO, I worked in a job that I hated. I called my graduate faculty mentor from college for guidance, and he suggested I talk with an examiner at the patent office to inquire about open positions. This eventually led to my work at the USPTO. As it happens, the examiner I spoke with eventually left the office to work as an attorney. She is the one who filed this application. The circle was complete, so to speak.
U.S. Patent No. 5,996,127
Wearable Device for Feeding and Observing Birds and Other Flying Animals
Shortly after I became a supervisory patent examiner in 1998, a new examiner showed me the application that would eventually issue as U.S. Patent No. 5,996,127. It was for a helmet that had a holder for a bird feeder and a place to mount a camera. As soon as I looked at the application I knew it was a candidate for the "Patent of the Month" display. The display showed the most "interesting" issued patent for each month and was placed where almost every patent examiner, manager, and executive would see it. Nobody wanted a patent they had examined to make the display. Once we found there was no way to reject the application, I got a primary examiner to sign with the junior examiner. It did make Patent of the Month, but we all had a good laugh.
U.S. Patent No. 8,151,720
Open Eye Sewing Needle
My first article in Inventors Eye was about the invention described in U.S. Patent 8,151,720. I met the inventor at the Minnesota Inventors Congress and wrote about how she came up with her invention. The patent issued about two years ago, allowing the inventor to move forward with marketing and protecting her device. While the invention is essentially a sewing needle, the technology she used in engineering the needle allows for a great advancement in that particular technology. Her invention makes it easy for anyone to thread a needle, even folks with large hands and weak eyes like me.
My time at the USPTO is coming to an end. However, my memories of those I have worked with for these many years and have met along the way will stay with me forever. Thank you for allowing me to be part of your exposure to the world of intellectual property.
Keep inventing and innovating. Close Article
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| Spark of Genius |
Clicking Everything into Place
The road to inventorship is unique for everyone. This is the story of one inventor who took the long way but eventually realized a dream.
It's interesting how one change in our daily routine can have a cascade effect on everything else in life. Even something as small as how we bring our shopping bags from the car into the house can set us on a trajectory nobody could have predicted. For Kim Meckwood, inventor of the Click & Carry, that's exactly what happened.
Ten years ago, Kim was living in an upstairs apartment in Los Angeles. Carrying groceries up several long flights of stairs and through multiple doors was a real pain, physically and figuratively. After finishing shopping, she would call her boyfriend from the car to come down the stairs and help bring up the groceries. Then life happened; the two parted ways, and Kim found herself struggling to carry the shopping bags herself.
"I stopped shopping and was eating out all the time and ordering takeout," said Kim. "My life became very unhealthy."
Kim knew she needed to come up with something that made shopping easier. Like the beginnings of so many inventions, she had identified a common problem that many people dealt with. The stirrings of a solution began to take hold in her subconscious.
"I'm the kind of person where I have to think about it for a while, and usually the ideas come to me in dreams," she said.
In fact, that's how Kim got the idea for the Click & Carry. She dreamt of a simple, strong device that could hold multiple bags and be placed on the shoulder for easier carrying.
"The original incarnation was just the bottom portion," said Kim, "There was no top." The prototype did not have a mechanism to lock bags into place. It was functional, but it wasn't ideal.
Three years passed after her dream. While she struggled with the right design to complete the device, Kim continued her career as a successful saleswoman for medical devices, but she would often discuss her idea with close confidants.
"My clients were neurosurgeons and movement disorder specialists. One of my clients, who also happens to be one of my best friends, said, 'Kim, will you shut up and stop talking about Click & Carry and do something about it.'"
And so she did. She hired a design student to help her refine the device. A locking swivel mechanism was added on the top to keep things in place, and a gel non-slip grip along the bottom allowed it to be comfortably placed on the shoulder or held in the hand. Now she had an invention. But there was just one last issue; when the prototype held more than 20 lbs., it bent and opened a gap between the locking top mechanism and the bottom, negating its usefulness. It would be a few more months before she found the answer.
"One day at work, I was talking to an orthopedic surgeon about 'favorable fractures.' In a favorable fracture, a bone is broken at a diagonal, so there is resistance to pressure on both sides of the bone. Even though the bone is broken, it is stronger than if the break were not diagonal. It gave me the idea to redesign the Click & Carry."
Kim had a new mold made with the favorable fracture-inspired design, and the final piece fell into place. She only guarantees the Click & Carry to carry up to 50 lbs., but thanks to the favorable fracture-inspired design, it it can carry three times that amount. "You don't even see the Click & Carry bend," she said.
Kim hired a patent attorney who had her best interests at heart. "He sat me down and said 'Before you do this, I want you to do a patent search. I want you to make sure you are spending your money wisely.'"
Kim received two patents on the Click & Carry. U.S. Patent No. 7874602 protects the original invention while U.S. Patent No. 8182008 incorporates the favorable fracture-inspired innovation. She said that hiring a patent attorney was one of the best decisions she made. Her attorney foresaw that the device would be used for other functions and wrote the patent to encompass a wide range of purposes and materials, things she likely wouldn't have addressed on her own.
"People have to know their limits," said Kim. "It was less expensive for me to hire that 'expensive' attorney than to sit down and try to figure out how to do it properly."
Though it took almost 10 years to get to the stage where she is now, it is in the last six months that things have really taken off, and Kim credits part of that success to social media marketing.
Kim gained a following of loyal customers on Facebook-people like her, living in urban centers where an easy trip from car to front door just isn't an option-but it was the non-shoppers who opened up her eyes to what she had created. What started as a device for carrying grocery bags quickly revealed itself as highly versatile. Construction workers sent her pictures of the Click & Carry hoisting buckets of material around the worksite. An avid skier showed her how he used it to carry his boots, and it became a lifesaver for people picking up large orders from their dry cleaners.
And then something funny happened.
"As more and more people used the Click & Carry and joined my Facebook page, they started taking photographs of it around the world," said Kim. "I have pictures of the Click & Carry from Italy, France, Argentina, and even from Sochi, Russia."
A novel marketing idea occurred to her.
"I hosted contests. I would have a picture with the Click & Carry in, say, Argentina and ask if anyone could guess where it was. The first three who answered correctly got a free Click & Carry." The social-media exposure proved game-changing.
Since May, Kim has appeared on the nationally syndicated "Bethenny" show and on QVC, where her product run sold out quickly, and there's no slowdown in sight. She has ideas for new designs that expand the applications of the technology as well as diversified marketing plans. "A major goal for the next two months is to really learn to utilize Twitter," she said, "and I have done this all by myself, so I can't wait until I can afford to pay someone to help me."
In time, all the pieces will certainly click into place for Kim Meckwood.
"My advice for others is to not give up," said Kim. "So many people are naysayers and they will shoot down your idea, but do your own research to ensure you aren't wasting your time. Once you get to that stage and you realize, hey, this is a viable product, that's when you know that you have something good." Close Article
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Did you miss the deadline for responding to an office action or pay a maintenance fee? Don't despair; you've got options.
At the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), we often speak with applicants on the telephone. Occasionally we hear, "Oh no, I missed the deadline for responding to an office action. Is the application considered abandoned?" To this, we unfortunately will have to respond with "Yes, see the Manual of Patent Examining Procedure, section 711.03(c)." While applicants often purposely abandon their applications, sometimes they don't mean to. Thankfully, they have options in this case, and their next question is "What can I do?"
Before December 18, 2013, applicants who missed the deadline for responding to an office action but wanted to continue prosecuting their application would have filed a petition to the Commissioner for Patents requesting that the application be reinstated and pay the applicable fee. Sounds simple enough; however, there were two different petitions that could be filed. The first one was a petition under the "unavoidable" standard, and the second was a petition under the "unintentional" standard. The two petitions are similar but have very different standards. The unavoidable standard was less expensive, but the showing to be made was more rigorous. Thus very few of these were granted. The unintentional standard was less rigorous and thus easier to get approved, but it was more expensive.
On December 18, 2013, changes to the law eliminated the unavoidable standard. But the process for getting an application reinstated has been simplified, and the great news for independent inventors is that fees have been reduced. The America Invents Act of 2011 gave the USPTO the ability to set its own fees. As a result, the USPTO lowered the cost for petitioning to revive an abandoned application. For someone filing as a small or a micro-entity, the petition filing fee is less than the old unintentional standard petition fee. The current fee schedule should always be consulted to ensure that petitioners are submitting the proper fees. To make the process even easier, we created an electronic petition, or e-Petition, a Web-based form that allows filers to enter the relevant data and, in most circumstances, get a decision as soon as they press the submit button. Note that users must be registered EFS-Web filers to make use of e-Petition.
Additionally, the standard for reinstatement of a patent for failure to pay a maintenance fee has also changed. Similar to the petition for revival, there is now only one standard for reinstating a patent: the unintentional standard with a lower fee for small and micro-entity filers. Yes, there is an e-Petition for this situation as well.
While missing a deadline for responding to an office action or paying a maintenance fee is frustrating, the solution for getting back on track is now easier and more-affordable for independent inventors. If you unfortunately find yourself in this situation, you can give us a call at 800-786-9199 to discuss the matter further.
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events and announcements
June and July
Upcoming events and news in the world of innovation
Save the Date: Annual Inventors Conference at the USPTO
The 16th Annual Independent Inventors Conference dates have been announced! This year, the conference will take place at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) headquarters in Alexandria, Va., August 15-16, 2014. A pre-conference workshop will take place the evening of Aug. 14. Canceled in 2013 due to the federal government shutdown, the Annual Independent Inventors Conference promises to be a fantastic opportunity for inventors and entrepreneurs to learn about intellectual property, particularly patents and trademarks, and how to leverage it in the business cycle. Mark your calendars and be on the lookout for more information.
National Inventors Hall of Fame Inductions
The National Inventors Hall of Fame inducted its class of 2014 on May 21, 2014. This year's inductees included five living innovators and nine who are no longer with us, all whom have made immeasurable contributions to the progress of science and technology and our way of life. During the induction ceremony at the USPTO headquarters in Alexandria, Va., Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Deputy Director of the USPTO Michelle K. Lee congratulated the 2014 class and honored past inductees, who watched on from the audience. For more information about this year's class of inventors, visit invent.org.
Intellectual Property Webinars
The USPTO's Office of Innovation Development and the U.S. Department of Commerce's Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) have joined together to conduct a three-part webinar series to help business owners understand intellectual property and processes to protect it. The webinar series will be held August 12-14 and the first topic will focus on filing an electronic application with the USPTO. For more information, visit the Intellectual Property Webinar Series page.
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Organizations and resources for the independent inventor community
Inventors Eye maintains a list of local, national, and international organizations that provide forums and resources for inventors and small business owners. Many groups keep up-to-date schedules of meetings and events in their local areas. Visit the list below and find one close to you!
Browse Inventor groups by state
The USPTO gives you useful information and non-legal advice in the areas of patents and trademarks in Inventors Eye. The patent and trademark statutes and regulations should be consulted before attempting to apply for a patent or register a trademark. These laws and the application process can be complicated. If you have intellectual property that could be patented or registered as a trademark, the use of an attorney or agent who is qualified to represent you in the USPTO is advised.
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