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Building a Better Patent System

Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for IP and USPTO Deputy Director Michelle Lee

White House Event on Executive Actions Related to Strengthening Patent System

February 20, 2014

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

Thank you. I’m pleased to be here at the White House today with Secretary Pritzker, Director Sperling, and Chief Technology Officer Park to discuss what we collectively are doing to advance our nation’s innovation economy. That task is at the core of our mission at the United States Patent and Trademark Office. We do so by issuing the highest quality patents possible; adding ever-more transparency to our patent system; and leveling the playing field for all players, big and small.

The USPTO is approaching its 225th anniversary next year, and throughout the agency’s history our focus hasn’t wavered. Our commitment was—is—and will be—to do everything we can to help foster an intellectual property system that provides American entrepreneurs:

  • the incentives they need to innovate;
  • the tools to help them produce and protect their creative output;
  • and the certainty they need to seek investments and balance risk while developing new technologies that benefit us all. 

Even before the president’s call to do more on patent reform last year, the USPTO had efforts underway to:

  • Improve patent quality and metrics;
  • Enhance examiner training, including input from industry experts; and
  • Weed out troublesome patents through post-grant review proceedings.

Furthermore, ever since the administration’s announcement on June 4th, 2013—as my colleagues before me noted—the USPTO has been hard at work implementing four executive actions.

EXECUTIVE ACTION #1

The first executive action aims to bring greater transparency of patent ownership information to the public. To this end, the USPTO has begun a rulemaking process. Under our proposed new rule—which reflects significant public input—the USPTO would collect patent ownership information for a patent or application and make that information available to all via our website. The result would be increased transparency aimed at:

  • enhancing competition,
  • facilitating technology transfers,
  • helping to ensure the highest quality patents, and
  • leveling the playing field for innovators.

We are now collecting input from the public on the proposed rule and are pleased to announce today two public events: one at our Alexandria, Virginia, headquarters on March 13th, and another in San Francisco, California, on March 26th.  We welcome your input.

EXECUTIVE ACTION #2

The second executive action called for new, targeted training for patent examiners to scrutinize certain types of patent claims that may be overly broad and to increase patent clarity. We have since implemented a multi-phased training program for all examiners to do just this. In addition, in the coming weeks we will launch a pilot program that uses glossaries to define terms in a patent with the goal of further promoting patent clarity.

We have also conducted numerous public engagements to share ideas, feedback, experiences and insights on further ways to improve patent quality, particularly for software-related patents, such as through our four, well-attended Software Partnership Roundtables held within this past year. We recognize that a patent with clearly defined boundaries provides notice to the public to help it avoid infringement, as well as costly and needless litigation down the road, when the patent is in litigation.

EXECUTIVE ACTION #3

I am very pleased to announce today the culmination of the third executive action calling for new education and outreach to assist those receiving a patent infringement letter. We have just this morning published a new online toolkit of such resources, which you can find at www.uspto.gov/patentlitigation. These resources will help level the playing field for smaller “Main Street” retailers and consumers—those who are not steeped in patent law or who cannot afford teams of patent attorneys—with a variety of complementary resources. These include ways to find information about the patent being asserted (such as assignment information or its past litigation history) to ways to determine if other businesses are being sued on the same patent. 

We know of no other online resource, where a recipient of a patent infringement letter can go to get as much information as is available in this toolkit. And, importantly, the new online toolkit features a two-way communication stream so the public can assist us in identifying additional, and we hope even better, resources for all to use.

EXECUTIVE ACTION #4

Finally, our fourth executive action called for an expansion of our already extensive public outreach efforts, as well as more empirical research. I’ve already mentioned some of our outreach, which we’ve ramped up from an already high level. As for empirical research, we are proud to announce that we have expanded our Thomas Alva Edison Visiting Scholars program. That’s where we bring on board for a limited time talented scholars to examine intellectual property issues.

We’ve already recruited three distinguished scholars to research key issues related to patent litigation —Joshua Sarnoff of DePaul University, Jonas Anderson of American University, and Elizabeth Bailey of U.C. Berkeley. We’ll be announcing more scholars soon. By engaging legal and economic scholars with agency experts, we anticipate a wealth of new research and data. Empirical examination of the interaction of various aspects of our patent system will provide insights on how to further reduce unnecessary litigation and improve the quality of patents.

So that is a quick overview of our work to date on these executive actions, all designed to strengthen our patent system for our country now and in the long run. I’m also pleased by the administration’s announcement today that we will be renewing our USPTO Patents for Humanity program. You can learn more at uspto.gov/patentsforhumanity

In his State of the Union address, President Obama said “The nation that goes all-in on innovation today will own the global economy tomorrow. This is an edge America cannot surrender.” At the USPTO, we are dedicated to a strong intellectual property system that empowers American businesses to succeed by keeping pace with the ever-growing rate of technological breakthroughs. We are working hand in hand with our colleagues throughout the administration, and with our stakeholders, to advance that goal.

Our work also includes actively engaging with the House and Senate as the legislative process moves forward. The patent system is the engine that powers our 21st century innovation economy. Even the most high-performance engine occasionally needs some fine-tuning. But I am confident our collaborative reform efforts will result in a patent system that performs at an unprecedented level of quality and economic output, benefiting us all.

Thank you.

United States Patent and Trademark Office
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Last Modified: 2/20/2014 2:20:02 PM