Remarks by Deputy Director Peter at the Trademark Public Advisory Committee quarterly meeting

Remarks delivered at the Trademark Public Advisory Committee quarterly meeting

Deputy Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Laura Peter

October 30, 2020


As prepared for delivery

Thank you, Director Iancu, for those remarks, and thank you especially for your inspired leadership throughout this Administration.

I am not sure if everyone on the Trademark Public Advisory Committee (TPAC) knows this, but Director Iancu received the highest achievement award two weeks ago from the American Intellectual Property Law Association. It was well deserved. Under his guidance, the United States' intellectual property (IP) ecosystem is ranked number one in the world in the 2020 International IP Index.

To all the members of this Advisory Committee, welcome, and thank you for your role in advancing the development of the American system of trademarks. It is remarkable that this is our third “all-virtual” TPAC Quarterly meeting, and I really do hope the next time we meet it will be in person. It is also the seventh consecutive TPAC meeting I have attended since I started my tenure at the USPTO. 

While the pandemic has changed much of our social and work lives, as Samuel Adams, one of our American revolutionary leaders so wisely penned, “We cannot make events. Our business is wisely to improve them.” And, we have adjusted well at the USPTO.

Since the lockdowns were mandated in March, all of our 14,000 employees have made a smooth transition to working remotely, and thankfully, after some anxious months, our business is bouncing back along with the economy.

Trademarks filings are setting records. As we discussed at the last TPAC meeting, earlier this year just after the onset of the pandemic, they took a precipitous drop. Over the summer and continuing into recent months, they have bounced back.

In fact, July, August, and September were our three highest filing months on record. This past September was our biggest filing month in history, with 92,600 classes filed, and in fiscal year 2020 that just ended in September, the USPTO received 738,112 trademark applications.

That is our single highest filing year in history, with filings up by a strong 9.5% over 2019. 

We are tracking other trends as well. Trademark renewals continue on a downward trajectory that began in 2017, and as our applicants trend more towards pro se, small and one-time filers, and foreign filers, we expect lower trademark renewal rates in the future. These trends may be a reflection of the unprecedented growth of online commerce.

In response to the record number of filings, we hired 53 new examining attorneys in fiscal year 2020. Also, earlier in the month of October we hired an additional 23. We plan to hire 50 more new examining attorneys soon. We need them.

I am also pleased to announce that we have a new Senior Leader for Emerging Technology. He is Jerry Ma, and he started officially this past Monday. Mr. Ma’s main role will be to advise our Chief Information Officer on the most effective means of utilizing automated digital technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain, and applying them throughout our operations.

Our goal is to accelerate the examination for both trademarks and patents by reducing mundane administrative tasks and eliminating waste. Technology can help create an even more positive work environment for all our staff and improve stakeholder satisfaction.

As we deal with record filings, we are actively applying new technology to all of our processes. Several AI-related efforts are being piloted for implementation to improve examinations. These include a new image search tool and an automated specimen analysis project for detecting doctored specimens. Both are high priorities, because they will help to counteract fraudulent filings.

Our Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) has also remained as productive as ever. In fiscal year 2020, they set more precedential opinions than in any of the past five years. TTAB closed out the year with 43 opinions. Some of the issues addressed included: the application of the U.S. Counsel rule; standing: who can bring a case; and how cases should be considered with respect to the same mark.

Although we have had to work remotely for the past eight months, there are some positive outcomes that we did not anticipate back in March. We are reaching more stakeholders and individuals than ever before through our virtual networks. For instance, our last TPAC meeting in July had around 300 attendees. This is far more than could ever fit in conference room.

Also, during the 2020 fiscal year that just ended, our regional offices greatly expanded their outreach to Trademarks stakeholders, meeting with over 125 of the top trademark filing companies in the United States, representing an over 40% increase over fiscal year 2019.

Additionally, in fiscal year 2020, the regional offices continued their partnership with Trademarks operations to offer over 100 Trademarks training and education programs, drawing attendees from all 50 states, and Puerto Rico. In the coming year, the regional offices will work with Trademarks to further expand American innovation by offering even more Trademarks educational programming, with a particular focus on reaching stakeholders in geographically diverse regions, not just traditional innovation centers. 

This engagement of so many more interested parties bodes well for the future. We need to bring many more people into the innovation economy, and this is one way we can do so. It has helped propel the USPTO into the leading agency involved in expanding the innovation economy.

In closing, we look forward to your suggestions on how we can continue this momentum. Our common goal is to incentivize innovation for people from all walks of life, to create new possibilities for competition and economic growth.

As we go forward, remember what American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: “Do not be pushed by your problems, but instead be led by your dreams.” Together we can build this future we dream of that both maintains our countries place as a world leader in IP and creates opportunity for all to innovate, and I am delighted that the TPAC will be our partner on this journey.

I am confident that these sessions will continue to provide insightful and informative resources for all of its participants. I warmly welcome each of you! Thank you.