Remarks by Deputy Director Russell Slifer at The Meeting of IP5 Heads of Office and IP5 Industry

USPTO Deputy Director Russell Slifer

Latest Updates of the IP5 Offices

Meeting of IP5 Heads of Office and IP5 Industry

Suzhou, China

May 21, 2015

Good afternoon, everyone. It’s an honor to be here today. I would like to thank Commissioner Shen, the State Intellectual Property Officer of the People’s Republic of China, Mr. Zhang Xueli, and the Patent Protection Association of China for hosting this meeting of the IP5 Heads of Office and the IP5 Industry. Let me also note that Director Michelle Lee wishes she could be here with you today. She needed to stay in Washington, as she is deeply engaged with members of Congress right now as patent reform legislation advances. I know there is more than a little curiosity in this room about what’s happening on that front. So let me briefly fill you in.

All of us in this room know that patent rights are a critical driver of innovation. As a veteran of the U.S. technology industry, I know firsthand the benefits of the robust IP protections that come with a U.S. patent. But it’s also clear that abusive patent litigation practices bring no value to innovation, or to the economy.  In fact, they jeopardize the very integrity of our patent system. Abusive litigation diverts funds from innovation to litigation, and can prevent valued new inventions from reaching the market.

These abusive practices can be particularly harmful to startups and small businesses, which often lack the resources to defend themselves when faced with potentially complex and costly litigation.

The Obama administration is pleased with the many improvements that resulted from Congressional passage and USPTO implementation of the 2011 America Invents Act. But we share, with many members of Congress, a belief that legislation can reach the president’s desk this year that will do much to further improve the U.S. patent system, in particular by:

  • Offering incentives for all parties to act appropriately;
  • Requiring meaningful notice to those being accused of infringement;
  • Ensuring end-users of technologies are protected from accusations of  infringement;
  • And increasing transparency of patent ownership to allow all parties to better address infringement concerns at the start of the process.

The president first called for Congress to pass additional patent reform legislation a little over two years ago. But all branches of the U.S. government—Congress, the courts, and the administration—play critical roles in maintaining and improving the U.S. patent system. In recent years the U.S. Supreme Court has issued key decisions on patentability that have led to changes in our examiner guidance. And we’ve been focused on improving operations through implementation of the America Invents Act as well as an increased focus on a core element of a solid IP system—patent quality. At the USPTO, we are proud of our longstanding commitment to issuing patents of the highest possible quality. But we at the USPTO know there is always room for improvement. Which is why earlier this year we launched our new Enhanced Patent Quality Initiative. Leading the Initiative is a new Deputy Commissioner whose sole job is to focus on patent quality in several ways, including:

  • Excellence in prosecution services;
  • Excellence in customer service; and
  • Excellence in quality measurement.

We’re also engaged with the public as we consider changes in our operations to address quality before examination, during examination, and after examination.  For example, we recently held a two-day patent quality summit that included more than 1,500 participants in person and online. We’re processing feedback from that event and from a published request for comments, and we will be doing more events throughout the year and across the United States to learn more. Part of our initiative is to compare best practices with other leading patent offices around the world, which of course includes everyone at this table. Of course, we approach any changes to the U.S. patent system with a great deal of humility. We do this because we recognize that our IP system is a model of success built on centuries of improvements.

 Last month, we marked a milestone at the USPTO by celebrating the 225th anniversary of the first Patent Act. Our Constitution was ratified in 1787, and as I’m sure you know, the rights to patents and copyrights are explicitly outlined in a provision we call the Progress Clause, because our Founding Fathers sought to promote “the progress of science and useful arts.” The very first U.S. Congress passed both a Copyright Act and a Patent Act, and in 1790 President George Washington signed them into law.  At first, patents were reviewed by a panel of three commissioners. The primary examiner was a man by the name of Thomas Jefferson, who often took applications home with him and kept them under his bed.

 Today, the Patent and Trademark Office has more than 8,000 patent examiners, but their commitment to quality is at least equal to that of Jefferson. Those examiners are also continuing to make progress on reducing our backlog of unexamined patent applications, without having to take any home with them. In the last fiscal year, our backlog was nearly 20 percent less than 2009. It currently stands at 580,000 and continues to drop each month, in spite of an annual 4% increase in filings. The same trend is true in first action pendency. We’ve reduced that 28 percent since the passage of the America Invents Act. It’s currently at 18.3 months, and total pendency is 34 percent, to 26.9 months. We’re still not satisfied, however. Expect our report at the next IP5 to include even lower numbers. Our goal is to further reduce those periods to 11.3 and 21 months, respectively, by FY 2018.

One way we’ve increased our talent pool of excellent examiners and administrative patent judges is through the creation of regional offices across the United States, in every continental time zone. These regional offices also allow our agency to better interact with the public, through outreach, education, and direct conversations with examiners. Our first regional office in Detroit, Michigan has been operating for three years. The second regional office was opened one year ago in Denver, Colorado. Both include examiners and judges. I have a particular fondness for the Denver office, as I was its first director before relocating to Alexandria, Virginia, to be the Deputy Director of the agency. We are on pace to open permanent offices in San Jose, California, and Dallas, Texas, later this year. We already have patent judges in those offices, and are working to recruit examiners as well.

But while our regional offices focus on independent inventor communities across the United States, we remain focused globally as well. Let me take a moment to share some news that is well known to my colleagues at the EPO, and at KIPO. Our entire examination corps has fully implemented the Cooperative Patent Classification. This is a major achievement of which we are very proud. We’re already seeing how CPC provides for more effective prior art searching, benefitting examiners, applicants, stakeholders, and the international patent classification community. And we are eager to see other IP offices explore how they can make use of CPC.

While CPC will improve patent processing across patent offices around the world, I should note that we continue to focus on work-sharing opportunities such as the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) and Patent Prosecution Highway (PPH). PPH is a successful work-sharing vehicle, delivering prosecution advantages to both users and IP offices. It provides users reduced numbers of office actions, lower costs, higher grant rates, and faster prosecution, and they are all factors that drive the growth of the program.  We currently have PPH agreements with 27 other IP offices, and we expect that list to grow. As of the end of FY 2014, approximately 27,000 applications at the USPTO had been received via the PPH since its inception, with approximately 7,200 of these arriving in FY 2014. This is a 37 percent increase over the cumulative totals from the prior fiscal year. A key milestone last fiscal year was the joining of many jurisdictions into a single global PPH (GPPH) standard. It sets a common framework for the requirements to enter into PPH and lessens the need for multiple bilateral agreements. The United States is one of 19 offices currently accepting PPH requests with this framework, and we look forward to other offices joining GPPH. Of course, we always enjoy engaging with other offices—in particular, with our colleagues here in IP5—on any and all aspects of intellectual property. We all share a commitment to promoting 21st Century innovation to the best of our abilities.

Thank you again to my colleagues at SIPO for hosting these meetings here in Suzhou. We are looking forward to very informative discussions. 

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