Remarks delivered at the Patent Public Advisory Committee Quarterly Meeting
Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Andrei Iancu
May 7, 2020
As prepared for delivery
Thank you, Julie, and good morning, everyone. This is our first all-virtual PPAC public meeting, and—despite this new way of doing business—it’s great to see everyone online. I hope that you and your loved ones are in good health.
Let me start by expressing my deep sorrow for the passing of former USPTO Director Q. Todd Dickinson earlier this week. Todd was a giant in the IP world and a mainstay in the IP community for several decades. He was also a dear friend. I, the USPTO, and the entire IP community will miss him terribly.
And, last month, we lost another former great head of the USPTO and intellectual property thought leader, Gerald Mossinghoff. These two prominent Americans dedicated the better parts of their lives to intellectual property and public service. The USPTO and the United States are stronger and better today because of their service.
Turning now to today’s meeting, I want to thank you, PPAC members, USPTO employees, and the rest of you with us here today. During this unprecedented and challenging time, we continue to press forward, doing our part to support each other, to serve the public, and to promote U.S. commerce. Indeed, the partnership between the USPTO and PPAC is more important now than maybe ever in our history.
I’d also like to acknowledge our incredible Patents employees, who continue to perform their jobs with the highest level of professionalism and energy. Indeed, since this is “Public Service Recognition Week,” I want to commend all of the agency’s employees for the valuable work they are doing in support of our mission to foster innovation and economic competitiveness.
Others have recognized the hard work and dedication of our employees as well. In a recent letter to the USPTO, members of Congress from both Chambers and both sides of the aisle commended our work during the pandemic, writing: “We applaud the measures the USPTO already has implemented to adapt to these unprecedented circumstances that provide relief to and ensure the safety of its employees and those who appear before the USPTO.”
The efforts of our employees offer reassurance to our stakeholders and the public and enable innovators and inventors to make progress with their work, even during this difficult time.
As you know, we have been on mandatory telework since March 23, effectively closing our campus to all but personnel whose physical presence on campus is deemed essential. Since then, virtually everyone else has been teleworking and will continue to do so until further notice.
Because the USPTO has already had a substantial number of employees that telework full time, and many others who do so part time, this mandate did not put an enormous strain on our agency. In fact, we were able to ramp up our new full-time telework workforce quickly and efficiently. For those employees who were not fully telework ready, we were able to deliver equipment to them within a short period of time, so that every employee was able to continue to work effectively, from home.
Additionally, there has been an expansion of regular working hours for employees enrolled in the Increased Flexitime Policy Program, to allow them to work anytime from 4:30 a.m. to midnight. This gives our employees more flexibility in balancing their family and work responsibilities as they see fit.
We have found that the production of our patent examiners has remained steady, and in some areas production has increased during the weeks we have been teleworking. This is a tribute to the professionalism of our employees throughout the agency.
Thanks to all of these efforts, the USPTO remains open for business, supporting our stakeholders and the public more broadly—an especially important achievement during this challenging time.
In addition to continuing our examination and adjudication of patent and trademark applications, I want to share a few examples of the many other ways we have been maintaining business as usual at the USPTO during these most unusual times.
On April 23, we published a significant report highlighting how actions the USPTO took in the wake of the 2014 Supreme Court decision Alice Corp v. CLS Bank International have brought greater predictability and certainty to the determination of patent eligibility in the technology areas most affected by the decision. And the results have been remarkable.
We have heard anecdotally from both examiners and applicants across the spectrum of technologies that our guidance greatly improved the 101 analysis. The Chief Economist’s report now confirms this general perception, especially with its critical finding that uncertainty decreased by a remarkable 44%. These findings make it crystal clear that our 101 guidance works and largely addresses the confusion of the recent years in this important area of patent law.
But we are only one branch of government. I ask all involved in our treasured patent system to come together and solve, once and for all, this fundamental issue. We have shown that the issue is indeed solvable.
We also recently made Patent Center Beta available for all users. Patent Center Beta is a new tool for the electronic filing and management of patent applications in a single, unified interface. It provides increased functionality, better overall ease of use, and an enhanced experience for applicants, including improved processes for patent application submission, review, and management.
Further, several weeks ago, we launched an Artificial Intelligence portal on our website. Likewise, we also launched a hub on our website for our various efforts to expand the innovation ecosphere. Please check our website for these new pages.
Last week, we officially launched the Patent Trial and Appeal Board’s Legal Experience and Advancement Program, known as LEAP. LEAP is designed to foster development of the next generation of patent practitioners by creating opportunities to gain the proper skills and experience in oral arguments before the Board. The USPTO understands that “stand up” speaking opportunities before tribunals are limited and that gaining courtroom experience is advantageous for practitioners in their career development. Plus, we will have several training sessions for LEAP practitioners. For all details, please check the LEAP page on our website.
Over the last few weeks, with the support of several collegiate law school programs, we hosted five regional rounds and the national finals of the National Patent Drafting Competition, a contest that introduces law students to issues arising in U.S. patent law and helps develop their patent application drafting, amending, and prosecuting skills.
And, speaking of law school students, we know that some of their summer plans may have been disrupted this year. As a result, we have just announced an intern program for those who are able and would like to gain some valuable IP experience this summer.
We are also supporting our stakeholders in other, unprecedented ways. In accordance with the temporary authority provided by the CARES Act signed by President Trump on March 27, last week the USPTO further extended, to June 1, the time to file certain patent and trademark-related documents and to pay certain required fees, which otherwise would have been due between March 27 and May 31. This is in addition to the prior extension the USPTO had announced on March 31. The extensions apply to most, but not all patent filings, and some PTAB filings. We have posted guidance, including FAQs, on our website. I encourage you to look at the guidance and the FAQs to see the details – including what is and is not covered – and how you might benefit from this relief as stakeholders and filers.
Yesterday, we announced that we are now allowing the electronic filing of plant patent applications. And, on Monday, we unveiled a new web-based, voluntary, intellectual property marketplace platform, called Patents 4 Partnerships, to provide the public with a user-friendly, searchable repository of patents and published patent applications related to the COVID-19 pandemic that are indicated as available for licensing. Plus, in March, we waived the remaining original handwritten ink signature requirements.
These are just some of the ways we are supporting the public during these difficult times.
The coming weeks and months are likely to continue to be trying for all of us. So we will continue to monitor the situation carefully and assess the need for any further actions. In the process, we want to hear from you, our stakeholders, on ideas that you have for mitigating the fallout from this global health and economic crisis.
We know that we can always rely on PPAC for thoughtful advice and counsel, and especially for your attention to—and stewardship of—the Patents budget, which in turn is helping to ensure that the USPTO’s Patents Organization has stable funding to meet our stakeholders’ needs.
The last time PPAC met for a public session, there was discussion of a number of important initiatives we had hoped to complete this year, including modernization of our IT systems. We remain committed to achieving these goals, but certain expenses may be deferred in favor of maintaining fundamental functions. Such fundamental functions include the continued provision of timely and high quality service and the stabilization of the legacy IT systems that we rely on every day to do our jobs—and that our stakeholders rely on to do business with the Office.
Plus, we will continue with some of our most important projects. For example, we continue our work on Artificial Intelligence. We have recently received valuable feedback—almost 200 comments, in fact—in response to our Request for Comments on the impact of AI on IP policy. You can find them on our new AI web portal. We’re currently working on reports on AI and IP policy, which will bring together these comments, as well as feedback we received at the AI policy conference we held last year.
And there is so much other work we are doing, some of which you will hear about throughout today’s presentations.
In short, we continue to focus on our core mission of fostering innovation, competitiveness, and economic growth, both domestically and abroad. This is critically important, especially at this time, because inventors and intellectual property promote the well-being of all Americans. Even in the midst of a global pandemic, inventors, as they always do, will create new technologies that will help us overcome new and unprecedented challenges.
As President Trump stated in his World IP Day proclamation: “The importance of intellectual property has never been more apparent than it is now, as we continue the ongoing battle against the coronavirus.” And the President continued: “Relying on strong intellectual property protections … industries are able to act boldly to invent new tests, begin developing experimental treatments and vaccines, and rapidly produce and reengineer medical equipment to help win this war.” With World IP Day just behind us, we should take a moment to recognize all inventors and entrepreneurs and to appreciate the innovations all around us that make our lives happier, healthier, and better in so many ways.
Let me end by thanking the PPAC members once more for your hard work and dedication. The longstanding partnership between the USPTO and PPAC is extremely important, and your insights and guidance on a number of issues continues to be invaluable. We’re looking forward to, and relying on, your sustained support and collaboration in the months ahead. Thank you for your service on the committee.