Remarks by Director Michelle K. Lee at the Patent Public Advisory Committee (PPAC) Quarterly Meeting

Patent PublicAdvisory  Committee (PPAC) Quarterly Meeting

Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015, 9 a.m. to 1:45 p.m.

Madison Auditorium South

Opening Remarks by Under Secretary and Director Michelle Lee

Thank you for your introduction, Esther.  Good morning, everyone – and welcome to all our PPAC members! I want to begin by extending my thanks to the entire Patent Public Advisory Committee for all the hard work and countless hours you put into preparing the Patent Public Advisory Committee 2015 Annual Report.  We are currently reviewing all of the recommendations presented in that report. For anyone who wishes to read the annual report, it will be published in the Official Gazette on Tuesday, November 24 and be available on the USPTO website shortly thereafter.

As you know, this past fiscal year has been quite busy, and I’m extremely proud of all the work we’ve accomplished. Specifically, I’d like to identify some of the major accomplishments we made in Patents. On the IT side, we successfully released the Patents End-to-End Docket and Application Viewer, and more than 10,000 staff members were trained to use it. The Docket and Application Viewer, or DAV for short, provides a new interface for patent examination, offering many advantages and new capabilities not available in our current tools. Internationally, our team implemented the Hague Agreement for the International Registration of Industrial Designs to streamline and expedited filings and examination of design applications, which is akin to the PCT process for utility applications. Our team also created and launched Collaborative Search Pilots with the patent offices of Japan (JPO) and Korea (KIPO). This enhances examiner access to the best prior art for a given application by taking advantage of searches completed by examiners in Japan and Korea.

In the training area, we conducted a variety of programs to keep our examiners abreast of new case law, with a focus on areas identified as being particularly challenging. More than 8,000 examiners underwent training as we completed the transition to the Cooperative Patent Classification system, or CPC. We also developed critical training focused on functional claim limitations for computers and software, claim terms, and examining claims for compliance with the written description and enablement requirements of 112(a). And over 700 examiners participated in our first two Patent Training at Headquarters or (or “PaTH”) events.  These events brought teleworking examiners together with examiners working here on our Alexandria campus for communication and team-building, which increases their level of engagement as employees, boosts morale, and enhances examination quality. We also issued Interim Subject Matter Eligibility guidance, including a key update in July.  As you know, this was an extremely challenging task, given the lack of bright-line guidance provided in the court rulings.  

And we recently opened our last two regional offices, in Silicon Valley last month and in Dallas last week. This is a fantastic accomplishment and a tangible realization of part of the vision of the America Invents Act. I can’t begin to share with you the enthusiasm we experienced with both of those office openings. We share that excitement and will be fully integrating our regional offices into our broader agency operations in addition to the regions they serve.  We will do so by fully utilizing the services available at our regional offices, including: interview and hearing rooms; prior art searching facilities; and educational and outreach programming. 

And as you know, we’ve been quite busy in our heightened focus on patent quality. I hope you saw my recent Director’s Forum blog post, where I highlighted the importance of issuing patents that are both correct and clear, and how that will be the focus of a pilot program we’re launching soon to improve the Clarity of the Record. Please read the blog to learn more, and explore all of our materials on our Enhanced Patent Quality Initiative on our website. Patent quality will remain a top priority as we move into 2016, and well beyond next year as well. We are focusing on building enhanced quality into all aspects of patent examination, including our work products, customer service, and quality metrics. I don’t want anyone to think we are not issuing high quality patents right now. I believe we are. But I also believe we can always do better!  As you know, our IP landscape has changed in recent years, driven by court decisions, new post-grant appeals, and many other developments. Our enhanced patent quality initiative is therefore designed to look more deeply into all aspects of our operations and identify areas where we can continue to improve our processes, efficiency, and work products. While we cannot single-handedly provide the fix, we can make a substantial contribution. Any company that produces a top-quality product focuses on making it the best from many angles, and we are doing the same. 

In addition to patent quality, our priorities include continuing improvements to our Patent Trial and Appeal Board proceedings and advancing our Next Generation IT and Data systems. Regarding the PTAB, we are focused on: maintaining the issuance of high quality decisions for ex parte appeals and AIA trials; continuing to meet statutory deadlines for AIA trials; and reducing even further the backlog of ex parte appeals. We likewise are considering ways to strengthen the AIA trials through rulemaking.  To that end, we published proposed rules in the Federal Register in August, and the written comment deadline closed yesterday. We now will be reviewing all the input we received from you to make decisions about the final rules, which we aim to release early in the new calendar year.

Regarding our Next Generation IT and Data Systems, we will continue our efforts to: develop and deploy a new suite of IT tools for the PTAB; complete the Patents End-to-End system; and launch our Trademark Next Generation program.  We must develop new IT programs and initiatives centered on big and open data to transform from an agency built on 20th century metrics to one that uses 21st century business intelligence at every operational level. 

In closing, we have a full agenda scheduled today as we bring you up to date on our activities, and we hope today’s session is informative. Following the regular quarterly update, I will see you again at your Fee Setting Hearing, which should be a very informative and engaging discussion.  Again, thank you for all your hard work throughout the year, and as always, we welcome your comments and questions as we move through today’s agenda. 


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