Remarks by Director Michelle K. Lee at PPAC Quarterly Meeting

Director of the USPTO Michelle K. Lee

August 18, 2016, 9:05 a.m.

PPAC Quarterly Meeting

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

Thank you, Esther, and good morning everyone—including those of you watching remotely from home or work. It’s a pleasure to meet with all of you here It’s been a busy few months at the USPTO since our last meeting, and there is much to cover today. But first, of course, I want to take a moment to acknowledge the important role this group has played, and continues to play, in ensuring the strength of our patent system.

Each quarter, we have come together to discuss vital issues like patent pendency, information technology, fee setting, PTAB, patent quality, legislative reform, and international harmonization efforts, just to name a few. Together, we have made great strides in all these areas and you—as well as our broader stakeholder community--have been invaluable stewards of our patent system. I thank you for your service, your leadership, and your devotion to ensuring the efficiency and integrity of our operations.

I know that the agenda for today is quite robust, so I will try and give a few quick updates ahead of our programing. I want to start by briefly commenting on two reports the Government Accountability Office released last month, one focusing on patent quality and the other on prior art.

As you know, our office is continually seeking to improve patent quality through the EPQI, which we have regularly been updating you on, and have launched one of the most ambitious efforts on this front in recent memory, so we appreciate the effort the GAO made and we are carefully studying all of the report’s recommendations, and, in fact, have already executed on many of these recommendations even before the publication of this report.. These initiatives are beginning to provide concrete results through each of the almost a dozen plans aimed at improving the accuracy, clarity, and consistency of patents we issue as well as how we measure patent quality. Coming from the private sector, I know that any company that produces a truly top quality product has focused on quality for years, if not decades. The USPTO, with your help and input, is committed to no less and will work to enhance quality now, and into the future.

One of those plans came to fruition last month, with the launch of the Post-Prosecution Pilot (P3), a program that combines the best features of two of our existing programs: the Pre-Appeal Brief Conference Pilot Program and the After Final Consideration Pilot Program 2.0, or AFCP 2.0. Through this new P3 program, an applicant with a utility patent application can submit a proposed, after final amendment, for consideration by a panel of experienced examiners.  The applicant will also have the opportunity to make a presentation to the panel, either in-person or via phone, and the panel will provide a brief written summary of the status of the pending claims, as well as the reasoning for maintaining any rejection. The Federal Register Notice about the P3 program requests comments and feedback from our stakeholders on ways to improve after final practice, to reduce the number of issues and applications appealed to the Patent Trial and Appeal Board and to reduce the number of Requests for Continued Examination.  The USPTO plans to evaluate this feedback as well as the results of the P3 program to determine what we can do to improve after final practice. Separately, over the next two months, many of our other quality initiatives within EPQI will report out on some results and we look forward to sharing them with our stakeholders. We are committed to improving patent quality, building upon efforts in the past, and looking forward to collaborating with all of you on this important work.  

I want to also give a shout-out today to the great work the PTAB is doing, and thank Chief Judge David Ruschke. There are currently 267 judges on the Board—202 in Alexandria and 65 in the four regional offices, and they’re all doing outstanding work. I’ve had the opportunity to visit many of our talented judges in the regional offices- they are incredibly talented and we are lucky to have them as part of our team.  

While internally we strive to improve our processes and procedures, externally the patent system is being called upon as never before, to meet some of the most pressing challenges of our times. You may recall that President Obama, in his final State of the Union address, challenged our nation to cure cancer once and for all. During the White House Cancer Moonshot Summit, Vice President Biden and the USPTO announced new actions aimed at answering the President’s call to action. The first is the "Patents 4 Patients" initiative, which establishes a Fast-Track Review for cancer treatment-related patents. Launched last month, this free, accelerated initiative will cut in half the time it takes to review patent applications in cancer therapy – aiming to have final decisions made in 12 months or less. This "fast track" will be open to any applicant, including early stage bio-tech companies, universities, and large pharmaceutical firms.

Another USPTO contribution to the Cancer Moonshot is the “Horizon Scanning Tool”, which will leverage patent data sets to reveal new insights into investments around cancer therapy research and treatments. When we release this data through the USPTO Developer Hub in September 2016, users will be able to build rich visualizations of IP data, often an early indicator of meaningful R&D, and combine them with other economic and funding data. Ultimately, the Horizon Scanning Tool will illuminate trend lines for new treatments and empower the federal government—as well as the medical, research, and data communities—to make more precise funding and policy decisions based on the commercialization lifecycle of the most promising treatments, thereby maximizing U.S. competitiveness in cancer investments. Cancer is a disease that touches all of our lives. Ending cancer as we know it requires the formation of new alliances and the USPTO is proud to be a part of that team. As the Cancer Moonshot Initiative looks to build public-private partnerships with industry, governments, health systems, non-profits, philanthropy, research institutes, patients, and academia, I encourage you to help spread the word. Those interested in helping can start today by visiting

As I reflect on both the past and the future, I can’t help but feel optimistic.  I believe we can, collectively, make a real difference through the work of this Agency (with the many initiatives we have underway) and the power of technological innovation and our patent system. Everyone has a stake in that system; not just inventors, entrepreneurs, and patent attorneys, but everyone.  As a former member of this Board, and then a Regional Director, and now as Under Secretary I have seen from every angle how important this board is- not just to the proper functioning of USPTO but to our larger IP System generally. So thank you all for what you do, and for helping make such a positive impact.

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