Remarks by Director Michelle K. Lee at Quarterly PPAC Meeting


  PPAC Opening Remarks

Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Michelle K. Lee

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

August 20, 2015, 8:30 a.m.

Madison Auditorium

Thank you, Esther, and good morning everyone! It’s great to see you all again. As always, we have an impressive lineup of presentations today and a lot of material to cover. I don’t want to take up too much of that time, so let me get right down to business.

Very soon after our last meeting in May, I traveled to Beijing for meetings with the ministers and vice-ministers of China’s trade, patent, copyright, and trademark offices.  But, I began the trip with a meeting with one of the most senior members of the Chinese government, Vice Premier Wang Yang. During that meeting, he emphasized China’s desire to strengthen IP protection and enforcement—not just because their trading partners are requesting it, but because China views it as necessary to their desired transformation from a manufacturing-based economy of inventions developed elsewhere, to an innovation-based economy with technologies developed in China that provide products and services higher up on the value chain. From that meeting in China, and many other encounters I’ve had with leaders around the world, I repeatedly hear that the United States is a global leader when it comes to protecting intellectual property. While we can, and should, take pride in that, we should also take heed that as China and other countries seek to move from a manufacturing-based economy to an innovation-based economy, we will have more and more competition. We cannot afford to stand still as other nations seek to catch up.  We absolutely must work to make our patent system even stronger to drive incentives to innovate and invest in this country.

Here at the USPTO, we are striving to do so in many ways, and I’d like to highlight a couple for you. We are making solid progress with our Enhanced Patent Quality Initiative. Following our Quality Summit and Federal Register Notice seeking ideas and input on how to enhance the quality of issued patents, we received more than 1,200 submissions. We reviewed all of your helpful feedback and identified three themes. You indicated that examiners should clearly articulate their position on the record. You also recommended that the USPTO needs to differentiate between measures directed to the patent process from those that address the patent product. And you advised that the quality of an interview is more important than the type of interview. We are focusing on these themes now and devising improvements to be rolled out in the coming months. In fact, later this morning, we are going to hold an interview demonstration to show you the interactivity possible through a video conferencing. I think you will be very pleased and excited with the quality of this interview option. 

Turning to the PTAB, we are in the process of making enhancements to our AIA trial proceedings. Today, we published a set of proposed rules in the Federal Register.  Among other things, these proposed rules will allow patent owners to include new testimonial evidence such as expert declaration with their opposition to a petition to institute a proceeding; contain a new requirement on practitioners before the PTAB, akin to the Rule 11 requirements in federal courts, to give the USPTO a more robust means with which to police misconduct; and clarify that the PTAB will use the claim construction standard used by district courts for patents that will expire during proceedings and therefore cannot be amended, while maintaining use of broadest reasonable interpretation for all other cases. As with the Enhanced Quality Initiative, we want your input about these proposals—did we hit the mark or can we do more or make different changes than initially contemplated?  

Next week, the agency is traveling for a series of roadshows co-sponsored with AIPLA.  We are delighted to have this opportunity to partner with AIPLA and hear from you in person in Santa Clara on Monday, August 24; Dallas on Wednesday, August 26; and Alexandria on Friday, August 28. During the morning segment of the program, we will focus on our enhanced quality initiative, sharing many more details about our forthcoming enhancements.  Then in the afternoon, we will address our AIA trials, including the proposed rules, as well as feature an actual AIA trial hearing.  We are sending a team of agency experts to each city, and I encourage you to register with AIPLA to attend. Our discussions at these events are invaluable to building that stronger patent system essential for the 21st century global economy.

Turning for a minute to operations, we are currently working with the Department of Commerce to evaluate their new Shared Services initiative for any possible benefits to the USPTO’s HR, IT and procurement functions. In addition to the USPTO, Commerce has a number of bureaus of various sizes.  Each of these bureaus provides support services for their specific mission, or obtains these services from other bureaus. Commerce has decided that consolidating mission supporting services into a shared services organization will provide benefits to the bureaus and the USPTO. The USPTO currently takes advantage of our authority to obtain services from other agencies and is viewing this shared services initiative as another opportunity to evaluate alternative ways to provide the highest possible service while effectively managing our financial resources.

Finally, to help me to lead many of the positive changes I have shared with you, I have had the pleasure of hiring a new Commissioner for Patents. This is certainly not an everyday occurrence for a USPTO Director, and that’s a good thing because it’s a big decision with a host of long-term implications for the agency. In this case, the search for a worthy successor to Peggy Focarino was made a lot easier by the fact that no other candidate had the same ideal combination of policy, operations, and examination experience as the colleague sitting here to my right and that’s Drew Hirshfeld. In short, Drew has done it all. He began his career at the USPTO in 1994 as a patent examiner and then rose in the Patents organization to become a Supervisory Patent Examiner and later a Group Director of Technology Center 2100, overseeing Computer Networking and Database workgroups. During the tenure of Director David Kappos, Drew served two years as the USPTO Chief of Staff, managing operations and serving as a vital liaison with the Department of Commerce. And most recently, as Deputy Commissioner for Patent Examination Policy since November 2011, Drew developed patent examination guidance on difficult topics like patent subject matter eligibility and clarity of the prosecution record. He has my fullest confidence, and I have no doubt that the USPTO and the American public at large will benefit from his wisdom and experience in his new role as Commissioner. And, with that, allow me to turn it over to Drew for some additional remarks. 

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