Remarks by Michelle K. Lee at the Trilateral Meeting

USPTO Deputy Director Michelle K. Lee

Update from Trilateral Offices

Meeting of Trilateral Heads of Offices with Trilateral Industry

Yokohama, Japan

March 3, 2015

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

Good Afternoon.  I would like to thank Commissioner Ito, the Japan Patent Office, Mr. Hiroshi Takenaka, and the Japan Intellectual Property Association for hosting the Trilateral meetings this week in Yokohama. We are, as always, very busy at the USPTO. There isn’t time to update you on all of our exciting initiatives and activities, but let me share a few that are of great importance to us that I believe will be of interest to you.

You may have heard of our new Enhanced Patent Quality Initiative, which we’ve just launched. All of us share a passion for issuing patents of the highest possible quality. But we at the USPTO know there is always room for improvement. Our new initiative is built around three core elements: Excellence in prosecution services; Excellence in customer service; and Excellence in quality measurement. We’re considering all options—large and small—before examination, during examination, and after examination, to include increasing resources to patent examiners as well as comparing best practices with all of you, and other offices around the world. We are so committed to this mission that we created a new senior executive position, a Deputy Commissioner for Patent Quality. We’ve appointed one of the agency’s best and brightest, Valencia Martin-Wallace, to focus solely on patent quality, now and in the future. We’re seeking public comment from any and all, including everyone here today.

We’re also holding a 2-day Patent Quality Summit at the USPTO on March 25th and 26th. Attendees will include patent prosecutors and litigators, patent owners and inventors, licensees, business leaders, legislators, and jurists. We’d love to have some of you there as well. If you’re not able to find your way to Alexandria, Virginia, you can participate online.

One reason we can now focus even more intently on patent quality is thanks to the great progress we’ve made over the years on patent pendency. As of the end of January, our first office action pendency was down to 18.2 months, down 28 percent from where we were at the time of the passage of the America Invents Act in 2011.  Over that same time period, we’ve managed a 34 percent decrease in traditional total pendency, to 26.8 months.

Some of you may recall that we now have a fast-track service we call Track One, which promises full disposition within one year. I’m particularly pleased that we are able to offer a 50 percent discount on that program for small entities and a 75 percent discount for so-called micro-entities, which includes many independent inventors. Our pendency from petition grant to allowance in Track One is well below 12 months; in fact, it’s a mere 5.1 months. That pace is critical for innovators seeking the IP rights they deserve so they can better attract funding and deliver their inventions to the global marketplace.

We remain focused on our backlog of unexamined patent applications. Over the last four years we’ve managed a 20 percent reduction in our backlog, despite an average increase in applications of about 4 percent each year. As of last week it was below 600,000. I’m particularly impressed by our Patents team on this effort because for the last two years our entire examination corps switched over to the Cooperative Patent Classification system we developed with the European Patent Office. I’m sure my colleagues can share their own stories about the challenges involved in that transition. But we feel it has been well worth it. With our examiners now fully functional in CPC, we expect our backlog figure to continue to decline. These historic lows in backlog and pendency are due in large part to our ability to hire more top-notch patent examiners since the AIA’s passage. We now have more than 8,000 patent examiners, and are looking to add more this year.

One way we are recruiting more examiners is by making use of the regional offices we’re opening across the United States. Some of you may know I began my service at the USPTO as the first director of our Silicon Valley office. So it should come as no surprise that one of my priorities is advancing the growth and reach of our regional offices. We’ve made tremendous progress in the last year on that front.

Last summer we opened the permanent location of our Rocky Mountain regional office Denver, Colorado. We have both patent examiners and Patent Trial and Appeal Board judges on site there, just as we do in our Midwest regional office in Detroit, Michigan. The Denver office is led by Russell Slifer, an IP law veteran and design engineer. And we just named Dr. Cristal Sheppard to manage our Detroit office. She brings us more than two decades of experience as an IP law practitioner, as well as a PhD in Cellular and Molecular Biology. We anticipate opening a permanent Silicon Valley office in San Jose, California, later this year. Our leader there is John Cabeca, a longtime veteran of the USPTO and an expert in the fields of semiconductors and electrical systems technologies. We also plan to open a permanent location for our fourth regional office in Dallas, Texas, and will soon be announcing our director there. These offices give us an ongoing presence in all four U.S. continental time zones, allowing inventors, entrepreneurs, and small businesses the ability to work closely with USPTO experts.

Of course our agenda is not merely domestic. We remain focused on in encouraging strong and accessible IP protection regimes around the world. For example, we were pleased last November to host a Roundtable on International Harmonization of Substantive Patent Law.

Many representatives from your organizations visited, as well as leaders from other offices around the world. I felt the event provided a great opportunity for a frank exchange of views on key issues, including the scope and definition of prior art, the grace period, novelty and non-obviousness. We’re working with the comments and feedback from that Harmonization Roundtable to further our efforts to identify “best practices” in international patent harmonization, and to strengthen essential work sharing schemes between counterpart offices.

Furthermore, in January of this year, we held a public symposium on trade secrets. That was the first event of its kind for our office. With panels consisting of representatives from WIPO, the London School of Economics, corporations, law firms, and U.S. Congressional offices, we discussed topics that included the economics of trade secret theft;  the relationship between patents and trade secrets; and international trade secret protection. We were pleased by the success of this symposium and are looking forward to continuing the meaningful dialogue on the policies involved in trade secret protection both domestically and internationally.

As the year continues, we hope to engage stakeholders on a variety of other important domestic and international issues though similar events – ever increasing the awareness and importance of how robust IP protection is essential for global success.

Thank you again to the JPO and JIPA for hosting the Trilateral meetings here in Yokohama.  My team and I are looking forward to very informative discussions. 

# # #