Expansion of prioritized examination
Blog by Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO Andrei Iancu, and Commissioner for Patents Drew Hirshfeld
Innovation and the protection of it are hallmarks of America’s competitive edge. To help businesses and innovators move through the patent process quickly so they can make informed decisions on developing and marketing more of their products and services, the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (AIA) established the Track One program. This program provides for the prioritized examination of patent applications.
The program works extremely well. As shown on our Patents Dashboard, the average pendency from filing a Track One request to a first office action has been 3.0 months in fiscal year 2019. Customers who took advantage of the program during the same period received, on average, final disposition within 7.8 months. For businesses and inventors who need to have their applications examined quickly, the Track One program offers a great solution.
The AIA originally stipulated that the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) could not grant more than 10,000 requests for Track One prioritized examinations in any fiscal year. To meet the needs of our stakeholders, we recently issued regulations to increase the number of Track One requests that we could grant. Effective September 3, we increased the limit to 12,000 each fiscal year, as detailed in our Federal Register Notice.
Shortly after issuing that notice, the USPTO granted its 10,000th Track One request for fiscal year 2019 and continued processing additional requests throughout the remainder of the fiscal year. The higher limit provides the opportunity for more interested stakeholders to participate in, and benefit from, prioritized examination in the cases they deem appropriate. With respect to the Patent Office as a whole, as we recently announced, the USPTO improved overall pendency to an average of 14.7 months for first office actions and 23.8 months total. This program allows even faster action in cases applicants select based on their own needs.
Applicants have embraced the Track One program due to the speed with which the applications are handled and the high-quality examinations that they receive. The USPTO remains committed to meeting the needs of our applicants through innovative programs such as this, and will continue its work to improve the experience of those who come before us.
USPTO meets critical goals to reduce patent examination pendency
Blog by Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO Andrei Iancu and Commissioner for Patents Drew Hirshfeld
For many years, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has been working to reduce patent pendency times. And since 2018, the agency has had specific goals of under 15 months for first office actions and under 24 months for total pendency, on average.
We have now achieved these goals! As of September 30, 2019, which is the end of our 2019 fiscal year (FY), the averages are 14.7 months for first action pendency and 23.8 months for total pendency. All along, we have maintained and indeed improved the quality of our examination. This achievement marks the USPTO’s lowest first action pendency since January 2002, despite total application filings nearly doubling in that time, from 353,000 in FY 2002 to 667,000 in FY 2019.
Our success in meeting these goals is the direct result of the efforts of our employees, at all levels, to drastically improve analyses, streamline processes, and clarify approaches that benefit all applications. At the patent examining level, supervisors and examiners undertook and implemented complex data analyses to better prioritize applications and balance workloads without sacrificing quality. At the application processing level, the team focused on increasing efficiencies to accelerate the overall patent examination process. These actions led, for example, to a decrease in the average processing time for an amendment filed in a patent application from 26.2 days to 6.8 days. And, of course, we increased the examiner ranks and we improved examiner training so that today the USPTO boasts the best examining corps anywhere in the world.
But our work does not stop here. We will in fact redouble our efforts to optimize pendency using considered analytics that make sense. Among other changes, we are improving how cases are routed to the right examiner and how time is allocated to each examiner based on a number of factors. And we will focus on areas that need most attention and strive to meet in as many cases as possible the time frames outlined by the patent term adjustment statute (35 U.S.C. 154b). This means, for example, issuing a first office action in as many applications as possible in no more than 14 months.
Processing and examining patent applications in a high quality and timely manner, a primary tenet of our 2018-2022 Strategic Plan, advances economic prosperity and supports a business environment that protects, cultivates and promotes innovation and entrepreneurship. In turn, this helps grow the economy, create jobs, and ultimately improve the way we all live.
Born of the Constitution and steeped in our history, the American patent system is a crown jewel, a gold standard. The USPTO’s more than 12,000 employees come to work every day dedicated to ensuring its continued success. Timely and quality patent examination are key components. We are proud of our achievements as stewards of this treasured system.
Spotlight on Commerce: Jim Alstrum-Acevedo, Supervisory Patent Examiner, USPTO
Guest blog by Supervisory Patent Examiner Jim H. Alstrum-Acevedo
Jim Alstrum-Acevedo, Supervisory Patent Examiner at the USPTO. (Photo by Jay Premack/USPTO)
I am a Supervisory Patent Examiner (SPE), whose team examines pharmaceutical and biotechnology patent applications. My skilled team of fifteen examiners evaluates patents concerning short polypeptides having less than 100 amino acids, compositions containing these polypeptides, and methods of making and using these compounds. Examples of polypeptides examined by my team include insulin derivatives used to improve the treatment of diabetes mellitus as well as polypeptides with uses as antibiotics effective against antibiotic resistant bacteria, immunosuppresants useful in organ transplantation, and polypeptides to control blood clotting for the treatment of clotting disorders, such as, hemophilia. In short, the patents issued by my team help promote the well-being and health of people all over the country by facilitating intellectual property protection for new peptidic drugs, pharmaceutical compositions, and treatments for chronic diseases (e.g. diabetes) and public health concerns, such as bacterial infections caused by methicillin resistant S. aureus (MRSA).
I was born in Bogotá, Colombia to a Connecticut yankee, who was a former Peace Corps volunteer and an aspiring literature and Spanish language professor, and his smart Colombian wife, who was a high school English teacher. My family moved first from the high mesa of Bogotá to Laramie, Wyoming and Oxford, Mississippi, before settling down in Normal, Illinois, where my father was a Spanish language and Colombian literature professor, and my mom was a family counselor, after finishing a master’s degree in counseling. I grew up in an environment that emphasized education, learning, and helping others. My parents set a great example for me and my three siblings by their love of books, teaching, and service to others through their chosen professions, and work helping out the local Latino community in central Illinois.
Unlike patent examiners in many other areas of patents at the USPTO, I’m not an engineer. I have a Ph.D. in inorganic chemistry from UNC Chapel Hill. For my dissertation, I worked on the synthesis of photoactive inorganic coordination compounds that I appended to organic polymers to obtain an “artificial photosynthetic system.” I did a short post-doc and was hired to be a patent examiner in Technical Center 1600 in 2005. After a few years of patent examining, I decided to get a juris doctor (JD) in the part-time program at The George Washington University and passed the Virginia bar in 2012. Having a law degree has helped me better understand case law, the positions advocated by applicants’ attorneys during patent prosecution, and to facilitate communication between examiners and applicants.
I am a people person and helping others is something I really enjoy and find rewarding in my job as a SPE and in other interests that I have. For example, I am a member and president of the USPTO professional chapter of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, an affinity/employee resource group, which seeks to promote STEM education at all levels, provide a sense of family to SHPE members at the USPTO, and help with recruitment of talented Hispanics into STEM-based positions at the USPTO. I’m also involved in a local non-profit called Asian American Success (AASuccess), which provides life skills training to Asian American youth, especially from the local Vietnamese community and remotely to a community in Vietnam. AASuccess tries to inspire youth to make giving back a key facet of their lives as they acquire life skills that will help them succeed in their chosen careers.
Hispanic Heritage Month runs each year from September 15 through October 15 and highlights the many contributions Hispanics have made and continue to make to our great nation in various areas ranging from science and technology, to service in the armed services, and enriching our culture through new creative works, such as Lin-Manuel Miranda’s recent musical, Hamilton. This yearly celebration is also a great opportunity to inspire Hispanic youth, who are under-represented in STEM fields, to strive for careers in STEM so they can become tomorrow’s innovators, physicians, and educators who will continue to improve the lives of people all across the world.
My advice for today’s youth interested in a career as a patent examiner or in STEM generally is to follow your passions, believe in yourself, ask questions, and always try to keep learning something new, regardless of where your life path takes you.
Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting the contributions of Department of Commerce Hispanic employees in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15--October 15).
Recent advances in ex parte appeals and hearings before the Patent Trial and Appeal Board
Guest blog post by Chief Judge of the Patent Trial and Appeal Board Scott Boalick
While recent changes to Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) practices for America Invents Act (AIA) trials have garnered a significant amount of attention recently, the Board has also been making major strides in ex parte appeal pendency as well as improving accessibility to hearings in both types of matters.
The Board brought the ex parte appeal inventory down from a high of over 26,000 appeals in 2012 to less than 8,700 as of the end of the fiscal year. This is the lowest inventory in over a decade.
The Board’s significant reduction in ex parte appeal inventory means a corresponding significant reduction in ex parte appeal pendency. Judges obtain and decide cases faster, which translates to a shorter wait time for patent applicants to receive a decision regarding their patent applications. In fact, the average ex parte appeal pendency, which is measured from receipt at PTAB after completion of all appeal briefing through the mailing of a decision on appeal, has been cut by 50% from about 30 months in 2015 to about 15 months at the end of the fiscal year. And we are working to resolve pendency even more.
Chief Judge Boalick meets with his team. (Photo by Jay Premack/USPTO)
The Board has updated the notice of hearing in ex parte appeals. The updated notice allows the appellant to designate any regional office where they want to appear to argue their case. The updated notice also allows the appellant to request remote viewing of the hearing from any regional office. For example, an appellant may elect to appear for their hearing in Denver and request remote viewing for in-house counsel in San Jose.
Further, the Board has replaced its electronic docket management system for ex parte appeals to better assign, manage, and track cases and workloads. In December 2016, the USPTO deployed a new IT system called PTAB End-to-End (E2E) to receive and manage AIA trial filings. In July 2018, the USPTO expanded the functionality of PTAB E2E to manage ex parte appeal filings. Through this expansion of E2E for ex parte appeals, the USPTO retired its legacy IT system previously used for appeal management. While the public will continue to file appeals through EFS-Web, judges will use PTAB E2E to process appeal decisions in more streamlined way, which means better customer service for applicants.
Separately, the Board has been making hearings more accessible and transparent. Among other improvements, the Board recently published a Hearings Guide to help parties prepare for a hearing. While this document did not create any new rules or procedures, it brought together separate descriptions of existing procedures so that parties have a single easy reference guide for any hearings-related questions. Additionally, the Board recently renovated the hearing room in its Rocky Mountain regional office to reconfigure the layout for better space utilization, and we are about to begin renovating and expanding one of the hearing rooms at our headquarters in Alexandria so that more members of the public can attend important hearings in person, such as our new precedential opinion panel hearings. We likewise are planning to update the audiovisual equipment in the other hearing rooms over the next 24 months.
We are proud of the strides that we have made to lower the inventory and pendency in ex parte appeals to better serve our stakeholders. And we hope these updates will give stakeholders more information and options to enhance their appeals practice. We will continue to make improvements and welcome your suggestions, which can be emailed to PTAB_Appeals_Suggestions@uspto.gov.
Inventors converge at Invention-Con 2019
Guest blog by Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO Laura Peter
Can a 16-year old young woman change the world? Grant her a patent and watch her! Recently, we were privileged to hear an inspiring keynote from Kavita Shukla—an innovator, entrepreneur, and CEO—who is the force behind Freshglow Co. and inventor of FreshPaper. Her patented technology prevents food spoilage and helps avert hunger around the world. After receiving her first patent at the age of 16 and selling FreshPaper at farmers markets, she built her business from the ground up and became an award winning and successful entrepreneur.
Invention-Con keynote speaker Kavita Shukla describes her journey as an inventor and entrepreneur. (photo by Cynthia Blancaflor/USPTO)
She joined other notable speakers Invention-Con 2019, hosted by the USPTO at our headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia. Invention-Con is an outstanding opportunity for inventors, makers, and entrepreneurs to meet and learn from each other, attend workshops, and hear from our officials and intellectual property (IP) experts. Agencies including the Small Business Administration and Copyright Office also presented useful educational materials during the conference.
As it has been the last several years, the two-day event was completely sold out, with over 170 in-person attendees and over 4,000 unique online viewers. Many attendees were new to IP and wanted to learn whether it’s worth patenting their idea or registering a trademark for their product or business. IP professionals from the USPTO and other agencies were able to provide them with an introduction to IP and helped guide them to the resources they needed. Other attendees were already patented inventors who have a product ready for manufacture and wanted to know how to get it from the workshop to the marketplace. For them, we showcased entrepreneurs like Kavita to share their stories and offer hard-earned lessons.
We were lucky to hear from many speakers who shared their stories about obtaining IP protection, developing a business, and commercializing a product. Past Invention-Con favorite, Howie Busch, an inventor and entrepreneur, hosted a panel of Shark Tank contestants. These Shark Tank speakers had great advice to share with our attendees on how to stand out, develop, fund, and market their products.
Entrepreneur Howie Busch (right) moderates the panel “Swim with the Sharks: Learn how national exposure changes your business,” comprised of past Shark Tank contestants. (Photo by Cynthia Blancaflor/USPTO)
It is not uncommon for inventors to return to Invention-Con, year after year. One example is Ruth Young, who after attending in 2017 and 2018 took advantage of the USPTO’s Law School Clinic Certification, Pro Bono, and Pro Se programs. This year, she joined us as a panelist and shared her inspirational invention journey.
Prior to joining the USPTO, I worked with high-tech startups as an IP attorney in Silicon Valley. I know that launching a business can often be an overwhelming and intimidating experience, and the patent process is one more task that is added. The USPTO issues nearly 25% of patents to small and micro-entities, and the percentage of micro-entity patents has grown every year since the USPTO introduced that category for patent applications. In fact, the USPTO issues over 300,000 patents a year, and over 7,500 of those are to micro-entities, including to independent inventors.
It only takes one really good idea to launch a successful enterprise, and it is inspiring to see that many of them are also looking to help society. Consider, for example, the story of Alice Chun, whose company Solight Design was a winner of the 2018 Patents for Humanity award for the SolarPUFF™, a compact foldable light made of a flexible waterproof material with a solar panel on top. Alice was inspired after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti to create a product that made light after dark available for the 1.6 billion people still living without electricity. Although the SolarPUFF™ was designed with developing countries in mind, this unique light has also found a market in camping and other outdoor uses. By issuing patents to independent inventors like Alice Chun, in addition to larger entities, the USPTO is helping sow the seeds of success for many other small companies that will continue to invigorate our thriving innovation economy.
History has shown that IP rights have been indispensable to our country’s prosperity and economic growth. In fact, our founders thought IP rights were so important, they had the foresight to enshrine them in our Constitution. In Article I, Section 8, Clause 8, they granted Congress the power “To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.”
Since then, we have benefitted from the development of electric lighting, powered flight, DNA synthesis, the internet, and countless other transformational technologies. At the USPTO, we are seeing an increasing number of developing technologies that we will benefit from tomorrow, such as artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, and biotechnology.
IP is of key importance to this progress. A 2016 report by the USPTO estimated that in 2014, IP-intensive industries supported 45.5 million jobs in the U.S. and contributed $6.6 trillion to the U.S. economy, equivalent to 38.2% of GDP. It is in our interest—in fact, it is our mission—to help all inventors achieve their goals by protecting the fruits of their imagination and determination. Every day, our patent examiners and trademark examiners work with inventors and businesspeople to secure and protect their IP rights for their innovations and brands.
Innovation is the great equalizer. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you came from. It’s what you can do that gets you IP rights. And, the USPTO’s doors are open to everyone, from all walks of life. Inventors and entrepreneurs are the heart and soul of innovation in America. We at the USPTO remember that every day as we walk through these doors.
Together with Deputy Commissioner for Patents Andrew Faile and Commissioner for Trademarks Mary Boney Denison, it was a pleasure to meet so many innovative and creative entrepreneurs. If you missed Invention-Con, you can watch recordings of the sessions in the videos section of the USPTO Facebook page. The Invention-Con 2019 booklet also provides a valuable list of services we offer to support inventors, as well as who to contact to learn more. We hope you can join us next year for another incredibly educational and useful Invention-Con!
Spotlight on Commerce: Tariq Hafiz, Group Director, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
Ed. note: This post is part of the very first Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting the contributions of Department of Commerce employees who are First Generation Professionals. First Generation Professionals are one of the first in their immediate families to enter the professional work environment. They are professionals with varying socio-economic backgrounds, life experiences, skills and talents that diversify our workforce.
Blog post by Tariq Hafiz, Group Director, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
Tariq Hafiz, Group Director, USPTO
My name is Tariq and I am a first generation professional. I came to the United States of America at the age of 10 and immediately attended elementary school without knowing a word of English. I learned the English alphabet in the 4th grade. I was the only immigrant in the whole school.
While growing up being an immigrant and eventually being the first in my family to attend college was not an easy road, it also was extremely fulfilling. Although my parents could not provide me with guidance on how to access and navigate college or give me career advice, they were supportive of my goals. My mother did not speak English and had not even completed grade school, while my father had only completed high school. One of the traits that I acquired from my father was an ethic for hard work. Even though he had a non-professional job, he always went to work, and I rarely saw him take a sick day. In fact, I don’t ever remember him taking a day off except for one week of vacation every August.
When I landed my first professional job after graduation, I was extremely grateful. I knew that I had to work extra hard to show my gratitude and ensure that there was nothing that would jeopardize my job, due to a lack of effort. After a few years with a defense contractor, I came to work at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) where I began my career as a patent examiner. As a patent examiner, my performance was based on objective goals, which was an environment in which I thrived. Thus, I moved up the ladder quickly. I worked my way up to management positions, and after successfully completing the Department of Commerce's Candidate Development Program, I became a member of the Senior Executive Service (SES).
Throughout my career, I have mentored many employees–both professional and non-professional staff–helping them with their career development. Growing up without role models made me appreciate how important they are in a person’s career development. I hope that through mentoring employees, I can be a role model for others in their lives.
On September 12, the Department of Commerce hosted the inaugural First Generation Professionals 2019 Summit, and Tariq participated as a guest speaker. Learn more about the First Generation Professionals Initiative.
Appeal board hearing availability in the regional offices
Blog by Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO Laura Peter and Director of the Rocky Mountain Regional Office Molly Kocialski
The Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) and Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) have been making significant strides improving access to hearings, ensuring transparency in proceedings, and providing an effective alternative to district court litigation. The USPTO’s four regional offices in Dallas, San Jose, Denver, and Detroit augment these improvements by offering regional hearing facilities for PTAB and TTAB matters.
At the USPTO, we understand that when an attorney advocates on behalf of a client, or when entrepreneurs or small businesses want to protect their investments, there are many IP-related concerns to consider, including the costs of appeals and trials and ease of access to proceedings. This is why we have worked, and will continue to work, to provide local and regional innovators with the tools, information and resources they need to succeed and ultimately, protect their innovations.
As an example of how we are improving our services for stakeholders of PTAB and TTAB services, after a year-long renovation process recently completed in our Rocky Mountain Regional Office (RMRO), the layout now allows for better participation by stakeholders in hearings, and public viewing when available. The RMRO hearing room has been reconfigured for better space utilization, and to have increased capacity. Upgrades such as these will continue in all USPTO offices (including Alexandria Hearing Room D) to, for example, increase the occupancy size to accommodate viewers of public hearings. Along with the space renovations, the audiovisual equipment is also being updated in all of the USPTO offices, as budget allows, to ensure that each and every hearing room continues to provide the dignity the proceedings deserve. This will ensure that every regional office can reach their growing stakeholder needs for such services to the best of their ability.
The hearing room at the Rocky Mountain Regional U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, before construction with a capacity of 12.
The hearing room at the Rocky Mountain Regional U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, newly redesigned, with a capacity of 70.
TTAB allows practitioners to make use of the hearing rooms in the regional offices in their practice before the TTAB. Since time and cost constraints can frequently pose a hurdle to a client’s attendance at TTAB hearings, the regional offices can provide a more convenient and cost-effective venue, so that clients can stay attuned to and be present for proceedings that can significantly affect their trademark interests. The facilities present at the USPTO regional offices in Detroit, Denver, San Jose and Dallas now enable clients the opportunity to now be able to attend the hearings that affect the protection of their brand investments.
With regard to PTAB, Notices of Hearing will now include a QR code printed on the notice to allow recipients to more easily access the recently published PTAB Hearings Guide. The PTAB Hearing Guide provides an easy reference guide for any hearings-related questions including scheduling for both ex parte appeals and American Invents Act (AIA) trials. The Hearings Guide also includes instructions on how to exercise the option to attend or view hearings not only at headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia, but also at any of the regional offices. This allows stakeholders across the country the ability to be more active in the protection of their intellectual property rights, and also to stay more acutely attuned to recent Board proceedings and decisions.
Hearings in AIA trials are scheduled as set forth in an order issued by the adjudicating panel. The scheduling order generally will indicate if a panel is available to hold a final hearing in a regional office or location outside of Alexandria, Virginia, and will provide guidance on how a party may request a location preference. If a location preference is requested, the hearing date choice will take into account a judge’s schedule in the requested regional office.
In both TTAB and PTAB hearings, including for ex parte appeals and AIA trials, the client can request to view the hearing in the regional office, regardless of whether their legal counsel is presenting arguments at USPTO headquarters or at a different regional office–meaning the client can view the hearing at the office most convenient for the client. In addition, for oral hearings open to the public, the regional offices hearings facilities allow for increased opportunity for practitioners and law students to attend and observe oral arguments to further their own education and skillsets. Patent Precedential Opinion Panel (POP) hearings will also be streamed from headquarters to the regional offices for public viewing in the hearing rooms.
If you are interested in attending a public hearing at a regional office, the information is available in the Hearings Guide, or you may contact our regional offices directly through the information found on their respective sections of the USPTO website. For further questions about any of these improvements, please contact your local USPTO regional office.
Rocky Mountain Regional U.S. Patent and Trademark Office – 5 years supporting innovation
Blog by Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO Andrei Iancu, and Director of the Rocky Mountain Regional Office Molly Kocialski
Five years ago this summer, we opened our Rocky Mountain Regional Office (RMRO) in the Byron G. Rogers Building in downtown Denver. It was a huge day for both the USPTO and the people of Denver, whose great city is home to 24 federally funded research laboratories, four major research universities, and a creative and innovative environment full of start-ups. It also helped fulfill a key promise of the America Invents Act, to better connect inventors and entrepreneurs around the country with the resources of the USPTO.
Since that day in 2014, the RMRO has engaged with more than 90,000 regional stakeholders through over 1,260 outreach and education events in Montana, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, and Colorado.
The Byron G. Rogers Federal Building in downtown Denver- home of the Rocky Mountain Regional U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (Photo by Jay Premack/USPTO)
The RMRO is paving the way on regular educational programming like our quarterly Trademark Tuesday and Path-to-a-Patent programs. These are broadcast region-wide through the help of our very engaged Patent and Trademark Resource Centers. Another way we have removed obstacles and increased access to IP resources is by encouraging more personal interactions with the USPTO. Today, inventors and entrepreneurs can walk into the RMRO, use the public search facility, and easily obtain answers to their questions. Additionally, IP practitioners and their clients can conduct examiner interviews, participate in Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) hearings, or view other public hearings, all from our office.
Recruiting and retaining local talent is a key goal for the USPTO, with the added benefit of providing jobs for the local community. The last two classes of examiner recruits had 425 applicants for 25 jobs in 2018 and 317 applicants for 17 jobs in 2019, respectively. Such demand for our available positions is impressive for a state with approximately a 2.5 percent unemployment rate in each of those years, and we hope to answer more of that demand as we grow in the years to come. In addition, there are 94 employees in the Rocky Mountain Regional Office plus 246 examiners hoteling throughout the region—quite a change from 49 hoteling examiners prior to the regional office opening in 2014.
The RMRO is the first USPTO regional office to have representation from all technology centers, allowing for improved communication and sharing of resources between examiners and stakeholders. We also have seven classes of new patent examiners as well as 10 PTAB judges, an outreach officer, and support staff. In addition, our physical space in the Byron Rogers Federal Building has grown, with updates and improvements to a public search facility, interview room, and newly redesigned hearing room.
People truly want to be in Denver, and if you are here for even a short time you will understand why. We are proud of the role the USPTO is playing in the “Mile High City” and the connection with the local community that we have built in such a short time. We look forward to continued growth, partnership, and innovation here and throughout the Rocky Mountain region in the next five years and beyond.
USPTO announces Federal Register Notice on artificial intelligence patent issues
Guest blog by Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Deputy Director of the USPTO Laura Peter
As a former Silicon Valley intellectual property attorney for more than 20 years, the potential of disruptive technology has long been of special interest to me. Artificial intelligence (AI) promises to be one of the most important innovations that powers many disruptive ventures and brings exciting changes to our legal system. AI is already influencing the way we work, travel, shop, and play.
From autonomous vehicles to improved medical diagnostics to voice assistants, AI is increasingly at the forefront of innovation. As a continuation of the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s (USPTO) policy leadership in the field of AI, the USPTO convened a conference on Artificial Intelligence: Intellectual Property Policy Considerations on January 31 this year. With six panels featuring IP specialists from around the world, the USPTO considered AI’s impact on our innovation ecosystem.
The USPTO continues to promote and protect AI-technology innovations and entrepreneurship. With respect to AI inventions to date, the USPTO has issued thousands of patents on AI technologies, and the future grows more exciting every day as new AI technologies are developed. However, with excitement comes change and the potential for uncertainty. Therefore, the USPTO must continue to ensure the appropriate balance in the administration of our IP system.
With this in mind, the USPTO looks forward to working with the AI academic and industrial community. Working together, we will continuously improve the USPTO’s efforts to foster innovation, competitiveness, and job growth.
I am also excited to announce that we will be publishing a notice in the Federal Register that poses questions regarding the intersection of patent law with AI that the public may respond to. This first step will allow us to gather information on AI patent policy issues for purposes of evaluating whether further guidance is needed and informing the development of any such guidance. Questions the public is invited to reply to include:
- Do current patent laws and regulations regarding inventorship need to be revised to take into account inventions where an entity or entities other than a natural person contributed to the conception of an AI invention or any other invention?
- Are there any patent eligibility considerations unique to AI inventions?
- Does AI impact the level of a person of ordinary skill in the art?
- Do the disclosure rules (enablement, specification, etc.) need to be altered for AI-related patent applications?
This is just a sample of some of the issues on which the USPTO is seeking input regarding AI patent policy. And this is only the first step. In addition to patents, in the coming months and beyond, the USPTO will examine the full spectrum of intellectual property policy issues that have arisen, or may arise, as AI technologies become more advanced. From AI’s impact on existing intellectual property rights, including copyright and trademarks, to considering if new legal rights are needed in the wake of more advanced AI, the USPTO will continue our thought leadership on AI-related intellectual property policy issues.
Dog Days of Summer
Guest blog by Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Deputy Director of the USPTO Laura Peter
“Sitting back in the evening, stargazing and stroking your dog, is an infallible remedy.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
The “dog days of summer” have arrived! According to the Farmer’s Almanac, they traditionally take place from July 3rd to August 11th. You may be surprised to learn that the phrase “dog days of summer” originated with the Greeks and Romans and is derived from the “dog star” Sirius and its position in the sky during this time. These days may be the hottest days of the year, depending on your latitude on Earth.
Intellectual property (IP) rights power the U.S. economy across many industries, including the pet sector. Patents on technical innovations and trademarks on branding are critical assets in the pet industry. In fact, legal specialization to support the pet industry has taken off: a number of law firms have now launched practices around food, beverage, and pet issues, representing a wide array of industry leaders on matters ranging from litigation, regulatory, and IP rights. Similarly, government oversight over the pet industry has grown to agencies including the Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Federal Trade Commission.
Growth in the pet sector has soared, and shows continued economic strength, even during times of recession. Currently, sixty-eight percent of U.S. households, or about 85 million families, own a pet. Over 43 million of those households own dogs. In 2018, the pet industry in the United States was $72 billion; it is estimated to exceed $75 billion in 2019. The largest sector of this industry is pet health care, with $18 billion spent on vet care and $16 billion spent on supplies and over the counter medication. A close second is the pet food sector, which grossed $30 billion last year. Dog owners spend almost $1,300 a year on their pets.
Underpinning the powerful growth of the pet industry economy is strong IP protection. While we may be familiar with some of the big brand names in the pet retailer space, we are also seeing record-setting growth and entrepreneurial activity and inventions by new innovators. Entrepreneurs launching start-ups and building new businesses rely on patent protection and trademark registration as a means of differentiating their products and attracting customer loyalty. Also, IP protection wards off infringers and counterfeit goods. However, even though legally empowered with intellectual property rights, sadly, the threat of counterfeiting now requires the Environmental Protection Agency and other regulators to post frequent warnings about the dangers of counterfeit pet medicines and/or pet food that can harm pets, as well as nascent businesses.
So let’s take a closer look at some examples of innovations driving this thriving industry.
- The Frisbee™ is still one of the most beloved dog toy inventions. Fred Morrison created and sold the first flying disc toy, named the Pluto Platter in 1955. Morrison filed a design patent (U.S. Patent No. D183,626) in 1957. He then sold the rights to Wham-O, who renamed the toy and received a trademark registration for “Frisbee” in 1959, named after the pie tin sold by the Frisbie Pie Company in the late 1800s. While working for Wham-O, Edward Headrick designed an improved “Flying Saucer,” for which he was granted a patent in 1967.
Morrison patent for "flying disc toy."
- The automotive market has expanded to cater to our pets. For example, Tesla has created a “dog mode” so you can leave your pet in the car with the air conditioning (or heat) on while you run a quick errand. The console informs people passing by: “My owner will be back soon. Don’t worry! The A/C is on and it’s [temperature].”
Tesla has created a “dog mode” where pets can be left in a car for a short time with the air conditioning (or heat) on. (Photo courtesy of Tesla)
- In the fitness sector, you can track your pet’s activity with “smart collars,” which function similarly to the human activity tracker, FitBit. There are multiple patents directed to tracking systems for monitoring a pet’s location, activity, training, and creating virtual fences.
- To keep our pets safe, implantable microchip devices equipped with GPS can help find the almost 10 million pets that are lost every year. Numerous patents directed to implantable microchip devices, which are generally the size of a grain of rice, can be implanted by your local veterinarian.
- Some pets struggle with health problems, including joint ailments or even lost limbs. In the 1950s, inventor Carl Creamer received a patent for a “Mobile Sling for Crippled Animals” (U.S. Patent No. 2,546,726). These veterinary prosthetic carts are intended to help animals experiencing a range of health issues including, spinal damage, forelimb or shoulder pain or weakness, degenerative myelopathy, elbow dysplasia, and other joint and limb ailments. His patent has spawned a cottage industry of device manufacturers working on a range of new and improved designs to assist with a variety of ailments for a range of breeds.
Carl Creamer patent for "mobile sling for crippled animals."
- Taking this to another level in the health industry, prosthetic implants made by 3D printing techniques can help disabled pets attain a better quality of life. Many of these devices were inspired by similar devices designed for humans. Virginia-based Animal Ortho Care, and its founder Derrick Campana, was one of the first to use 3D-printed prosthetics for animals. He is one of only 10 people in the world to design prosthetics for animals, including elephants, cows, goats, horses, dogs, and cats.
Throughout the “dog days of summer,” including National Dog Day on August 26th, follow the USPTO on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram for more examples of pet-related inventions and trademarks, as we celebrate the ways in which these inventions have made our pets — and us — happier, healthier, and safer.
Apollo 50: The role of intellectual property in space commerce
By Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO Andrei Iancu
Director of the USPTO Andrei Iancu addresses the audience at the July 23, 2019 Apollo 50 event. (Photo by Jay Premack/USPTO)
On July 20, 1969, an estimated 530 million people watched from around the world as Apollo’s lunar module touched down in the Sea of Tranquility and Neil Armstrong became the first person to step onto the surface of the moon. It’s hard to believe that it took less than 65 years from the Wright brothers’ patent to the first step on the moon, and the fact is the pace of innovation just keeps accelerating. On July 23, the USPTO celebrated the 50th anniversary of the moon landing and its significance on invention, space commerce, and intellectual property (IP). The program’s two major themes quickly became evident: innovation and inspiration.
In an overflowing auditorium full of employees, students, and members of the public, we were honored to be joined by many special guests including: Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross; NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine; astronauts Kathy Sullivan and Paul Richards; Director of the Office of Space Commerce Kevin O’Connell; NASA Associate Director, Satellite Servicing Capacities Office Frank Cepollina; and several CEOs of aerospace companies. If you missed it, watch the recording.
Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross discusses administration goals on space commerce. (Photo by Jay Premack/USPTO)
In his remarks, Secretary Ross spoke about the importance of space commerce, stating that “protecting the intellectual property of new space companies, entrepreneurs, inventors, and individuals is essential for U.S. success.” He also acknowledge the important role of USPTO examiners and employees who “provide inventors with the protections they need to commercialize their technologies, create companies, hire employees, and put people, satellites, manufacturing plants, and tourists into space.”
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine discusses the importance of intellectual property in continuing NASA’s mission. (Photo by Jay Premack/USPTO)
Administrator Bridenstine explained how NASA obtains patents for many reasons, including its continuing mission to elevate the human condition. Part of the reason that NASA has more than 1200 patents in its current portfolio is to drive down the costs of technology, allow it to scale faster, and minimize the risk. He described how a number of essential, pioneering NASA technologies directly impact life on earth, from our food production, water conversation, banking, and telecommunications systems.
From left: Kevin O’Connell, Jeffrey Manber, Melanie Stricklan, Christopher Ingraham, and Mary Lynne Ditmarr. (Photo by Jay Premack/USPTO)
Kevin O’Connell, Director of the Office of Space Commerce at the Department of Commerce, led our panel discussing the rapid growth of the global space economy, and the role of the private sector plays in commercializing space. Panelists included Jeffrey Manber, CEO of NanoRacks; Melanie Stricklan, founder and chief strategy officer of Slingshot Aerospace; Christopher Ingraham, Manager of Stakeholder Communications at International Space Station U.S. National Laboratory; and Dr. Mary Lynne Ditmarr, President and CEO of Coalition for Deep Space Exploration and member of the U.S. Space Council.
From left: Laura Peter, Paul Richards, Kathryn Sullivan, and Frank Ceppolina. (Photo by Jay Premack/USPTO)
The highlight for many was hearing from the panel moderated by Deputy Under Secretary and Deputy Director of the USPTO Laura Peter on NASA’s innovation policies, featuring true rock stars of space: Doctor Kathryn Sullivan, astronaut on three space shuttle missions and the first American woman to walk in space (in 1984); Paul Richards, astronaut on the eighth shuttle mission to the international space station; and Frank Ceppolina, pioneering engineer on the Hubble space telescope and National Inventors Hall of Fame inductee and patented inventor.
Astronaut and first woman to walk in space Dr. Kathryn Sullivan meets children of Ian Steff, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Manufacturing, International Trade Administration. (Photo by Michael Cleveland/USPTO)
The discussion focused on the role of technology transfer policies and IP that have contributed to improving life for all of us here on earth. Deputy Peter walked through a number of NASA-related patents whose technologies have become everyday household items, including scratch proof lenses, Invisalign™ braces, video game systems, insulated rescue blankets, and more. Cepollina described how the repair mission work on the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) advanced fields like photo lithography, and noted that our current cell phones are 260,000 times more powerful than the Apollo guidance system controller. After the event, the astronauts signed autographs for children and other fans.
Astronaut Paul Richards (right) discusses his patent with USPTO employee Keith Dixon (left), who prosecuted the patent while at NASA. (Photo by Jay Premack/USPTO)
In addition to these space pioneers’ impressive contributions, Richards and Cepollina are also inventors and patent holders. Richards is the inventor of a pistol grip torque measuring power tool for which he received a patent in 1997. In fact, the NASA patent attorney who prosecuted that patent application, Keith Dixon, now works with at the USPTO. And Cepollina’s work at NASA and in patented technologies are not only important to space technology growth but have also been a springboard for developments in other industries including breast cancer detection and more powerful microchips for satellite optics.
Secretary Ross and Director Iancu speak with the inventor of the Virtusphere, Ray Latypov. (Photo by Jay Premack/USPTO)
Finally, before and after the event, participants had the chance to view an Apollo era spacesuit loaned from the Smithsonian, experience a virtual moon walk provided by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), and visit the National Inventors Hall of Fame® Museum's Apollo 11 exhibit.
As I said at the event, landing on the moon was the ultimate triumph of human ingenuity. The benefits of space innovation are astounding. Our IP system not only helped make this possible, it continues to promote and protect stunning advances in every field of human endeavor.
USPTO proposes patent fee adjustments
Guest blog by Acting Chief Financial Officer of the USPTO Sean Mildrew
At the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), we continuously work to reinforce the predictability, reliability, and quality of patent rights. To meet this challenge, the USPTO requires a predictable and sufficient stream of funding, which means that we must continually review our fees and adjust them as appropriate.
Today’s notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) regarding USPTO fees is the result of a comprehensive biennial fee review that began in 2017, when we analyzed the effects of proposed fee changes on our operating model. At that time, we concluded that fee adjustments would be necessary to provide the resources needed to improve patent operations, including implementing the USPTO 2018-2022 Strategic Plan. As part of our analysis, we also received feedback on an initial fee proposal via a Patent Public Advisory Committee (PPAC) hearing conducted in September 2018 and a report issued by PPAC in October 2018. As a result, the proposed fee adjustments outlined in the NPRM increase certain patent fees where there are specific needs and increase the remaining fees at a set percentage to address rising expenses. The significant percentage discounts for small and micro entities are maintained.
With this additional funding, we will:
- Enhance the quality and timeliness of patent examination in order to produce more reliable and predictable patent rights.
- Enhance the quality and timeliness of AIA trials by providing sufficient judicial and administrative resources to the Patent Trial and Appeal Board.
- Replenish the patent operating reserve to further stabilize our finances, enabling us to deliver more reliable and predictable service levels, even in times of financial fluctuations.
We welcome feedback on the proposed changes. A 60-day public comment period is now open. After reviewing and considering the public comments, we expect to prepare a final rule for publication during the summer of 2020.
The NPRM can be accessed here. The preferred method for submitting comments is email addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Comments are preferred to be submitted in plain text, but also may be submitted in portable document format (PDF) or a word processing format. Because comments will be made available for public inspection, information that the submitter does not desire to make public, such as an address or phone number, should not be included in the comments. Comments on the fee proposals are due by September 30, 2019.
Camp Invention prepares tomorrow’s innovators
By Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO Andrei Iancu
Director Iancu meets Camp Invention students in Hyattsville, Maryland, as they work on their innovation force module (photo by Jay Premack/USPTO)
For the United States to maintain our leadership role in key science and technology areas, we must harness the concerted efforts of industry, academia, and government to empower the next generation. The USPTO plays a critical role as we work to equip tomorrow’s inventors, innovators, and entrepreneurs with the skills they need to succeed.
On June 26, I had the opportunity to visit Camp Invention in Hyattsville, Maryland. I was joined by Al Langer, inventor of the first automatic implantable cardioverter defibrillator.
Camp Invention, an annual summer program hosted by the National Inventors Hall of Fame (NIHF), in partnership with the USPTO, turns curious kindergarten through sixth grade students into innovative thinkers. Located in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, there are over 1,800 schools participating in NIHF’s educational programs nationwide. Inspired by National Inventors Hall of Fame inductees, this program delivers a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and intellectual property based program to 160,000 students annually, taught by 13,000 local, certified teachers and 9,000 high-school and college-aged interns.
The students at Camp Invention in Hyattsville, Maryland, like more than 50,000 students nationwide, receive scholarships to attend NIHF’s education programs. Scholarships allow underrepresented students to learn the 21st century skills to prepare them for the future.
The theme of this year’s Camp Invention curriculum is “Supercharged,” and features four modules that incorporate concepts of inventing with activities on superheroes, sea adventures, farm tech, and robots. Dr. Langer and I met and spoke with students working on all four modules.
Inventor Al Langer assists students with their deep sea mystery module at Camp Invention in Hyattsville, Maryland (photo by Jay Premack/USPTO)
One week of Camp Invention is comprised of programming that presents children with real-world, hands-on challenges that emphasize STEM proficiencies, creative problem solving, collaboration, and entrepreneurship through innovation. Participants are led through the process of invention, learning that failure is a necessary point on the path to success. Teachers are provided with new ways to incorporate STEM skills into their classrooms, and each year Camp Invention introduces a new, cutting-edge curriculum to ensure that the program continues to be an engaging and memorable experience for everyone involved.
At the USPTO, we recognize that the next generation needs to gain a strong understanding of intellectual property and problem solving. Programs like Camp Invention introduce young people to important STEM and IP skills in a fun environment, and help build a robust pipeline of talent, ready to meet the expanding needs of a highly technical workforce. These future inventors, innovators, and entrepreneurs will play a crucial role in helping the U.S. compete and succeed in a global economy.
For U.S. businesses, the USPTO’s IP attachés are there to help
Guest blog by Shira Perlmutter, Chief Policy Officer and Director for International Affairs at the USPTO
I recently had the pleasure of joining five of the USPTO’s IP attachés at a series of meetings with U.S. innovators and stakeholders, including the annual meeting of the International Trademark Association (INTA) in Boston.
The IP attachés are intellectual property (IP) experts posted to U.S. embassies and consulates throughout the world. They meet with government officials to explain U.S. perspectives and policies and advocate for improvements to IP systems. They also provide training on effective IP enforcement, monitor IP-related developments, and conduct programs to educate the public on the value and importance of IP. This work is ever more important in an increasingly global marketplace.
A group of the USPTO’s IP attachés meet with members of the New England Inventors Association in North Andover, Massachusetts. The meeting was part of the IP Attaché Program’s outreach activities in the Philadelphia and Boston areas this past May.
At least once a year, the attachés return to the United States to meet with American innovators and businesses, learn about their IP-related concerns, and share information about IP developments in their regions. This spring, their destinations were Boston and Philadelphia.
IP legal counsel Luciano Marchione, who is based in Brussels, Belgium, as part of the USPTO’s IP Attaché Program, speaks with a member of the Inventors Association of New England in North Andover, Massachusetts. He joined a group of several IP attachés to conduct meetings with stakeholders in the Boston and Philadelphia areas this past May.
In Boston, in addition to INTA, the IP attachés met with members of the Inventors Association of New England (IANE), one of the nation’s oldest inventor clubs. The group expressed appreciation for the opportunity to meet with the IP attachés and learn about how to protect their IP in foreign jurisdictions. “As independent inventors and entrepreneurs, our members often feel like it’s ‘you against the world.’ ” said George Peters of the IANE, the co-inventor and founder of KettlePizza,® a cooking accessory that can convert an outdoor grill into a pizza oven. “It’s an incredible feeling to know that the IP attachés are in our corner. They place very high value on the independent inventor, work to promote our interests and are available as a resource to answer questions about foreign markets.”
L to R: IP specialist Komal Kahla and IP attachés Duncan Willson and Laura Hammel speak with KettlePizza co-founder George Peters during their meeting with members of the New England Inventors Association in North Andover, Massachusetts. The meeting was part of the IP Attaché Program’s outreach activities in the Philadelphia and Boston areas this past May.
Business accelerators and incubator programs have been established in many areas of the country to help innovators and start-up companies overcome early-stage growth obstacles. In Philadelphia, the IP attachés visited one such establishment, the University City Science Center, a nonprofit business accelerator in the life sciences field. They also met with representatives of several larger, established companies.
In all of these meetings, a common theme presented itself — that while there is worldwide demand for products of American innovation, foreign demand brings additional risks. The IP systems of other countries can be quite different from our own. And even if a business currently manufactures or sells its product only in the United States, it is important to have a plan to protect its IP rights not only at home but abroad.
That is where the USPTO’s IP attachés can be a valuable resource. They can assist U.S. stakeholders who are experiencing problems with IP rights abroad or who are considering entering a foreign market. And they are effective advocates in their respective regions for policies and laws that benefit U.S. businesses.
Learn more about the USPTO’s IP Attaché Program, including where the attachés are based and how to contact them.
Posted at 11:59AM Jul 02, 2019 in International Affairs |
Intellectual property resources in your area
By Andrei Iancu, Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
Providing entrepreneurs, small businesses, and independent inventors with access to intellectual property (IP) resources is one of the major priorities for the USPTO. These entities are vital to our country’s economy, but they often don’t have the same resources that larger entities can leverage to protect their innovations. Because of that, the USPTO oversees several programs to assist with free or reduced-cost help in applying for patents, including the Patent Pro Bono Program, the Pro Se Assistance Program, the Certified Law School Clinic Program, and Patent and Trademark Resource Centers. That’s all in addition to the reduced filing fees we charge to small and micro entities.
Recently, we updated our website to make many of these resources easier to find. Take a look! The “Find help in your area” link under the “New to IP?” area at the top of the USPTO homepage takes users to a map of the United States where they can select state-specific resource pages and regional USPTO office pages. From free legal assistance to listings of local inventor clubs, there’s a large array of helpful programs. In addition, we’ve added regional event filters to our main USPTO events calendar so you can easily find upcoming events in your local area. Overall, we updated more than 60 pages, and over the next few months, we will be gathering public feedback in order to continue making even more helpful changes to our website. Send us a comment. We’d love to hear from you.
Recent USPTO website updates make finding local resources and events easier
Under-resourced independent inventors and small businesses may be particularly interested in securing free legal representation to help them protect their inventions using the Patent Pro Bono Program. Located across the country, each of the 21 local nonprofit pro bono programs matches inventors with volunteer patent attorneys to help them navigate the process for obtaining a patent. Since the program began, over 1,900 inventors have been matched with registered patent practitioners, and currently more than 1,500 attorneys are available to volunteer through the program.
Another way for inventors and entrepreneurs to secure free legal services is through the Law School Clinic Certification Program. Currently, there are 60 participating law school clinics where law students draft and file patent or trademark applications for clients under the supervision of their law school faculty. Since its inception, over 4,000 law students have participated in the program and have filed more than 850 patent applications and more than 3,300 trademark applications for clients.
Some independent inventors and small businesses choose to file patent applications without the assistance of a registered patent attorney or agent—also known as "pro se" filing. We have tools to assist pro se filers, as well as a dedicated USPTO team available to answer filing questions and explain the process. To learn more, visit the Pro Se Assistance Program page of the USPTO website.
We also offer independent inventors and small businesses reduced patent filing fees for “micro entities” and “small entities.” Entities that meet the micro-entity requirements are eligible for a 75 percent reduction on most fees, and small entity status offers a 50 percent fee reduction. View the full USPTO fee schedule.
Patent and Trademark Resource Centers (PTRCs) are another great way to get IP help. This nationwide network consists of public, state, and academic libraries designated by the USPTO to support the public with trademark and patent assistance. They provide the human touch in helping inventors and small businesses find the information they need to protect their IP. Please note that PTRC representatives are not attorneys, and they cannot provide legal advice. Find a PTRC in your state.
These are only some examples of the various services we offer to help inventors and entrepreneurs protect their IP. Visit the USPTO website to learn about even more resources.
American history is filled with remarkable stories of inventors and entrepreneurs who worked hard, took risks, persevered, dared to go where others would not, and ultimately overcame tremendous odds to succeed. We will continue to encourage the sparks of inventors’ ideas to grow into the flames of world-changing innovation.