Director's Forum: A Blog from USPTO's Leadership
Director's Forum: A Blog from USPTO's Leadership
Wednesday Aug 16, 2017

Dream to Reality – Helping Inventors Patent New Technologies

A blog about the USPTO from the Department of Commerce

Small businesses and independent inventors both serve a vital role in our nation’s economy. And, helping those with limited resources is an important goal of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

The USPTO’s Patent Pro Bono Program provides free legal assistance to financially under-resourced inventors and small businesses interested in securing patent protection for their inventions. Inventors then bring their inventions to market helping to grow the economy and turn their dreams into reality.

 John Kirkpatrick, Associate Pro Bono Coordinator

John Kirkpatrick, Associate Pro Bono Coordinator and Staff Attorney, USPTO

In every patent, there’s a story. Take for example Travis Kelley, from Backus, MN. Travis invented a simple but effective device to take the guesswork out of home door installations. He couldn’t afford to hire an attorney and filed a provisional patent application on his own. After learning about USPTO’s pro bono program, he applied and received legal representation. His patent was issued in 2014.

Today, Travis and his wife Jennifer run a small business called JenTra Tools. Having sold thousands of units per year, JenTra is now moving into new markets to expand its customer base.

Then there is Deborah Campbell, from Grand Junction, CO, who developed a sushi-making machine that can churn out sushi rolls in just two minutes after years of designing and prototyping. She received pro bono assistance from the law firm of Merchant and Gould through Mi Casa Women’s Business Center in Denver. Find out more about her journey to sushi success in the recent article from Inventors Eye.

Glenn Vogel, a custom metal worker and father of three from Evergreen, CO, also received assistance through Mi Casa. In 2015, thanks to a volunteer attorney and the pro bono program, Glenn patented a customizable wine storage rack and saw his revenue increase by 20 percent.

Regional patent pro bono programs not only support local inventors, but are also a way for patent practitioners to give back to their community. To date, more than 1,000 practitioners have volunteered their availability, time and resources. However, in order to assist even more independent inventors, entrepreneurs and small businesses, the USPTO welcomes even more practitioners to participate.

Visit the USPTO website to learn more about available resources for both inventors and entrepreneurs.

Wednesday Aug 02, 2017

Federal Agencies Tackling Trademark Scams

Guest Blog by Commissioner for Trademarks Mary Boney Denison

Some trademark applicants and registrants have paid fees to private companies while mistakenly thinking they were paying fees required by the USPTO. To combat this problem, last week, the USPTO co-hosted its first ever public roundtable on fraudulent solicitations with the Trademark Public Advisory Committee. The objectives of the event were to educate the public about the problem of misleading or fraudulent advertisements for trademark services, to learn more about what other government agencies were doing, and to brainstorm new ideas for tackling this complex issue.

Joe Matal, who is performing the duties of the Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO, spoke at this roundtable, as well as 11 public speakers and 7 federal speakers from the USPTO, U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Small Business Administration (SBA) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Matal urged all of the participants to “work together to corral and fix this problem.”

Mary Denison and Joe Matal at the Public Roundtable on Fraudulent Trademark Solicitations

The USPTO has worked closely in the past with other federal agencies on criminal prosecutions for fraudulent trademark solicitations. During the roundtable, representatives from DOJ and USPIS spoke about the recent criminal convictions in California of five individuals, including employees of a bank, who ran a lucrative trademark scam and knowingly laundered the proceeds. Two have been sentenced and the remaining three are scheduled for sentencing in August. To learn more about this case and the USPTO’s role in it, read my blog from December 2016.

Trademark scams range from offers to file renewal and maintenance documents, to offers to record marks with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, to monitoring services, to recordation in useless databases. Some of the scammers take consumers’ money and deliver nothing. For instance, during the roundtable, the American Intellectual Property Law Association cited an example of a restaurant that mistakenly paid a scammer to file maintenance documents for a registration. The restaurant relied on the assumption that the filing would be made. Only when the restaurant sought legal counsel about enforcement against an infringer did it learn that the scammer filed nothing and the registration had been cancelled. Others scammers actually perform work but at exorbitant prices. One speaker at the roundtable had filed three civil law suits against different scammers.

At the USPTO, we offer warnings in trademark application filing receipts, in emails transmitting office actions, and with registration certificates. On the informational page of the USPTO website on trademark solicitations, customers can watch a brief video on how to identify misleading notices, and see a list of fraudulent entities we’ve already identified. For further information, customers can consult our Basic Facts Booklet on protecting trademarks, or contact us directly at TMFeedback@uspto.gov. While the USPTO lacks the power to file lawsuits against the scammers, we have issued cease and desist letters against them and pursued others for unauthorized practice of law.

Anyone who receives a fraudulent trademark solicitation should file a complaint online with the Federal Trade Commission or call 1-877-FTC-HELP. This is key in order to help the government tackle the ongoing solicitation problem, and USPIS and DOJ use the FTC complaint reports to decide which companies to pursue criminally. When filing a complaint, customers should include the solicitation and the envelope with the postmark, as well as a copy of the front and back of any cancelled check paid to a scammer when applicable. Scammers should be reported to the FTC as soon as possible because they frequently change mail drop addresses and other traceable information (often monthly), and delay can hinder or preclude criminal investigations. Note that lawyers can also report solicitations for their clients. The FTC has additional information on scammers and government imposters on its website.

The USPTO continues to work hard to fight solicitations from companies fraudulently promising to protect trademarks. We plan to issue a report on our findings from the roundtable and will continue to collaborate with other federal agencies to educate the public on this issue and identify those responsible.

Tuesday Aug 01, 2017

Inspiring Young Minds to be Innovators and Pursue their Dreams

Blog by Joe Matal, Performing the Functions and Duties of the Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO

At Camp Invention, almost two million students have explored their own innate creativity, inventiveness and entrepreneurial spirit in a week-long day camp program that’s been running annually since 1990. Currently held at more than 1,400 sites in 50 states for kindergarten through 6th grade, these students are learning how to think big, be innovators and pursue their dreams.

Camp Invention is a partnership between the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and the National Inventors Hall of Fame. The program includes a robust STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) curriculum while also providing insights into the role of patents and trademarks in innovation. Children develop questions, collect data, draw conclusions and apply new knowledge, while tackling hands-on challenges.

Recently, I had the chance to visit Camp Invention at Hyattsville Elementary in Maryland. I was especially impressed by how they were coming up with new product ideas and building original prototypes using real tools and components found in everyday devices. But beyond that, they had also thought through how they were going to brand and market an item and how they would protect their innovation by applying for a patent and trademark. I was inspired by their enthusiasm and inventive thinking.

Photo of Joe Matal at Camp Invention in Hyattsville, Maryland

Camp Invention is unique because it provides an exciting environment with no wrong answers, a chance to brainstorm with peers and an opportunity to build confidence in the natural ability to dream and create. On a given day, students might learn about such things as terraforming exoplanets, building an air cannon, exploring circuits and electronics or presenting their new invention to mock investors. 

Each year, one Camp Invention student is selected through the “Mighty Minds” contest for an all-expense paid trip to attend the National Inventors Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony held every year in Washington, DC.  This year, the winner was 9-year-old Mya Sewell of Grayson, GA, who has attended Camp Invention for several years. She says she wants to be a scientist or inventor because, “it gives me the freedom to experiment with things without anybody telling me what to do.” Learn more about her experience interacting with prominent inventors at this year's induction  ceremony on May 4.

In addition to Camp Invention, the USPTO also works with the National Inventors Hall of Fame on the Collegiate Inventors Competition, a program designed to allow undergraduate and graduate students to showcase their emerging ideas and inventions that will shape our future. The finalists are judged by a team of inductees from the National Inventors Hall of Fame and USPTO subject-matter experts, and then honored at the USPTO. Winners enjoy over $100,000 in cash prizes and an all-expense paid trip to Washington, DC.

Through the USPTO’s partnerships with youth programs, such as Camp Invention and Collegiate Inventors, we hope to inspire future innovators and encourage creativity and problem-solving skills to enable the next generation to achieve the American Dream.

Tuesday Jul 25, 2017

New Report Presents Viewpoints on Patent Subject Matter Eligibility

Blog by Joe Matal, Performing the Functions and Duties of the Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO

This week, the USPTO published a new report synthesizing public comments on an important question for innovators in a wide variety of industries: What are the appropriate boundaries of patent eligible subject matter?

Between 2010 and 2014, four opinions issued by the U.S. Supreme Court—Bilski, Mayo, Myriad, and Alice—significantly affected patent eligibility law. Following these rulings, the USPTO provided updated guidance to patent examiners, initiated a nationwide conversation on patent subject matter eligibility through a series of events and roundtables, and has now published a report presenting what we have learned from the public on this important issue. Some have raised concerns that the heightened bar for patent subject matter eligibility that resulted from these decisions has undermined the ability of intellectual property (IP) intensive industries to secure rights and investments in their innovations. Others have applauded the rulings for providing a useful tool in flushing out patents on technologies that they feel should not be patentable.

U.S. patent

U.S. Patent

In 2016, the USPTO convened two roundtables and issued a request for public comments on the topic of patent subject matter eligibility. The first roundtable was held November 14, 2016, at USPTO headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia, and the second roundtable was held December 5, 2016, in Stanford, California. All four USPTO regional offices also participated in the events via webcast.

Much of the feedback we received highlighted the complexities of determining the appropriate boundaries of patent subject matter eligibility. Commenters confirmed that the recent Supreme Court cases have significantly changed the standards for determining patent subject matter eligibility. Several commenters expressed concern that these decisions have created inconsistency, uncertainty, and unpredictability in the issuance and enforcement of patents, particularly in the life sciences, software, and e-commerce industries.

A diverse group of representatives from academia, industry, law firms, and legal associations proposed legislative changes aimed at reversing the recent trend in the law and restoring, in their view, a more appropriate dividing line between eligible and ineligible subject matter. In contrast, a sizable portion of representatives from the software industry argued that the Court’s two-step test provides an appropriate standard for patent subject matter eligibility. This group cautioned against legislative redress and instead recommended that the common law should be allowed to evolve.

The useful feedback that we gathered from the public over the past months will help ensure that we understand the views and concerns of the innovation community. As the world’s most innovative economy, the United States relies on IP to support economic growth and business development. A healthy patent system that fuels research and development of innovative technologies is a critical component of our nation’s robust system of IP rights. Given the link between a healthy patent system and our nation’s economy, the contours of patent subject matter eligibility are of great concern to the USPTO and the IP community.

Monday Jul 17, 2017

3D Printing – a New Industry Made in America

A blog post about the USPTO from the Department of Commerce

Increasingly, we’re seeing the products of additive manufacturing – better known as 3D printing – all around us: in retail stores, in classrooms, and even in medical technologies.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) received over 8,000 patent applications last year alone in the field of additive material technologies. These represent a range of products – from household items to prosthetics – that are being manufactured with 3D printing and are having a positive impact on people’s lives and the economy.

One of the founding minds in 3D printing is National Inventors Hall of Fame inductee Charles Hull. Troubled how long it could take to create a prototype of a new device or tool, he created stereolithography in the 1980s, the first commercial rapid prototyping technology, now known as 3D printing.  In recent years, the growth and popularity of 3D printers has skyrocketed, as they are increasingly being used by small businesses, hobbyists and entrepreneurs because of their speed and accuracy. There is now even a 3D printer on the International Space Station

Additive Manufacturing Partnership Meeting at the USPTO

Additive Manufacturing Partnership Meeting at the USPTO

Exciting advances are being made with 3D bioprinting, a method of using 3D printing to create new tissues and organs. The USPTO works with the National Inventors Hall of Fame in running the annual Collegiate Inventors Competition, which has showcased the next generation of 3D printing innovation, such as previous graduate school winner Dave Kolesky for 3D bioprinting of vascularized human tissue. Learn more about 3D bioprinting in the USPTO’s Science of Innovation video, produced by NBC Learn.

The USPTO plays an important role in supporting American businesses in new and growing industries to get new products and technologies to the marketplace faster. This ultimately drives innovation and creates new jobs for American workers, benefitting consumers and manufacturers alike.

Lastly, to stay ahead of the curve in new areas, the agency partners with private industry in other areas such as cyber security and bioscience, all while providing the most up-to-date technical training to patent examiners who examine these new technologies every day.

Thursday Jul 13, 2017

Elijah J. McCoy Midwest Regional U.S. Patent and Trademark Office – 5 Years Supporting Innovation

Blog by Joe Matal, Performing the Functions and Duties of the Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO, and Christal Sheppard, Director of the Midwest Regional Office

When the USPTO set out to open regional offices, our goals were to create hubs of innovation and creativity, protect and foster American innovation in the global marketplace, help businesses cut through red tape, and create hundreds of jobs in the local communities. As we celebrate Detroit’s 5 year anniversary today, we’re happy to report that we’ve done just that.

The Elijah J. McCoy Midwest Regional Office in Detroit led the way as our first regional office. A variety of factors led us to choose Detroit, including an international border, multiple world class universities where we could recruit patent examiners, an economy that had seen its share of hardship, and a creative and innovative environment. Not long after the Midwest Regional Office opened, we followed up with three more regional offices, in Denver, San Jose, and Dallas. 

Elijah J. McCoy Midwest Regional U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

Elijah J. McCoy Midwest Regional U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

Since opening in 2012, the Midwest Regional Office has granted more than 10,000 patents, and outreach efforts have reached nearly 37,500 members of our community. We are especially proud of the outreach to educators and students, which have allowed us to hold innovation challenges and help incorporate science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education and intellectual property concepts into classrooms. We’ve worked to cut through red tape, enabling inventors and small businesses to walk into any of the four regional offices, use the public search facility, and easily get their questions answered. In addition, intellectual property practitioners can conduct examiner interviews or participate in Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) hearings either in person or remotely using video conferencing. 

Regional offices enable us to receive input from a greater cross-section of our community, including inventors, innovators, and entrepreneurs in a variety of industries and technologies. This is essential if we are to best serve our customers and promote American innovation across all geographic regions in the country. 

Our regional offices also provide jobs for the local community. Currently, there are 102 employees in the Midwest Regional Office, which include eight classes of examiners, as well as PTAB judges, outreach officer, and support staff. And if you add in employees of the other regional offices, the total is over 400 employees bringing the resources of the USPTO to the public. Additionally, since the regional offices provide training and services to our nationwide workforce, we are able to save time and resources as employees do not have to return to our headquarters as frequently.

Amazing things are happening in Detroit, and we are proud of the important role that the USPTO is playing in the revival of this great American city. It’s been especially exciting to see how we’ve been able to connect with small businesses and individual inventors and make an impact in the community. Here’s to another 5 years, and beyond.

Thursday Jun 29, 2017

One Year On: Developments in the Protection of Trade Secrets

Guest blog by Chief Policy Officer and Director for International Affairs Shira Perlmutter

U.S. businesses own an estimated $5 trillion worth of trade secrets. Their theft, involving losses in the tens or possibly hundreds of billions of dollars a year, poses a serious threat to our nation’s economy. Because the protection of trade secrets — which by their nature are not patented or publicly disclosed — is critical to the commercial viability of many U.S. businesses, Congress passed the Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016. The law provides trade secret owners with a federal civil cause of action, rather than limiting them to state laws or criminal enforcement.

Last month, one year after enactment of the law, the USPTO convened a public symposium on “Developments in Trade Secret Protection.” The event brought together nearly 200 participants, at the USPTO’s headquarters in Alexandria Virginia, and via live webcast to individuals and the USPTO’s four regional offices.
The symposium consisted of four panels focused on various aspects of trade secret protection. The first panel, of business economists, discussed recent trends, including how to estimate the value of trade secrets and calculate damage awards in litigation, and how calculating damages in trade secret cases differs from cases involving other forms of intellectual property.

Shira Perlmutter at Trade Secrets Symposium

Shira Perlmutter at Trade Secrets Symposium

The second panel, a group of attorneys, addressed the use of the Defend Trade Secrets Act in practice, including the provisions for ex parte seizure of stolen trade secrets. The third panel, with participants from academia, private practice, and the World Intellectual Property Organization, examined the differing ways in which other countries have implemented trade secret protection and identified the elements that make up an effective regime. The final panel brought together participants from private practice, the U.S. government, and U.S. Chamber of Commerce to role-play as a corporate legal team called on to consider enforcement options for dealing with a case of trade secret misappropriation occurring overseas.

The practical information exchanged at the symposium should help governments and trade secrets owners improve protection for this valuable form of intellectual property in the United States and abroad. In helping to take forward the federal government’s 2017–2019 Joint Strategic Plan on Intellectual Property Enforcement, the USPTO will continue its work to promote the adoption of effective systems of trade secret protection and enforcement around the world. Videos of all four sessions of the trade secret symposium are posted to the Trade Secret Policy page of the USPTO website, as well as additional useful information about the protection of trade secrets.

Tuesday Jun 13, 2017

Update on Global Trademark Harmonization

Guest blog by Commissioner for Trademarks Mary Denison

In late May, I attended the TM5 mid-term meeting in Barcelona hosted by the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO). The TM5 is a strategic cooperation group of the five largest trademark offices in the world including the USPTO, EUIPO, China (SAIC), Japan (JPO), and Korea (KIPO). I gave a blog update last year on the TM5 meeting we hosted at the USPTO, and I’m happy to report we have continued making headway this year towards global trademark harmonization.

TM5 Leadership

TM5 Leadership

The TM5 seeks to facilitate and harmonize trademark filings within its members, as well as other trademark offices around the world. The work of the TM5 is structured through cooperative projects designed to improve users’ interactions with national trademark offices and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). These projects include, among others, the Common Status Descriptors project, the Identification project, and the Indexing of Non-Traditional Marks project.

Common Status Descriptors (CSD)

The CSD Project is designed to assist trademark owners and other interested parties in understanding the status of their applications and registrations in other offices, whether or not they understand the language, by using icons and common terms. In the past, partners have used terms to describe the status of applications and registrations that may be confusing to users outside their country or may not have been understandable without knowledge of the local language. While partners will continue to use terminology specific to their offices, they have now agreed to implement a series of Common Status Descriptors which will use icons and a second set of terms common to all of the partners. 

CSD Examples

CSDs for Live Application/Published for Opposition and Dead Registration/Expired

These icons and common terms were implemented by the USPTO in 2015 and have now been implemented by EUIPO, JPO, and SAIC. KIPO plans to implement the icons and common terms by the end of calendar year 2017. View all icons and common terms.

Identification Project (ID Project)

For global trademark filers, one bottleneck in applying in multiple jurisdictions has been the differing national practices in accepted application wording to identify the goods and services on which a mark will be used. To attempt to alleviate that bottleneck, the USPTO used the success of the U.S. ID Manual as an inspiration to create a harmonized TM5 ID List. To date the TM5 partners have agreed on more than 17,000 terms they will all accept.  Applicants can determine whether a good or service has been agreed upon by the TM5 members by consulting the USPTO’s Manual of Acceptable Goods and Services.  For example, if you search for the term “golf shoes,” you will see it is marked with a “T” meaning that it acceptable to all TM5 members.

The USPTO has also solicited participation in the project from a number of countries outside the TM5 members, and we are delighted to report that Colombia, Chile, Mexico, and Singapore have now each accepted more than 10,000 terms. Other current participants include Canada, the Philippines, and the Russian Federation, and we are seeking participation from a number of additional countries throughout the world.

Indexing of Non-Traditional Marks Project (INTM Project)

Non-traditional marks include three-dimensional, sound, single color, tactile, holographic, scent, movement marks, and more—basically all marks that include elements other than character data (words, letters, numerals, etc.) and designs. Trademark professionals have long acknowledged the difficulty in searching for non-traditional marks in the United States and around the world. Most national offices use the WIPO Vienna Classification System, or some variation thereof, to index the design elements in a trademark application. That system does not provide specific codes to index the elements of a non-traditional mark. The TM5’s INTM Project is designed to improve and potentially harmonize the TM5 Partners’ methods of searching for non-traditional trademarks.

We have worked to identify which member countries accept which types of non-traditional marks, and next we will determine how they index them. Once we have that information, the TM5 will move forward to determine best practices, with the potential for agreeing to a common standard amongst the TM5 and perhaps other national offices.

The USPTO is proud to play an important part in facilitating and harmonizing trademark filings throughout the world. The projects that USPTO is leading, along with other projects led by the other TM5 member countries, will contribute to a more streamlined global trademark system going forward.

Monday May 22, 2017

Spotlight on Primary Patent Examiner Angela Nguyen

A post about the USPTO from the Department of Commerce

Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting the contributions of current and past members of the Department of Commerce during Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month.

Guest blog post by Angela Nguyen, Primary Patent Examiner, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

Angela Nguyen, APANET President (second from left) with APANET executive board members Nasir Ahmed, Susannah Chung, and Harshad Patel

As a Primary Patent Examiner at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), I am responsible for delivering high quality and timely examination of patent applications in computer networking at the USPTO, but I also promote diversity, professional development, and outreach as a board of director for various affinity groups. Currently, I serve as President of the Asian Pacific American Network (APANET) at the USPTO, and with approximately 900 members, it is the largest affinity group in the federal government.

Reflecting back on my path to public service, I believe my parents have been my greatest influence. They fled war torn Vietnam to start a new life in the U.S. where they found freedom, safety, a better life for themselves and more opportunities for their children. They faced challenges such as learning English as a second language, overcoming cultural barriers, and facing the pain of leaving their families indefinitely. Most importantly, they instilled in me the values of hard work, ambition, commitment, family, love, respect, and empathy.

During the last few days of the Vietnam War, my parents escaped separately and were reunited through the help of Americans at a refugee camp in Arkansas. They acquired engineering degrees in Texas, where I was born, and we later moved to Orlando, where they pursued their careers. While attending the University of Central Florida in Orlando, I found that I also had an interest in science, math, and technology, and graduated with a degree in computer engineering. During college, I worked as a computer technician for a wholesale computer retail and consulting company and a junior software developer intern for a defense contractor, which inspired me to apply and work as a computer engineer for the Navy. Upon graduation, I moved to Virginia to work for the Navy, and during that time, I earned my master’s degree in systems engineering at George Mason University.

I’ve always been very active in extracurricular activities and affinity groups, so when I joined the USPTO, I became involved as a board member with the Patent and Trademark Office Society (PTOS) and APANET. These groups have provided a valuable way to connect with others at the agency and also give back.

My parents instilled strong values in me from a young age. They have taught me the value of hard work and dedication, which are reflected in my work as a Federal employee. I am honored to be in public service and feel privileged to work at such a diverse agency. As a board member of both APANET and PTOS, I hope I can lead by example and encourage not only Asian American and Pacific Islanders, but all federal employees to get involved and active in their agencies.

Tuesday May 09, 2017

2017 Inventors Hall of Fame Inductees Honored at the National Building Museum

A blog about the USPTO from the Department of Commerce

On May 4, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) inducted fifteen of America’s greatest innovators into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. Held at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., CBS News correspondent and television personality Mo Rocca moderated the event, Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO Michelle K. Lee gave remarks, and Commissioner for Patents Drew Hirshfeld presented induction medals. Seven living inventors were inducted, and another eight were named posthumously.

Director Lee lauded the new inductees, stating, “Among them all, tonight's Inductees, collectively, hold almost 550 patents. In and of itself that’s an impressive number. But more impressive are the innovations behind those patents. They have transformed how we communicate; how we manufacture; how we remember; and even how we explore the vast reaches of space.”

2017 National Inventors Hall of Fame inductees

2017 National Inventors Hall of Fame inductees and prior winners

This year’s class of inductees includes Beatrice Hicks, inventor of a device for sensing gas density used in the ignition systems that launched the Apollo moon missions; Marshall G. Jones, a pioneer in using lasers for industrial materials processing; Tom Leighton and Daniel Lewin for a content delivery network for a faster internet; and Carolyn Bertozzi, a pioneer in DNA-cell conjugates. Learn more and watch a video on the inspiring work of all the inductees.

Since 1973, the USPTO has partnered with the nonprofit National Inventors Hall of Fame, an organization that also educates more than 100,000 grade-school and middle-school students every year through interactive programs such as Camp Invention. To be inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, one must hold a U.S. patent, as well as contribute significantly to the nation's welfare and the advancement of science and the useful arts.

The induction ceremony on May 4 was part of a series of events to honor both the new and previous inductees, which kicked off with an illumination ceremony on May 3 at the National Inventors Hall of Fame Museum on the USPTO campus in Alexandria, Virginia.

Monday May 08, 2017

Intellectual Property Resources for Small Businesses

A blog about the USPTO from the Department of Commerce.

Helping small businesses and independent inventors with limited resources is an important goal of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), as they serve a vital role in our country’s economy. The USPTO has several free or reduced fee programs to assist independent inventors and small businesses in securing patent protection for their inventions, including the Patent Pro Bono Program, Pro Se Assistance Program, and Certified Law School Clinic Program. In addition, the USPTO helps small businesses by offering reduced fees for micro entities, protecting U.S. companies’ intellectual property abroad, and fighting fraudulent trademark solicitations.

Under-resourced independent inventors and small businesses may secure free legal representation to help them protect their inventions through the USPTO’s Patent Pro Bono Program. Located across the country, each pro bono program matches independent inventors and small businesses with volunteer patent attorneys to help them navigate the process for obtaining a patent. To date, more than 800 attorneys have volunteered through the program, and in order to assist even more independent inventors, entrepreneurs and small businesses in 2017, the USPTO is looking for more attorneys to participate.

Another way for small businesses to secure free legal services is through the Law School Clinic Certification Program. The USPTO has partnered with 45 law schools to offer programs through which law students draft and file either patent applications or trademark applications for clients under the supervision of law school faculty. Since its inception, over 2,700 law students have participated in the program and have filed more than 540 patent applications and more than 2,000 trademark applications for clients.

Attorney advise Law School Clinic Certification Program students

USPTO attorneys advise Law School Clinic Certification Program students

Many independent inventors and small businesses file patent applications without the assistance of a registered patent attorney or agent—also known as "pro se" filing. The USPTO has tools to assist pro se filers, as well as a dedicated team available to answer filing questions and simplify the process. To learn more, visit the Pro Se Assistance Program page of the USPTO website or read a recent blog on the positive impact the program has made.

The USPTO also offers 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.

Independent inventors and small and medium-sized entities may lack the in-house resources and expertise they need to deal with foreign intellectual property (IP) regulations. The USPTO’s IP Attachés are stationed at select U.S. embassies and consulates around the world, working directly with U.S. businesses on IP issues—including helping to stop counterfeiting and piracy—while supporting U.S. efforts to improve IP laws internationally. And today, looking after those IP assets is more important than ever: according to a recent estimate from the International Chamber of Commerce, the global value of counterfeit and pirated products could be as high as $1.8 trillion a year. This represents a huge loss of revenue.

In addition, the USPTO protects U.S. businesses by fighting solicitations from companies fraudulently promising to protect trademarks. In order to limit the number of victims defrauded, the USPTO frequently informs customers of how to avoid these schemes, and has several online resources alerting the public about the fraudulent entities that have already been identified. Read about a recent case where the USPTO partnered with other federal agencies to combat the problem.

These are only some examples of the many services the USPTO offers to help American inventors and small businesses protect their products and IP domestically and abroad. Visit the Inventors and Entrepreneurs page of the USPTO website to learn about even more resources.

Monday May 01, 2017

Patent Pro Bono Volunteer Attorneys Assisting Inventors Across the Country

Guest blog by Commissioner for Patents Drew Hirshfeld and Deputy General Counsel William R. Covey

The USPTO has worked closely with intellectual property law associations to establish a network of independently operated regional Patent Pro Bono programs to provide under-resourced inventors and small businesses who lack the financial resources to file a patent application with legal assistance to secure protection for their inventions. Through these programs, those independent inventors and small businesses can connect with volunteer registered patent practitioners across the entire United States who can assist them with navigating the process for obtaining a patent.

Coverage of the Patent Pro Bono program

Coverage of the Patent Pro Bono Program

Needless to say, volunteer patent practitioners are integral to the success of the Patent Pro Bono Program, and we wish to thank them for their time and dedication. Participation requires a tremendous amount of commitment on the part of the volunteer patent practitioners, who are already heavily involved in the rigors of daily patent prosecution activities for their paying clients. The volunteer practitioners are tasked with the challenge of balancing their existing work load and providing the additional time needed to support and assist their pro bono clients. Even faced with these demanding constraints, to date, over 800 patent professionals have volunteered their availability, time and resources to help make the Patent Pro Bono Program a success. Read more about the inventors and entrepreneurs who have taken advantage of the program.

To encourage future participation in the program and to acknowledge those that have provided their services in support of the program, the USPTO is pleased to announce a Certificate Recognition Program for 2017. For those volunteer patent practitioners who report 50 or more hours of patent pro bono service in 2017 to their regional Patent Pro Bono Program administrators, the USPTO will provide them with a certificate recognizing their accomplishment and will add their names, with their consent, to the Patent Pro Bono Program of the USPTO website.

Providing patent filing and prosecution services, pro bono, supports patent quality and ensures that no worthwhile invention is left unexamined due to lack of financial resources. For more information on participating or volunteering for the program, visit the Patent Pro Bono page of the USPTO website and click on your state to identify your regional program, or email probono@uspto.gov. Through the Patent Pro Bono Program and the hard work of patent pro bono practitioners, we look forward to assisting even more independent inventors, entrepreneurs and small businesses in 2017.

Friday Apr 28, 2017

Patents and Trademarks of World War One

A blog about the USPTO from the Department of Commerce.

This month marks the centennial of the United States’ entry into World War I on April 6, 1917, and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has taken a look back into its archives of patents and trademarks from that era.

World War I, and the years that came after it, resulted in a surge of American ingenuity and technological innovation. As soldiers faced different types of warfare, new technologies emerged such as the gas mask. One early version was a breathing device patented by African-American inventor Garrett Morgan in 1914, and subsequent inventors built on his work to create masks that protected soldiers from poisonous gases during WWI.

Father of the modern submarine, John Phillip Holland designed and built the first underwater vessel for the U.S. Navy in the late 1800s. His submarine design would become the model for the Navy's fleet of submersibles for the next several decades.

Certain items developed for troops in WWI went on to become part of everyday life for Americans. One example is the “hookless fastener” or zipper, patented by Gideon Sundback in 1916, which the U.S. military incorporated into uniforms and boots, and also caught on quickly in civilian clothing.

Diagram from the patent application of G. Sundback's "seperable fastener."

Diagram from the patent application of G. Sundback's "seperable fastener."

Another is the wrist watch. Before WWI, most people didn’t wear them, instead relying on clocks at home or pocket watches. But following the need for wristwatches for soldiers in the field during WWI, they became popular with the general public after the war.

During the WWI years, many products were also trademarked that are still in use today. For example, Dixie®, trademarked in 1917, developed a paper cup to prevent the spread of germs, and the company still produces an array of paper products today. Many companies included symbols of patriotism in their advertisements during the war, and WWI lore even made its way into pop culture, such as Snoopy’s Flying Ace.

Some WWI veterans were also notable inventors, such as Frank J. Sprague and Leroy Grumman, currently featured in the Visionary Veterans exhibit in the National Inventors Hall of Fame (NIHF) Museum at the USPTO in Alexandria, Va. Sprague, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, developed the electric railway, early electric elevators, and the commercial electric motor. Grumman, a Navy pilot, invented a unique folding-wing mechanism for naval aircraft and later established the Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation, now part of the Northrop Grumman Corporation.

Follow the USPTO on Twitter and Facebook to learn more about interesting historical patents and trademarks.

Thursday Apr 27, 2017

Celebrating World IP Day

A blog about the USPTO from the Department of Commerce.

On April 26, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) celebrated World Intellectual Property (IP) day in Washington D.C., as well as across the country in Houston, Chicago, and Silicon Valley. The theme of this year’s World IP Day is “Innovation – Improving Lives.”

One program which is a prime example innovation improving lives is Patents for Humanity, the USPTO’s awards competition recognizing innovators who use game-changing technology to meet global humanitarian challenges. This year’s winners found new and innovative ways to administer and provide health care solutions in some of the most disadvantaged regions of the world. Watch the USPTO’s Patents for Humanity video to learn more about the program’s mission and impact.

Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO Michelle K. Lee gave remarks at a World IP Day event on Capitol Hill, stating:

“We have seen the profound impact that good ideas, protected through a world-class IP system, can have on humanity. From new and powerful technology that we can wear on our wrists and carry in our pockets, to new methods of diagnosing and treating disease, intellectual property can not only improve lives, it can save lives. It can also create new jobs and grow our economy, which is why we must always ensure that our IP system supports small businesses, startups, and individual inventors.”

 

 Co-founder of GRIT demonstrates the all-terrain Freedom Chair for the disabled.

Co-founder of GRIT demonstrates the all-terrain Freedom Chair for the disabled.

Featured speakers for World IP Day also included Jeanine Hayes, Chief IP Officer of Nike, Inc., who discussed Nike’s FlyEase technology, a line of footwear built for athletes with disabilities, and Mario Bollini, Co-founder and Chief Technology Officer at Global Research Innovation and Technology, Inc. who demonstrated the company’s all-terrain Freedom Chair for the disabled.

See images from World IP Day events.

Thursday Mar 30, 2017

Spotlight on Pam Isom, Director of the Office of Application Engineering and Development

A post about the USPTO from the Department of Commerce

Guest blog by Pam Isom, Director of the Office of Application Engineering and Development, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

As Director of the Office of Application Engineering and Development (AED), I oversee all aspects of next generation systems engineering, development and implementation at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). I am also responsible for hiring, budget formulation, planning and execution, and laying a foundation for the retirement of legacy systems. 

My office is large and our initiatives are complex. As a result, we have frequent working sessions (standups are not uncommon) where we break problems into manageable components, brainstorm ideas and address. I value my team. Together we are building systems that protect the nation’s intellectual property (IP) through the consistent application of DevOps, user centered design, and advanced agile principles. We have fun, succeed, make mistakes, learn, and get better.

I joined the USPTO in 2015 with over 25 years of IT experience, and as an industry veteran I recall the process of evolving ideas into inventions, and then patents. This process was not easy - it required extensive dialogue, much patience, sometimes rejection and yes, determination. Anxiety would sometimes set in and I would wonder, “What do the reviewers think of my invention? I should have explained things better. Sigh…What now?” Fast forward to today, five patents later, and numerous publications including a book. I am delighted that these experiences contributed to my interest in serving as an employee and representative of the USPTO. Now I sit on the other side - one of the best choices of my career!

Pam Isom holds standing meeting with her team
Pam Isom holds a standing meeting with her team

Women’s History Month is a great time to reflect on the influence of women around the globe. In college, I remember being the only African American woman in computer classes and early in my career, the only one in many job assignments. I wasn’t surprised since many of my peers chose alternate fields of study. I once asked a manager of an all-male computer programming team how she felt about being the minority. She expressed that she doesn’t dwell on it, that she focuses on the job at hand.  That stuck with me. I decided that my circumstances were attributes of a trail blazer. So while it didn’t matter to me then that I was the minority, it’s nice to see more women in technology each day and I hope that I have, in some way, been of influence.

My role model is my mom. She taught me so much. She is the one that encouraged me to believe in myself and to value others. She lived “it will be alright in a minute.” As a young girl, growing up in Oklahoma, I was quite the curious one, inspired to study math, science and music. In the summer months I eagerly attended youth programs so as not to become idle. I am also grateful for the support my husband, who is also my best friend, has provided me along the way and throughout my career.

I respect my leaders and admire the representation of women at the Department of Commerce (DOC) and the USPTO -- a diverse group with many talents -- and it is no surprise to find leaders in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) here. I was invited and remain a board member of the Network of Executive Women (NEW) affinity group since its inception in 2015, supporting the mission of inspiring women executives and promoting STEM. I was grateful yet humbled to serve as a panelist at the DOC’s Hidden Figures event this month, and also to be recognized in the Women of Innovation exhibit at the USPTO.

There are significant opportunities at the USPTO and in particular the Office of the Chief Information Officer and AED. To the rising and the more experienced women who may have faced some challenges and/or who may tempted to second guess yourself, I have some advice for you that I apply to my own life. Purpose is important. Your purpose in life will open doors. When that happens, be ready and cross the threshold. Go Forward. Keep the passion. Obstacles may get in the way but not in your way.

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