Director's Forum: A Blog from USPTO's Leadership
Wednesday Oct 11, 2017

Spotlight on Commerce: Juan Valentin, Education Program Advisor, USPTO

Blog about the USPTO from the Department of Commerce

Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting contributions of  Department of Commerce employees during Hispanic Heritage Month.

Guest blog post by Juan Valentin, Education Program Advisor, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

If you had told me ten years ago that in October of 2017 I would be traveling across the United States educating children and adults alike on how important intellectual property (IP) protection is for the development of our youth and nation, I would have laughed you out of the room. Growing up as one of the only Hispanics in a small, Upstate New York community, one thing that was always important in my life was my Puerto Rican ancestry. The music, food, culture and the family life-force was sewn into my soul at an early age. 

I started my career as a patent examiner, putting my engineering degree from Clarkson University to good use, examining patent applications in the field of optical measuring and testing devices. Two key events in my life were the catalysts that set me on my current career path. The first took place about five years into my USPTO career when a friend invited me to Langdon Elementary School in D.C. to make slime with third graders. This was for a program called RESET that takes volunteers and matches them with local elementary schools to do hands-on science and engineering activities with the students. My life was changed that day. I was hooked, first as a volunteer, then as an activity lead, then as a team lead who developed new activities and was responsible for finding new volunteers.

My mother had a huge impact on this change of direction. Some of my first memories are of her giving spirit, of the sacrifices she made for not only me but for those in need around her.  My mother not only worked in public service, she volunteered and as a single parent always had me at her side, helping with activities. For me, seeing the excitement, smiles, and appreciation on the students’ faces after doing educational activities brought back childhood memories of giving back to my community and it showed me there’s a need for this type of service in underrepresented communities. It reminded me of the potential my mom saw in other people and her willingness to help.

Juan Valentin (center) with students during Engineering Week

Juan Valentin (center) with students during Engineering Week

The second event came in 2009 when I co-founded the first ever U.S. federal government chapter for the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) at the USPTO. Members of SHPE are a family. We take pride in helping new employees transition to the agency, while creating a community of learning here at the USPTO. As the SHPE President for past two years, I have really seen the impact of the organization over the last eight years, helping mentor and support Hispanic employees in their growth as leaders at the USPTO, while also giving back to the community. We’ve recently been focusing on ways to help the areas ravaged by the hurricanes, and have organized a donation drive for supplies to be sent to Puerto Rico. This year’s theme for Hispanic Heritage Month is “Shaping the Bright Future of America,” which is very fitting for the tremendous work I’ve been blessed to be a part of through SHPE.

In 2011, I applied for and was accepted to a detail to work on K-12 IP educational initiatives at the USPTO’s Office of Education and Outreach (OEO), for eight months. That eight months went by so fast I remember thinking, “Wouldn’t it be amazing if I could do this full time?” As my detail came to an end, a full-time vacancy was announced for an education specialist. I was determined to apply for the position and was hopeful that through my experiences I would be given the opportunity to help expand innovation, invention, and IP outreach at the USPTO. Life doesn’t always go as planned and I didn’t get the position, but I knew that showing students how to be innovative problem solvers and critical thinkers was my future; now I just needed to make it a reality. I was determined to build up my resume so I would be ready when the next opportunity opened up. My patience was well worth it; three years later another position became available and I was selected.

I still pinch myself from time to time when the fast pace of my life slows down just enough for a moment of self-reflection on the past three years. Not everyone is lucky enough to say they have their dream job. As an education program advisor at the USPTO, I can proudly say without a doubt, I have found my dream job, or rather it has found me!  My career advice to others is not to get discouraged by setbacks, but to be determined and pursue what you love to do.

Thursday Aug 31, 2017

Training Teachers to Educate the Next Generation of Entrepreneurs

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

As students are starting the school year, teachers are heading back with new lesson plans, some of which include intellectual property concepts. Last month, more than 50 K-12 educators from across the nation took part in the 4th Annual National Summer Teacher Institute (NSTI) on Innovation, STEM, and Intellectual Property. This year’s NSTI was hosted by the USPTO’s Office of Education and Outreach in Denver, Colorado in collaboration with the University of Denver’s Project X-ITE Team. NSTI is a week-long innovation and entrepreneurial boot camp designed to help teachers unleash the innovative potential of their students.

Teachers participate in hands-on activities at NSTI

The central focus of this year's Institute was on the creation and protection of intellectual property. Educators were broken up into teams and took part in a wide range of hands-on activities designed to inspire and motivate America’s young innovators, entrepreneurs, and “makers”. These activities encouraged participants to seek innovative solutions to a broad set of problems ranging from food and cooking to sports, design, and protecting the environment. Teams were supported by IP subject matter experts from the USPTO and innovation professionals from industry, academia and government agencies. At the end of the event, teams pitched their inventions to a panel of esteemed judges led by Molly Kocialski, Director of the Rocky Mountain Regional U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in Denver, Colorado.

For students interested in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, computer science, innovation, and entrepreneurship, a strong understanding of the IP system is critical for success. The NSTI works to give teachers the tools and training they need to get students excited about innovation and IP protection. Teachers will now return to their communities ready to encourage students to innovate and invent.

This year’s class of educators now joins a growing network of NSTI grads dedicated to applying their training to improve their students’ understanding of the IP system. As past NSTI participant Yolanda Payne explained, “Attending NSTI is a life changing experience. It is a lot of hard work, but it’s fun learning new things...At NSTI, you learn things you and your students will benefit from. It will make you a better teacher. Anything that captures students’ attention is winning for a teacher.”

Do you want to learn more about the experiences of past NSTI participants? Read about how a former athletics coach from Massachusetts lead his InvenTeam to the White House Science Fair or about how a science teacher from Maine gets her students excited about innovation.

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.

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.

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.

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 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.

Monday Jan 09, 2017

MyUSPTO: Your Personalized Homepage for USPTO Tasks

Guest blog by Chief Information Officer John B. Owens II

The USPTO recently launched a new tool to improve how you manage your intellectual property portfolio. With one single sign on, you can now track your patent and trademark applications, receive alerts when they are updated, and get other news from the USPTO. 

MyUSPTO is your personalized homepage and gateway to all your USPTO business needs, and there is no cost to sign up and use the site. MyUSPTO allows you to access your patent and trademark applications in one central location, and also receive email notifications when the status changes on those applications. The site also allows you to save USPTO webpages as bookmarks, so you won’t need to save them separately in your own browser. Additionally, you can learn about current news, upcoming events, and connect with our Facebook and Twitter accounts on the MyUSPTO homepage. The site uses “widgets,” which are small applications that display snippets of important information; aka shortcuts to larger USPTO applications and affiliated sites. The entire site is fully customizable so you can add a little or as much as you prefer.

MyUSPTO simplifies, personalizes, and streamlines the public’s interactions with the USPTO. Future releases will gradually replace many of the credentials you use to sign in to our other systems with one secure, consolidated sign-in. The accounts are designed for individuals; however, future updates will add the ability for organizations to share information between colleagues.

Let us know your suggestions on how we can further improve the site through our MyUSPTO feedback forum on IdeaScale. I invite you to visit MyUSPTO, create an account, and check it out for yourself.  I’m positive that it will be useful for your business needs. You can also visit our “What’s New” page to find out about future updates and improvements.

Wednesday Jan 04, 2017

USPTO Releases its 2016 Performance and Accountability Report

Guest Blog by Chief Financial Officer Tony Scardino

I’m pleased to announce that the USPTO has published its Performance and Accountability Report (PAR) for fiscal year (FY) 2016.  The PAR serves as the USPTO’s annual report, similar to what private sector companies prepare for their shareholders.  Each year the USPTO publishes this report to update the public on our performance and financial health.

Our PAR charts the agency’s progress toward meeting goals outlined in our 2014-2018 Strategic Plan: optimizing patent quality and timeliness; optimizing trademark quality and timeliness; and providing domestic and global leadership to improve intellectual property policy, protection, and enforcement worldwide.  These goals govern the quality and quantity of our service to intellectual property stakeholders.  In addition, the PAR provides information on the USPTO’s progress towards a broader management goal:  achieving organizational excellence.

Here at the USPTO, we take pride in producing a PAR that meets the highest standards of transparency, quality, and accountability.  The PAR contains a wealth of data and historical information of interest to our stakeholders, including data on patent and trademark examining activities, application filings, and agency staffing levels.  This information is conveniently presented in the Workload Tables section at the end of the PAR.

On the issue of financial performance, FY 2016 marks the 24th consecutive year that the USPTO’s financial statements have received an unmodified audit opinion.  Our clean audit opinion gives the public independent assurance that the information presented in the agency’s financial statements is fairly presented and follows generally accepted accounting principles.  In addition, the auditors reported no material weaknesses in the USPTO’s internal controls, and no instances of non-compliance with laws and regulations affecting the financial statements.

While the PAR is a record of our achievements, it is also an honest discussion of the challenges we face as an agency moving forward in FY 2017.  We will continue efforts in the Enhanced Patent Quality Initiative, which is a multifaceted initiative that builds on past efforts and includes future programs aimed at improving the accuracy, clarity, and consistency of patents; continue implementation of the patent dispute resolution portions of the AIA; meet the wave of legal challenges to the USPTO’s interpretation of the AIA and its regulations implementing the statute; develop outreach at both headquarters and regional offices; expand on dissemination of data; attain and maintain full sustainable funding; and provide IT support for a nationwide workforce with a “24/7/365” operational capability.

The PAR is a faithful snapshot of the USPTO’s FY 2016 performance.  I hope you find value in this document, and that it allows you to glean greater insights into the agency’s activities and achievements.

Thursday Nov 10, 2016

Celebrating Veterans at the USPTO

Guest blog by Chief Administrative Officer Fred Steckler

“Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty,” Thomas Jefferson once wrote.

In the United States that price has been paid by generations of veterans at home and abroad, in peacetime and war – selfless citizens who have sacrificed their time, comfort, and even their lives in defense of our nation and our allies.

At the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) today, we are privileged to have many such veterans among us. Some have served in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, the Balkans, and Vietnam. Some are serving still, in the reserves, attending monthly drills and annual training and deploying into harm’s way when needed.

In 2012, we embarked on a bold initiative to greatly expand our outreach to the veteran and service member communities and significantly increase our numbers of veteran hires. Since then we have added over 600 veterans across all business units to our USPTO family. In fiscal year 2016 alone, over 23% percent of new patent examiner hires and 20% of all other new hires were veterans or transitioning service members. These impressive numbers would not have been possible without a work environment that values and honors our veterans. And that environment would not have been possible without an agency leadership committed, from the very start, to President Obama’s Veterans Employment Initiative.

We are also extremely fortunate to have the USPTO Military Association (UMA), an affinity group comprised of veterans, spouses of veterans, and employees who support our veterans, those still serving in the reserves, and the entire USPTO community. Since its formation in late 2011, the UMA has done tremendous work providing mentorship and fellowship for our agency’s military veterans and raised overall awareness of veterans and those in service today. Without them we would not have agency-wide events like our annual Memorial Day observation or the Veterans Day ceremony we held on November 8 with guest speaker Dave Lavery of NASA.

So on behalf of our entire USPTO leadership team, I want to thank our veterans for their service and for “Continuing to Serve” – to quote the UMA’s motto – at America’s Innovation Agency.

Wednesday Nov 09, 2016

Collegiate Inventors Competition Showcases Tomorrow’s Entrepreneurs

A post about the USPTO from the Department of Commerce

Standing on stage this past Friday, inventors from colleges and universities across the country were recognized for their work developing cutting-edge inventions, at the 2016 Collegiate Inventors Competition (CIC) at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in Alexandria, VA. Through CIC, the skills that these students have gained both through the process of invention and by learning about intellectual property will be an asset to them as they decide on their next steps, which could be further research or commercializing their invention. “The ideas represented in this room—and the bright minds behind them—are the present and future of America innovation,” said Drew Hirshfeld, Commissioner for Patents at the USPTO.

The 28 undergraduate and graduate students all had the chance to interact one-on-one with inductees of the National Inventors Hall of Fame (NIHF). These established inventors – who have invented many tools, processes, or devices that are now commonplace in our lives, such as the digital camera, microprocessor, electret microphone, and the implantable defibrillator – served as judges for the competition and provided advice and inspiration for the students. USPTO officials and AbbVie Foundation scientists also served as judges.

The finalists showcased their inventions at a public expo, providing them with a professional backdrop to answer questions and discuss their inventions with USPTO patent examiners, patent attorneys, and trademark examiners, senior officials, corporate sponsors, and members of the intellectual property community and the public. “We consistently hear from finalists that their CIC experience was the inspiration for seeing themselves as great innovators. It’s also why they continued on as entrepreneurs, business owners, and patent holders. We look forward to seeing many more patent and trademark applications with their names on them in the years ahead,” said Hirshfeld.

CIC finalists’ inventions included a variety of technologies from advanced crop harvesting techniques for use on earth and other planets, to a bladeless drone, to a fire extinguishing ball. Medical innovations included adjustable prosthetics, hydrogels for ocular drug delivery, early cervical cancer detection methods, technology for freezing breast cancer cells, more sterile catheters, and DNA powered diagnostics. Many of these medical innovations were designed to help people in lower-middle-income countries. Several CIC finalists have already been granted patents or have filed patent applications.

The winner in the undergraduate category was a team from University of Virginia, comprised of Payam Pourtaheri and Ameer Shakeel. Their invention, AgroSpheres, re biological particles that degrade residual pesticides on the surface of plants, allowing crops to be safely harvested after just a few hours. This helps farmers avoid crop loss due to unforeseen weather events and at the same time saves the environment from additional pesticides.

The graduate winner was Carl Schoellhammer from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for SuonoCalm, a device for at-home rapid administration of therapeutics. SuonoCalm is designed to deliver a wide range of medications directly into tissue using low frequency ultrasound. Tests have shown superior absorption and it takes just one minute. Read more about all the 2016 CIC finalists and winners.

The top undergraduate winner and top graduate winner each received $10,000. Second and third place winners were also recognized with cash and prizes.

The Collegiate Inventors Competition is one of several important programs the USPTO conducts in collaboration with NIHF. Others include Invention Playground for preschool children, Camp Invention and Club Invention for elementary school children and Invention Project for middle school students. Altogether, NIHF programs reach hundreds of thousands of young Americans every year, promoting a better understanding of the vital role intellectual property and innovation play in our lives and our economy, and helping build entrepreneurial skills for the next generation of inventors.

View a USPTO Facebook album of photos from CIC.

Monday Nov 07, 2016

IT Innovation at the USPTO in 2016

Guest blog by Chief Information Officer John Owens II

As the year comes to a close, it is a perfect time to reflect on our current successes, and challenge ourselves to continually improve our information technology (IT) systems. As the Chief Information Officer, I am focused on driving innovation at the USPTO while protecting our nation’s cutting edge ideas.

The Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) works hard every day to make sure both our existing systems and our new “next generation” systems enable examiners to accomplish their important work. We are building excellent tools for the public while we drive to fine-tune our own processes for greater efficiency. Supported by more robust, updated IT systems and tools, USPTO examiners will be able to leverage these tools, and new data, to issue the best quality patents. and trademarks. When we improve systems and services for our examiners, the public benefits as well.

Bringing you next generation technology

Since day one, I have been committed to getting rid of legacy systems and bringing next generation technology to USPTO employees. This year, we got even closer to that goal. For patent examiners, we’ve been testing a new Examiner Search tool that will replace the existing EAST and WEST systems.  Currently, 200 examiners are using it and it’s expected to be rolled out to all examiners in December 2016. The Patent Trial and Appeal Board’s End to End (PTAB E2E) system was deployed in July, supplementing the existing PRPS system, and has received tremendous positive feedback. In Trademarks, Law Office 122 is using Trademark Next Generation (TMNG) which we will roll out to the remaining Law Offices through fiscal year 2017. TMNG will replace all legacy systems with one, cohesive, web application. 

DevOps has a firm hold

Our journey towards DevOps is well on its way as we have partnered with the Office of the Chief Financial Officer to cement it in our culture through the continuous development of Fee Processing Next Generation. We’re piloting weekly deployments of bug fixes with great success. The lessons learned will cascade throughout all products.  We are also using blue green deployments on three products to decrease any outages to our customers during their maintenance.  As DevOps is very much a community culture, we also hosted DevOpsDays DC in June, which sold out in the first day.  We look forward to even more DevOps events in the future.

Embracing open source and open data

Open data is a call to action -- which is why we created the USPTO’s Open Data Portal.  We’ve been working hard to make our centuries worth of data into a form the public can easily access and manipulate.  We continue to add to and improve our GitHub library, and some of our current projects include design patterns, a tool to help parse patent data, and a trademark status app. 

Your customer experience

We constantly engage with our internal and external customers.  You are a critical partner in our success, and we’ve been working hard to make our systems as user friendly as possible.  To that end, we’re moving towards an enterprise single sign-on (SSO) with role-based accounts.  Which means, eventually you will not need to log in separately to every system you use, but instead just log in once, and we do the rest.  The SSO system will recognize what systems you are authorized to use and will give you access. 

Finally, in order to assist the intellectual property community, this year we opened two new Patent and Trademark Resource Centers, in Las Cruces, NM, and San Jose, CA. 

What to look for in 2017

In 2017, we will continue to expand the role-based accounts to more systems that will dramatically improve customers’ USPTO logged in experience.  Starting in the spring, we will be upgrading to Windows 10.  Late in 2017, you will be seeing improvements to how to search and file for both patents and trademarks. 
I look forward to sharing more updates with you in the future as we continue to use the latest technology to support the USPTO and the public.

Tuesday Oct 04, 2016

USPTO Launches New Jobs Pages and Outreach to Hispanic Millennials

Guest Blog by Director of the Office of Equal Employment Opportunity and Diversity Bismarck Myrick

USPTO’s mission, providing timely and high quality examination of patent and trademark applications, could be compromised with 18% of our workforce eligible to retire in the next 3-5 years.  Therefore, it is crucial that we actively recruit new talent from across the country and from all backgrounds.

As we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, we recognize that Hispanic employees at the USPTO provide a richness in skill, creativity, thought leadership and determination.

Through our newly redesigned careers pages, “USPTO Jobs,” social media, and other digital means, the USPTO is modernizing the way we recruit prospective employees, with special attention paid to reaching highly-qualified jobseekers from underrepresented groups. In particular, I am delighted to announce a new digital outreach strategy designed to reach Hispanic Millennials, making sure they know about job opportunities at the USPTO.

In June 2009, engineers at the USPTO formed the first U.S. government professional chapter of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, SHPE-USPTO. SHPE-USPTO programs foster the professional, educational and cultural support that members rely on for career advancement and success at USPTO.
SHPE-USPTO also played an instrumental role in supporting the expansion of the agency’s telework program to Puerto Rico. As of April 2016, interested and eligible employees now have another telework option outside of the USPTO's 50-mile commuting radius. We expect that this step will not only help the USPTO’s efforts to spur innovation in more regions, but that enhance the Puerto Rican economy by bringing federal employee positions to the island.

Watch our video to learn more about the impact that Hispanic employees are having at the USPTO.

Positions at the USPTO are available not only in our headquarters in the Washington DC area, but also in our regional offices in Detroit, Denver, Dallas, and Silicon Valley, as well as remotely through our telework program. Speak to us this fall as we visit over 24 universities, and hold events from info sessions to Twitter chats. Follow us on Linked In, Twitter, and Facebook for the latest details. And be sure to check out USPTO Jobs, which provides prospective employees with improved navigation, accessibility of agency news and information, and a live feed of job openings from USAJobs.gov.  

We are a workforce of nearly 13,000 highly-skilled and motivated professionals including engineers, scientists, attorneys, strategists, and computer specialists – all dedicated to protecting U.S. intellectual property rights. The USPTO is one of the Best Places to Work in the Federal Government,® rankings produced by the Partnership for Public Service. Read about some of our talented professionals, and learn more about our benefits, student programs, veteran employment and disability hiring programs.

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