Director's Forum: A Blog from USPTO's Leadership
Wednesday Dec 13, 2017

Leveraging Open Data to Fuel American Innovation

A blog about the USPTO from the Department of Commerce.

Leveraging open data is a priority for the Trump Administration, as part of its long-term commitment to modernize government and as a key driver of the American economy.

Recently, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) announced newly-released data giving the public new insights regarding the ins and outs of the patent process, while also providing the USPTO with more meaningful metrics so it can continue to efficiently issue high-quality patents.
“It’s been nearly impossible to unlock this valuable data effectively in the past, but by leveraging emerging technologies such as big data and machine learning, we are able to better serve our customers”, said the USPTO Chief Data Strategist Thomas A. Beach.

Data visualization of patent examination process

Data visualization of the patent examination process

The USPTO receives and reviews thousands of patent applications each year. Included in these applications are mountains of scientific knowledge. Today’s release of the USPTO Patent Prosecution Research Data: Unlocking Office Action & Citation Traits marks the first time that comprehensive data on over 4.4 million office actions from the last several years has been made readily available to the public. An “office action” is a notification from a patent examiner to an applicant on whether their invention is patentable, and why or why not. It includes information such as the grounds for approval or rejection as well as the pertinent prior art, or in other words, the relevant past inventions that have come before it as shown in the visualization of the patent examination process (shown above).

By improving access to patent data, the public and private sectors can be empowered to identify trends in technology and innovation and open data can be freely and easily accessed, shared and analyzed. Analyzing and connecting government datasets can result in useful insights for entrepreneurs and innovators, from assessing risks to increasing sales.

Friday Nov 17, 2017

Update: Improving the Accuracy of the Trademark Register

Guest Blog by Chief Administrative Trademark Judge Gerard F. Rogers

The public counts on the accuracy and integrity of the U.S. Trademark Register when selecting and clearing new marks, so as to avoid conflicts with already registered marks. Registered trademarks that are not actually in use in commerce unnecessarily block someone else from the Register. Based on analysis of the results of the Post Registration Proof of Use Pilot, Trademarks found that more than half of registrations being maintained include at least some goods or services for which the registered mark is not actually being used. In the wake of these findings, the USPTO has been exploring ways to improve the state of the Trademark Register. Some changes have already been made, as Commissioner for Trademarks Mary Boney Denison described in her blog post last year. The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) is considering revision of its rules to allow a party to seek cancellation of registrations for marks no longer in use or that never were in use, through streamlined proceedings.

These new streamlined cancellation proceedings would facilitate challenges to registrations for unused marks by those who believe that the mark’s continuing presence on the Register will damage them in some way, often because it is blocking the challenger’s attempt to register the same or a similar mark. A party seeking to “clear” a mark for use and registration who encounters a registered mark that presents a potential likelihood of confusion may investigate and find that the registered mark seems not to be in use in commerce. Instead of commencing a full cancellation proceeding, the party could initiate a streamlined proceeding and, by providing evidence of nonuse, quickly and efficiently clear the blocking mark from the Trademark Register. Unlike a full proceeding in which a challenger must bring all available claims or run the risk of being barred from raising them in the future, the challenger may focus solely on claims of nonuse or abandonment, without endangering its option to bring other claims in the future.

Chief Administrative Trademark Judge Gerard F. Rogers

Chief Administrative Trademark Judge Gerard F. Rogers

Specifically, the grounds a party could assert would be limited to: (1) abandonment of one or more goods/services (nonuse plus intention not to resume use); or (2) no use for one or more of the goods/services prior to the relevant date of an allegation of use Counterclaims by the registrant would not be permitted.  Procedures that would facilitate speed and efficiency of these proceedings could include: requiring the challenger to submit evidence sufficient to support its grounds at the time of filing the petition, and the registrant to submit proof of use of the mark with its answer; limiting discovery to the challenger’s standing if it would prove dispositive; and an abbreviated schedule with no oral hearing.  The TTAB would commit to determination of the cases within an expedited timeframe, potentially 70 days from commencement (in cases of default by the registrant) to approximately 170 days from commencement for cases decided on the merits. The cases also could be less expensive, with lower fees and legal costs, due to the relative simplicity of the proceedings.

To obtain preliminary feedback on whether streamlined proceedings would be useful and how they should be structured, on May 16, 2017, the USPTO published a request for comments in the Federal Register (82 Fed. Reg. 22517). A variety of stakeholders and customers responded with comments. The USPTO received valuable feedback on the potential effectiveness of the proceedings overall, as well as on specific issues such as safeguards against potential abuse, timing and deadlines, the appropriate fee amount, procedural points, standing, the burdens of production and proof, the use requirement, and the preclusive effect of Streamlined Proceedings.

After the comment period closed, stakeholders gathered for a public meeting on September 25, 2017, where the USPTO reported on the comments and attendees engaged in a lively discussion about various aspects of the Streamlined Proceedings. The conversation addressed some discussion questions posted on the USPTO website.

As indicated at the public meeting, the USPTO continues to welcome additional input on the discussion questions and other issues related to streamlined proceedings. Written comments may be submitted via TTABFRNotices@uspto.gov. The success of this type of initiative depends heavily on members of the public, sharing their insights and experience. These contributions allow the USPTO to better understand the participants’ perspectives in weighing the costs and benefits of Streamlined Proceedings. Should the USPTO move forward with Streamlined Proceedings, the next step would be issuance of a notice of proposed rulemaking to set out the specific rule changes needed to implement streamlined proceedings. The USPTO looks forward to continued engagement on this important initiative.

Thursday Nov 16, 2017

Revised Patent Fee Schedule Finalized

Guest blog by Commissioner for Patents Drew Hirshfeld and Chief Judge of the Patent Trial and Appeal Board David Ruschke

The USPTO is celebrating the culmination of a multi-year effort to secure the financial security of the Patent and Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) organizations in order to better serve the United States economy We have made tremendous progress reducing overall patent pendency, reducing our inventory of unexamined applications, enhancing patent examination quality, reducing the ex parte appeal inventory, and implementing the post-grant review proceedings established by the America Invents Act (AIA). These are all vital to ensure steady domestic job growth. While great progress has been made, there is still much to be accomplished, which requires additional funding. After years of preparation, deliberation, analysis, and consideration of stakeholder opinion, the USPTO issued a final rule, “Setting and Adjusting Patent Fees during Fiscal Year 2017,” using the fee setting authority of the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (AIA) to strategically change certain patent and PTAB fees.

The revised fee schedule is projected to produce approximately 4% more patent revenue each fiscal year once fully implemented. With the added funding, we aim to:

• Continue progress towards strategic goals and objectives including reaching target pendency and backlog levels
• Build upon the success of quality efforts and continue to strengthen the work products, processes, and services at all stages of the patent process
• Advance our multi-year effort to update our critical information technology infrastructure via solutions like Patents End-to-End (PE2E) and PTAB End-to-End (PTAB E2E)—modern, enterprise solutions designed to improve efficiency, enhance accountability, and provide greater stakeholder satisfaction during interactions with our organizations
• Support the PTAB’s continued efforts to recruit and retain staff to deliver high quality and timely decisions, particularly for AIA trials and reexamination and ex parte appeals
• Work towards an optimal reserve balance, which will enable the USPTO to maintain service delivery when faced with immediate and temporary changes in economic conditions and/or operating circumstances

The final rule is responsive to feedback gathered from stakeholders during the 60-day public comment period following the publication of the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in September 2016 and was developed after extensive review and consultation with the current administration to ensure alignment with key priorities. Compared to the financial outlook presented in the NPRM, the revised financial outlook of the final rule is more moderate due to revised fee change proposals. Specifically, the USPTO opted to reduce the proposed increase in design and plant issue fees after stakeholders raised concerns about accessibility. Next, the notice of appeal fee remains at its current level ($800) instead of a proposed $200 increase. Further, the fee to forward an appeal to the Board increases only moderately. Finally, the final rule increases the Inter Partes Review (IPR) request and post-institution fees to better align them to their unit costs. The total combined fee ($30,500) is significantly greater than the current combined fee ($23,000) but these fees remain accessible compared to the costs required to pursue court proceedings. The other fees proposed in the NPRM remain the same in the final rule. A full list of fee change proposals is available on the Fee Setting and Adjusting page of the USPTO website.

For the PTAB organization, since the initial AIA patent fee rulemaking in 2013, ex parte appeal fees have enabled the PTAB to hire more judges and greatly reduce the appeals inventory, which reached over 26,500 (in 2012), to just over 13,000 (in September 2017). Additional fee revenue from higher appeal fees will support further inventory and pendency reductions.

The USPTO takes its fee setting authority very seriously and continues to invest significant resources and time in developing proposals, working with our stakeholders, and analyzing potential effects of proposed changes on fee payers. When first conceived, this final rule was to take effect in fiscal year 2017, but significant consultation, analysis, and consideration of multiple stakeholder perspectives led us to delay the implementation date. Given the pending sunset of the USPTO’s fee setting authority, barring an action by Congress to extend or make it permanent, this particular fee setting effort took on greater significance. We at the USPTO strive to be good stewards of our financial resources and we continue to welcome feedback and accountability from our many stakeholders.

Wednesday Nov 15, 2017

Traveling with a Group of Global IP “Rock Stars”

Guest blog by Director of the Silicon Valley Regional U.S. Patent and Trademark Office John Cabeca

I recently had the opportunity to join several of the USPTO’s intellectual property (IP) attachés in Long Beach, California, to deliver presentations at the American Bar Association’s IP West conference and meet with local U.S. stakeholders and businesses.

The USPTO’s IP attachés, who came here from their regional posts in South America, Central America, Asia, Mexico, and the Caribbean, are U.S. diplomats assigned to embassies or consulates to advocate U.S. positions on IP matters for the benefit of U.S. stakeholders. They are committed to advancing U.S. business interests internationally. They also provide information to U.S. businesses entering foreign markets, including how to navigate foreign laws and protect their IP abroad.

In addition to their extensive work abroad, the attachés regularly work with USPTO headquarters and its regional offices to hold meetings and conduct programs with stakeholders throughout the United States. These activities are designed not only to expand awareness of the IP attachés’ efforts, but also provide expert assistance to U.S. industry associations and individual businesses in their efforts to protect and enforce IP rights overseas.

One of the highlights of our visit to Southern California was a three-hour roundtable discussion held at the University of California–Irvine’s Applied Innovation incubator, The Cove. It consisted of a series of wide-ranging discussions on global IP protection, and gave about 100 attendees—who represented startup companies, academia, and IP law firms—the opportunity to get answers to their questions about the IP challenges faced by U.S. stakeholders abroad and the best methods to help them. It also addressed several related areas of concern, such as counterfeit goods, patents, and trade secret protection. In addition to The Cove, we also visited other associations and companies while we were in Southern California, including Boeing, Western Digital, The Walt Disney Company, and the Orange County IP Law Association.
 
A group of the USPTO’s intellectual property attachés recently met with representatives of The Walt Disney Company in Burbank California. The visit was part of a series of outreach events that the attachés conducted in southern California, meeting over a three-day period with a wide variety of local U.S. businesses and other stakeholders.

IP attaches outside The Walt Disney Company

A group of the USPTO’s intellectual property attachés recently met with representatives of The Walt Disney Company in Burbank California. The visit was part of a series of outreach events that the attachés conducted in southern California, meeting over a three-day period with a wide variety of local U.S. businesses and other stakeholders.

Working alongside the IP attachés reminded me what a tremendous service they provide to our country and its businesses. For example, Ann Chaitovitz, our attaché based in Lima, Peru, related how her work conducting IP enforcement workshops for Peruvian officials had led to improvements in Peru’s enforcement activities. A subsequent raid by Peruvian officials, conducted on behalf of U.S. footwear and apparel manufacturers, netted large quantities of counterfeit goods bearing U.S. trademarks. Success stories like this show the important role our IP attachés play, and help explain why attendees at some of this week’s events referred to the attachés as “rock stars.”

According to the program’s director, Dominic Keating, “the USPTO’s IP attachés bring an average of more than 20 years of IP experience to the table to help secure the highest of standards in international agreements and host country laws. The attachés’ experiences range from government—in such agencies as U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Office of the United States Trade Representative—to work with major trade associations and some of the best law firms in the country.”

We are truly fortunate that the USPTO has such dedicated and talented individuals advocating on behalf of U.S. business interests and working with foreign government officials for the enactment and enforcement of strong IP policies, laws, and regulations.

In addition to their most recent visit, similar IP attaché outreach programs have been held in other major U.S. cities near or in one of our regional offices, including Detroit, Michigan; Denver, Colorado; and Washington, D.C. The next one, in early December, will be in Dallas, Texas. I urge you to learn more about the work the attachés do by visiting the IP Attaché Program page on the USPTO website.

Wednesday Nov 08, 2017

The Importance of Independent Inventors to America – and America’s Economy

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

Throughout history, independent inventors have transformed our lives with their innovative ideas and played a key role in the growth of the U.S. economy. Regardless of whether these ideas spawned small family businesses or large corporations, the work of small inventors is part of the fabric of American innovation. Think of names like Dupont, Ford, Kellogg, and Wright; and technology such as the telephone, the electric lightbulb, the steam engine, and the airplane. A disproportionate number of the most important technological advances started in the minds of small-scale, independent inventors, and their ideas have helped create new jobs, businesses, and even entire global industries. Today, the importance of small inventors and small business endures. According to the Small Business Administration (SBA), two out of three net new jobs in the U.S. are created by small businesses.

The resourcefulness and resilience of today’s independent inventors are indeed impressive, and at the USPTO, and because they’re responsible for so many great technological leaps, we want to help them succeed. The USPTO needs to hear about the real challenges they face as they work to protect and manufacture their innovations and start and grow their own businesses. In the months I’ve been leading this agency, I’ve made time to meet with inventors to hear their stories and learn how they believe the USPTO can help them overcome roadblocks. Just recently, for example, I attended a meeting of the Tampa Bay Inventors Council. Some of them expressed concern about the fairness of the IP system, and some criticized the USPTO’s post-issuance review proceedings, arguing that they are stacked against patent owners.  Others noted that they found the process of obtaining a patent to be too lengthy, cumbersome, and cost-prohibitive. They’re also extremely concerned about the ease in which their product ideas can be copied and sold into the United States from other nations.

After a meeting with members of the Tampa Bay Inventors Council, Joe Matal (left) speaks with Steve Gordon, the inventor and manufacturer of the INSTANT-OFF Water Saver. (Photo by Paul Morinville)

Our policies and processes throughout the USPTO are intended to drive entrepreneurship and innovation, and create a fair, accessible, and easy-to-use system for all inventors. As I explained in Tampa, there’s always room for improvement at the USPTO. Every aspect of our agency is continually being refined to better serve the patent and trademark owner community. Hearing from them helps us identify ways we can make that happen.

To that end, the USPTO has a wide variety of resources designed to help independent inventors. They can take advantage of our Patent Pro Bono Program and Pro Se Assistance Program, which help applicants who seek patents without the assistance of a lawyer.  Historically, USPTO has found that pro se applicants have substantially higher abandonment rates than do other applicants.  The agency has recently begun expanding its pro se assistance program in order to ensure that every pro se inventor who wants to can be assisted by this art unit, in which examiners play an active role in guiding the inventor through the prosecution process. The USPTO also offers its Track One program, which provides expedited patent prosecution, and does so with significant discounts for small, independent inventors. Our Inventors Assistance Center, which is staffed by former patent examiners, intellectual property specialists, and attorneys, can answer general questions concerning patent examining policy and procedure.

In addition, our four regional offices, located in each of the U.S. time zones, serve to make our services more readily available to local communities, and their unique industry and innovation needs, whether it be an event on the basics of patents and trademarks, or meeting directly with an examiner to discuss an application. Representatives from across the USPTO regularly meet with groups of inventors, startups, and businesses. I encourage you to browse our list of all upcoming events to find one that interests you.

I look forward to continuing the discussion with inventors to learn what we’re doing well, what we can do better, and how best to serve their needs. Only by working together will we achieve the best outcomes for our nation’s inventors and entrepreneurs, and help grow our economy, create new jobs, and build new industries.

Tuesday Nov 07, 2017

2017 Collegiate Inventors Competition Winners Announced

A blog about the USPTO from the Department of Commerce.

The future of American innovation was on display November 3rd at the 2017 Collegiate Inventors Competition held at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in Alexandria, VA.

Cutting-edge inventions created by the nation’s brightest young innovators from colleges and universities across the country – solving challenges from water decontamination to wearable power generation – were showcased at the competition’s public expo, providing the students a forum to answer questions and discuss their inventions with USPTO patent examiners, patent attorneys, trademark examiners and senior officials; corporate sponsors; members of the intellectual property community; and the public.

During the competition, the 29 undergraduate and graduate students from 12 teams all had the opportunity to interact one-on-one with inductees of the National Inventors Hall of Fame (NIHF). These legendary innovators – who have invented many tools, processes, or devices that are now commonplace in our lives (optical fiber, implantable defibrillator, Post-it® Notes, digital camera) — served as judges for the competition, and provided advice and inspiration for the students. USPTO officials also served as judges.

2017 CIC gold medal winners

The winner in the undergraduate category was a team from University of Iowa, Abraham Espinoza and Matthew Rooda. Their invention, SwineTech, is an audio processing technology that determines if piglets are in distress, allowing farmers to provide a higher quality of life to their livestock.

The graduate winner was Ning Mao from Boston University for Engineered Probiotics. Her priobiotic solution is an affordable and convenient way to provide early detection of cholera and help further contain the spread of the disease.

The top undergraduate and graduate winning teams each received $10,000. Second- and third-place finishers also were awarded cash and prizes. Read more about all the 2017 CIC finalists and winners and hear what they love about inventing.

Through this competition, the skills that these students gained through the process of invention and by learning about intellectual property will be assets to them as they continue with their research or commercialize their inventions.

The Collegiate Inventors Competition is one of several important programs that the USPTO and NIHF offer to young inventors. Others include Invention Playground for preschool children, Camp Invention and Club Invention for elementary school children, and Invention Project for middle school students. Since 1990, NIHF’s education programs have served more than 1.25 million children, and 125,000 teachers and leadership interns — 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.

Monday Oct 30, 2017

Something Spooky This Way Comes – Strange, Weird and Unsettling IP

A blog post about the USPTO from the Department of Commerce.

Americans will spend an estimated 9.1 billion dollars on Halloween this year, and yet many trick-or-treaters remain unaware that this holiday is crawling with countless examples of intellectual property (IP), from the registered trademarks protecting the candy you eat and the costumes you wear, to the utility and design patents behind the tools to carve pumpkins or manufacture Halloween decorations. As in past Octobers, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) uses social media as a fun and timely way to educate the public about the importance of IP and how it impacts their everyday lives.

Seven years ago, the USPTO decided to explore the deepest and darkest corners of more than two centuries worth of patent and trademark archive to unearth some particularly Halloween-appropriate patents and trademarks, in a campaign that became known as “Creepy IP.” Whether it’s the trademark for Ghostbusters®, Count Chocula® cereal, a sound mark for Darth Vader®, or patents for the electric extraction of poison or a flesh brushing apparatus from the 1880s, the USPTO’s public records are full of interesting inventions and commercialized products, some of which would fit right in at your local haunted house.

Since its initial launch in October 2011, the #CreepyIP hashtag remains one of the USPTO's most successful interactive social media campaigns, with other federal agencies, private companies, the press, and members of the general public routinely using the hashtag to share the IP they find spooky, creepy or downright strange. This year, the USPTO has even gotten other international IP offices searching their archives for Creepy IP. 

USPTO Creepy IP Team

USPTO Creepy IP Team

Part of the USPTO’s mission is to educate the public about the importance of IP, and Creepy IP generates tremendous awareness by highlighting how patents and trademarks are ingrained in our daily lives. Innovation and creative endeavors are indispensable elements that drive economic growth and sustain the competitive (and sometimes creepy) edge of the U.S. economy. In turn, IP protection provides incentives to invent and protects innovators from unauthorized use of their creepy inventions. The importance of IP to our economy is illustrated by a major study by the Economics & Statistics Administration which found that in 2014, IP-intensive industries directly and indirectly supported over 45 million jobs (nearly a third of all U.S. jobs) and over 38% of our national GDP.

On October 31 at 9:30 a.m. ET, the kooky minds behind Creepy IP at the USPTO will be hosting a Reddit “Ask Me Anything.” Join the discussion to ask questions about the weirdest and most memorable creepy patents and trademarks that they’ve discovered over the years. Follow the USPTO on Twitter and Facebook for more spooktacular IP, and from all of us – Happy Halloween!

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.

Friday Oct 06, 2017

USPTO and Denver Startup Week – What’s the Connection?

Guest blog by Director of the Rocky Mountain Regional U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Molly Kocialski

Today’s small businesses and entrepreneurs are faced with many decisions as they pursue their dreams of creating and building their own businesses. While raising funds from investors or applying for loans from the Small Business Administration (SBA) or other lenders, they are also formulating business plans, identifying the right business partners, hiring technical help, finding manufacturing assistance, and developing an overseas marketing strategy. In short, the “to do” list is long and ever-evolving. There are also intellectual property concerns to consider. What should my brand be? Do I need a patent? How do I protect my products and services from competitors? The USPTO can help answer many of these questions, and one venue where we are able to reach and assist a lot of small businesses and entrepreneurs is at local and regional “startup weeks.”

Every year, the Rocky Mountain USPTO participates in Denver Startup Week (DSW), which showcases the area’s entrepreneur community in tech, design, business, and manufacturing. DSW was started in 2012 and in the years since has grown into the largest free entrepreneurial event in the world, with over 13,300 people attending in 2016. Over the course of five days, the USPTO provides assistance to these small businesses and entrepreneurs, ensuring they understand the ins and outs of the intellectual property (IP) system. This year, the USPTO held sessions on intellectual property as a business decision and on why licensing partnerships enhance the chance of success.

Rocky Mountain Regional USPTO Director Molly Kocialski presents during Denver Startup Week

Rocky Mountain Regional USPTO Director Molly Kocialski presents during Denver Startup Week

Small businesses and entrepreneurs are the engine of the U.S. economy. According to the SBA, they make up:
• 99.7 percent of U.S. employer firms,
• 64 percent of net new private-sector jobs,
• 43 percent of high-tech employment,
• 98 percent of firms exporting goods, and
• 33 percent of exporting value. 

In addition to reaching entrepreneurs at startup weeks, the USPTO offers a wide range of resources for small businesses and innovators across the country. Our regional offices in Denver, Dallas, Detroit and San Jose provide a support system for entrepreneurs, offer free information and resources to individuals and businesses, and host frequent events. In addition, our Patent and Trademark Resource Centers (PTRCs) are a nationwide network of public, state, and academic libraries designated by the USPTO to support the public with trademark and patent assistance. Individuals and small businesses with limited financial resources can also receive free legal assistance in order to help them secure patent protection for their invention. Through the Law School Clinic Certification Program, assistance is provided by law students who are supervised by licensed IP attorneys, and through the USPTO’s Patent Pro Bono Program, now in all 50 states, attorneys volunteer their time as a way to give back to their communities.

At the USPTO, we understand that when starting a business, there are many IP-related concerns to consider. That is why we are working to provide local and regional innovators with the tools, information and resources they need to succeed and ultimately, protect U.S. innovation.

Tuesday Sep 26, 2017

Patents for Humanity Awards Now Open for Applications

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

Patents for Humanity, the USPTO’s top honor for patent owners and licensees who use game-changing technology to meet humanitarian needs, is now accepting applications for the 2017 – 2018 cycle. Anyone who owns or licenses a U.S. patent or patent application is eligible. Winners receive an acceleration certificate to expedite proceedings at the USPTO, as well as public recognition of their work.

Patents for Humanity recognizes inventions that address global development issues such as medicine, nutrition, sanitation, energy, and living standards. We invite innovators of all kinds to tell their stories of helping underserved communities through the power of technology. Individuals, corporations, nonprofits, small businesses, academic institutions, and government agencies are all welcome to apply.

Patents for Humanity trophies

Patents for Humanity trophies

This year marks the fourth cycle of the Patents for Humanity program. Previous awardees have improved lives worldwide. Winners from the last round include Case Western Reserve University, for a low-cost malaria detection device, and startup company GestVision, Inc., for a quick diagnostic test for preeclampsia, a potentially life-threatening pregnancy complication.

If your organization uses patented technology to help address basic human needs, we encourage you to participate. The USPTO will accept applications through December 8. Please submit your completed application online through the Patents for Humanity page of the USPTO website.  You can send any questions to patentsforhumanity@uspto.gov.

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.

Thursday Aug 24, 2017

Avoiding Intellectual Property Theft Abroad

Guest blog by Director of the Texas Regional U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Hope Shimabuku

Overseas markets present some of the best economic opportunities for U.S. companies, and at the same time can pose some of the greatest risks  such as counterfeiting. According to a recently released White House Fact Sheet on protecting American intellectual property (IP), the annual cost to the U.S. economy from intellectual property (IP) theft, including counterfeiting, could be as high as $600 billion.

Many U.S. businesses, particularly small and medium-sized ones, are not aware that their U.S. patent or U.S. trademark is not enforceable in other countries. In fact, to their unpleasant surprise, some U.S. companies who have never done business abroad find themselves in an untenable position when foreign manufacturers copy their products, packaging, and business plans without their knowledge or authorization. Additionally, foreign counterfeiters steal product pictures, brochures, and logos from U.S. company websites and register such materials as their own. As a result, American companies not only face counterfeit issues abroad, but consequently are then vulnerable to counterfeit products entering the U.S. For these reasons, it’s vital that U.S. companies seek trademark and patent protection well in advance of doing business internationally and adapt strategies to prevent counterfeits.

To combat this problem, the USPTO works closely with other federal agencies to protect and enforce American IP rights abroad, and provides an array of tools and resources to assist U.S. businesses doing business overseas. Our IP attachés are one of our most valuable resources. Located at U.S. embassies, consulates, and missions across the world, IP attachés assist U.S. businesses in navigating foreign laws and regulations and advocate for U.S. positions with foreign governments. They also work hand in hand with the U.S. Commercial Service's commercial specialists, who are experts in trade and export regulations. In addition, the USPTO partners with the National Intellectual Property Rights Center, which includes 19 federal agencies, as well as international agencies such as Interpol, to provide a comprehensive response to IP theft. Finally, we staff a hotline through STOPFakes.gov, where the public can provide information on suspected counterfeit goods and get information on protecting their IP. To learn more about the risks of IP theft and counterfeits, watch the Science of Innovation video on anti-counterfeiting, made with NBC Learn.

Anti Counterfeiting and the Global Marketplace

Anti Counterfeiting & The Global Marketplace

On August 29, the Texas Regional U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, in coordination with the Dallas Bar Association and the U.S. Commercial Service, will host a daylong seminar, Anti-Counterfeiting and the Global Marketplace: How to Protect and Enforce IP While Expanding Trade, in Dallas. Speakers will include the Honorable Eddie Bernice Johnson and the Honorable Pete Sessions of the U.S. House of Representatives, USPTO Commissioner for Trademarks Mary Boney Denison, as well as representatives from Customs and Border Protection and the private sector. Please join us for this exciting event.

The USPTO is committed to ensuring that IP continues to drive American innovation, and that American companies can compete and succeed domestically and in the international marketplace. Working with the U.S. Commercial Service and other partner agencies, we are dedicated to helping U.S. businesses secure and enforce their IP rights both domestically and abroad for the benefit of the U.S. economy.

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.

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