Global protection and local outreach: How the USPTO’s IP attachés are helping U.S. business interests abroad
Guest blog by Molly Kocialski, Director of the Rocky Mountain Regional U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and Damian Porcari, Director of the Elijah J. McCoy Midwest Regional U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
The USPTO IP attachés posted to China, Belgium, Mexico, Switzerland, India, and Thailand shown here, along with their colleagues in seven other posts around the world, work to support the interests of U.S. IP rights holders.
During the past several months, we were pleased to welcome the USPTO’s intellectual property (IP) attachés to a series of virtual events in our respective regions covering the Midwest and the Rocky Mountain states.
Who are the IP attachés? They are U.S. diplomats with expertise in intellectual property. Their prior experience includes work in government, industry, major trade associations, and some of the best law firms in the country. They are currently assigned to 12 embassies, consulates or missions around the world, where they advocate U.S. positions on IP matters for the benefit of U.S. businesses. Three attachés cover China, two focus on multilateral issues in Geneva, and the others cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, Central Eurasia, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Middle East and North Africa.
Aside from their diplomatic duties, the IP attachés also provide information to U.S. businesses entering foreign markets, including how to navigate foreign laws and protect their IP abroad. One way they do that is through the kinds of outreach efforts they conducted recently with stakeholders located in our two regions. These included a series of virtual meetings held with Utah stakeholders in October 2020 and another round of meetings held in April 2021 with stakeholders in Ohio and Kentucky.
The virtual visit with stakeholders in Utah included discussions with the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development and the World Trade Center Utah. These meetings consisted of a series of wide-ranging discussions on global IP protection and gave attendees—who represented established businesses, startup companies, government, academia, and IP law firms—answers to their questions about IP challenges abroad. Topics included counterfeit goods, patents, trademarks, and trade secret protection. Our other virtual meetings included conversations with a number of Utah based companies, as well as the IP Law Section of the Utah State Bar. Likewise, in Ohio and Kentucky, the IP attachés’ virtual visits led to engaging conversations about international developments in patent, trademark, and trade secret protection. In these sessions, we were joined by a diverse group of inventors, law school students from throughout the Midwest, attorneys, and more than 45 businesses located in the two states.
Both of these series of meetings made clear to us what a tremendous service the IP attachés provide to our country and to American businesses and inventors. Over the past 15 months alone, the IP attachés helped more than 8,000 U.S. stakeholders, held more than 2,500 meetings with foreign government officials, conducted more than 80 training programs (with more than 4,400 foreign government officials), and reported over 60 significant IP successes.
Examples of the IP attachés’ recent work on behalf of U.S interests include:
• Conducting training programs on patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets for officials from U.S. trading partners—including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Peru, Bolivia, El Salvador, Ukraine, China, and Thailand—so that they can better protect and enforce IP in their countries.
• Organizing two international leadership programs for officials of the European Union who are responsible for IP enforcement.
• In China, in response to the pandemic, a focus by the three IP attachés on sourcing and shipping Chinese-made personal protective equipment and medical devices to the United States, while remaining vigilant against counterfeit or substandard medical products.
• Shutting down, in the Middle East and North Africa region, a major broadcasting operation that carried pirated satellite signals—a collaborative effort by the IP attaché for that region and local authorities.
“Successes like these show the important role our IP attachés play,” notes Dominic Keating, the director of the USPTO’s IP Attaché Program. “Each attaché brings an average of more than 15 years of IP experience to the table to help secure the highest of standards in international agreements and host country laws.”
These virtual visits drove home to us, and to the many participants in all three states, the importance of protecting IP globally. Our economy benefits greatly from strong IP protections here at home. It also depends on our international counterparts to take the same approach in protecting rights holders’ interests overseas. The IP attachés play an important role in making that a reality.
The next series of IP attaché outreach events will be taking place in early June 2021 in Kansas and Nebraska, with programs on June 8 and June 9. If you are a Kansas or Nebraska company that wants to learn more, please contact the Rocky Mountain U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. For further details on the work of the IP attachés, or to learn about upcoming visits to other states and regions, view the IP Attaché Program page of the USPTO website.
Help us find the next National Medal of Technology and Innovation Laureates
Blog by Drew Hirshfeld, performing the functions and duties of the Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO
The design for the National Medal of Technology and Innovation is the work of medalist and sculptor Mico Kaufman of North Tewksbury, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jay Premack/USPTO)
From the personal computer to satellite technology, the last few decades of technological innovation have dramatically changed the way we live our lives. Those changes would not have been possible without the amazing inventors behind them – women and men who inspire us all with their spirit of ingenuity and perseverance. That’s why we are immensely proud to administer the National Medal of Technology and Innovation (NMTI), our nation’s highest honor in technological achievement, which recognizes these often unsung heroes.
Awarded by the President of the United States, the NMTI is given to individuals, teams, and companies that have made lasting contributions to America's competitiveness, standard of living, and quality of life through technological innovation. We are currently soliciting nominations from the public for this high honor, and we invite a wide range of submissions for recipients of the NMTI – called Laureates – that represent the diversity and ingenuity of our incredible innovation ecosystem from all corners of the United States.
If you know of a person or team who you feel has changed the technological landscape through their discoveries and achievements, we want to know! Submissions are being accepted on the NMTI page of the USPTO website through July 30.
By highlighting the importance and achievements of NMTI Laureates, the Medal is also meant to inspire future generations of Americans to prepare for and pursue technical careers. Since the Medal’s inception in 1980, only 220 people have been awarded this prestigious recognition. Here are just a few of their stories.
Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak receive the National Medal of Technology from President Ronald Reagan. (Photo courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library)
Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were among the first class of Laureates in 1985. Their development of the personal computer revolutionized the world, bringing the power of computing technology into people’s homes. Relying on Jobs’ marketing and design skills and Wozniak’s engineering insights, the pair co-founded Apple Computers in 1976. Today, Apple remains an international, multibillion-dollar company.
Helen Edwards receives the National Medal of Technology from President George H.W. Bush. (Photo courtesy of the George H.W. Bush Presidential Museum and Library)
Helen Edwards was the first woman to receive the NMTI. She was awarded the Medal in 1989 for overseeing the design, construction, and operation of the TEVATRON particle accelerator. This amazing piece of equipment explored the fundamental properties of matter. It allowed experiments that could previously only be theorized, by accelerating beams of protons and antiprotons to approximately the speed of light around a four-mile circumference. It was the most powerful particle accelerator in the world for 25 years.
Irwin Jacobs received the NMTI from President William J. Clinton. (Photo courtesy of the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum)
Irwin Jacobs, co-founder of Qualcomm, received the NMTI in 1994 for taking a military technology called Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) and transforming it into 3G cellular and wireless networks. 3G allows multiple conversations to share the same frequencies simultaneously. This, in turn, allowed for more customers and fewer cellphone towers—and made wireless technology more affordable.
James West receives the NMTI from President George W. Bush. (Photo courtesy of the National Science and Technology Medals Foundation)
James West received the NMTI in 2006 for co-inventing the foil electret microphone, which is used in phones, computers, hearing aids, and many other devices. Over two billion electret microphones are currently produced every year. After working at Bell Labs for 40 years, West is still inventing as a faculty member at Johns Hopkins University. He is also a lifelong advocate for increasing diversity in science, technology, engineering, and math fields.
Yvonne Brill receives the NMTI from President Barack Obama. (Photo by Arva Adams/USPTO)
Yvonne Brill received the NMTI in 2010 for inventing a rocket propulsion system to keep communications satellites in their orbits—a remarkable achievement for a woman who was not allowed to major in engineering in college and chose to major in chemistry and mathematics instead. Brill is believed to be the only woman in the United States who was working in rocket science in the mid-1940s. She advocated for women in engineering and science throughout her career.
We are honored to celebrate the best minds in American innovation whose creations have improved our world and kept the United States at the forefront of global technology and economic leadership. For more information on the NMTI and the award process, attend the webinar on June 2, sign up for the USPTO Awards newsletter, or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Modernizing patent filing with DOCX
Guest blog by Acting Commissioner for Patents Andrew Faile and Chief Information Officer Jamie Holcombe
At the USPTO, we are continuously working to modernize and streamline our patent application systems. As part of that ongoing effort, you can now file patent application-related documents in DOCX format through EFS-Web, Private PAIR, and Patent Center. To improve application quality and efficiency, the USPTO will be transitioning to DOCX for all filers on January 1, 2022. Keep reading to learn more about DOCX, its benefits, and opportunities to provide feedback on implementation.
DOCX is a word-processing file format supported by many popular applications, such as Microsoft Word, Google Docs, and LibreOffice. As an open standard format, DOCX offers a safe and stable basis for authoring and processing intellectual property documents.
Filing in DOCX provides you with many benefits in the application process, including:
- Increased efficiencies: eliminates the need to convert structured text into a PDF for filing.
- Higher data quality: reduces conversion errors that can occur when converting to a PDF file.
- Smarter interface: detects common errors, such as formatting errors, and provides instant feedback to prevent unnecessary delays in processing your application.
- Privacy: provides automatic metadata detection (e.g. track changes and comments) and removal features to support the submission of only substantive information in the DOCX file.
- Improved application quality: provides content-based validations pre-submission, identifying issues up front and allowing for them to be addressed before examination begins.
- Ease of use: provides automated document indexing.
- Compatibility: eliminates the non-embedded font error, the most common obstacle in uploading a PDF, by uploading your file with supported fonts.
We believe that meaningful improvements to our application processes can only happen through collaboration with our users. To that end, we received helpful feedback last year after the publication of our federal register notice that prompted us to make a few changes as we transition to the DOCX format.
First, we delayed the effective date for the non-DOCX surcharge fee to January 1, 2022, to provide more time for applicants to transition to this new process, and for the USPTO to continue our outreach efforts and address customer concerns. We’ve also made office actions available in DOCX and XML formats and further enhanced DOCX features, including accepting DOCX for drawings in addition to the specification, claims, and abstract for certain applications.
Additionally, based on what we’ve heard from our customers, we are adopting the submitted DOCX files as the authoritative document, otherwise referred to as the source or evidentiary copy (read the federal register notice). This will simplify the filing process, allowing the applicant to only review the DOCX files before submission rather than reviewing the USPTO-generated PDF version.
We look forward to continuing our engagement with the public on the DOCX transition so we can better serve America’s innovation community. We will be hosting DOCX training sessions on a regular basis to provide more information, demonstrate how to file and retrieve DOCX files in Patent Center, EFS-Web, and PAIR, and answer any questions. Applicants can also file test submissions through Patent Center training mode to practice filing in DOCX. In addition, we will offer a listening session this fall to gather feedback and suggestions to further improve DOCX features.
For more information and to view frequently asked questions, visit the DOCX page of the USPTO website. If you need assistance, please contact the Patent Electronic Business Center at email@example.com or 866-217-9197.
Spotlight on Commerce: Hannah Wang, Primary Patent Examiner
Guest blog post by Hannah Wang, Primary Patent Examiner, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)
Hannah Wang, Primary Patent Examiner, USPTO
As a primary patent examiner at the Commerce Department's United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), I handle patent applications in the area of computer networking. In addition, I have the privilege of currently serving as president of the Asian Pacific American Network (APANET), one of the largest affinity groups across the federal government. I also recently became a co-host of our workgroup’s Quality Enhancement Meetings (QEM). These QEMs provide patent examiners with the opportunity to learn about various topics and bring up any questions related to patent examining.
During my undergraduate studies in China, I pursued a major in Electrical Engineering, focusing on circuits and signal processing. In 2007, I moved to the United States to pursue my master’s degree at George Washington University, focusing on communication networks. Afterward, I attended Cornell University and earned a master’s degree in engineering management. At the time, I wanted to prepare myself for a career in consulting. However, life always has a way of surprising you. I happened to take a job as a patent analyst at a patent firm. That job opened my eyes to the patent field and changed my career path. I discovered my passion for a field that perfectly integrated my engineering expertise with innovation and law. When the opportunity arose, I decided to join the USPTO in 2016 to further pursue this passion. Today I am proud to be part of an amazing agency that serves as the backbone of American innovation.
Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Heritage Month is a perfect time to reflect on how far the AANHPI community has come and to celebrate the AANHPI community’s integral role in our Nation’s accomplishments and developments. During this month, we are not only reminded of the sacrifices and hardships experienced by past generations, but also to cherish the valuable equality and opportunities we have today. These reflections motivate us to continue working diligently and to provide an even better foundation for future generations. As a first-generation immigrant, it is very special to have my culture recognized, shared, and celebrated with so many people across the Commerce Department and the country. During this Covid-19 pandemic, it is especially important to raise awareness, promote diversity, and offer support to our AANHPI community.
The strength of the USPTO’s AANHPI community is reflected in the growth of APANET throughout the years. I am extremely proud that APANET has grown from 10 members when it was created to more than 800 members today. APANET hosts annual events every year for our members and USPTO employees. Events include our Lunar New Year celebration, AANHPI Heritage Month celebration, dragon boat races, and Diwali celebration, to name a few. Serving as the president of APANET provides me with many opportunities to collaborate with colleagues and coordinate events outside of patent examining. I am truly grateful that I can grow with APANET, provide help and services to others, and learn how to become an effective leader.
As a career civil servant at the USPTO, my job helps foster an environment that creates economic growth and opportunity. I can’t think of anything more impactful than protecting and expanding innovation in the U.S. through intellectual property. It helps create new jobs for Americans and advance our nation. My advice for those interested in a federal career is to not be afraid of exploring new things and changing original plans. As we explore, we discover new interests and develop new skills. Although this can mean deviating from our original plan, it can also lead to an even more suitable career path. The federal government offers a variety of opportunities that are a good fit for talented and hard-working individuals. Being willing to explore these opportunities will help you find your passions, talents, and a successful career path.
Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting the contributions of Department of Commerce employees during Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
The Trademark Modernization Act: What brand owners need to know
Guest blog by David Gooder, Commissioner for Trademarks at the USPTO
Sustaining and promoting a healthy, vibrant trademark system is at the core of what we strive to do at the USPTO. That is why we welcomed the passage and signing of the Trademark Modernization Act (TMA) this past December. The TMA includes key provisions that will give the USPTO and trademark owners additional tools to better protect and strengthen the integrity of the federal trademark register.
To help drive U.S. innovation, in 1946, Congress passed the United States Trademark Act, widely known as the Lanham Act. This federal statute sets out procedures for the registration of trademarks. Trademark owners may apply for a U.S. registration if they are either using the mark at the time of filing or have intent to use the mark in commerce. However, actual use of the trademark in commerce is required to obtain and maintain a U.S. registration.
In recent years, the USPTO has received an increasing number of trademark filings with dubious and sometimes bogus claims of use. This raises concerns about invalid registrations that clutter the register and interfere with the adoption of new marks. It is in this arena that the TMA will provide brand owners and the USPTO with the following powerful new tools:
- The TMA codifies the Letter of Protest procedure, which allows third parties to submit evidence during the examination of trademark applications, including evidence that claims of use in an application are inaccurate.
- The TMA gives the USPTO the authority to shorten response deadlines in order to move applications more quickly through the system, thereby allowing us to swiftly dispose of applications where fraud or other deceptive or deceitful behavior is evident.
- The TMA provides new registration cancellation mechanisms so that third parties or the USPTO Director may challenge registrations that are not in use without having to engage in more expensive proceedings before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board.
Efforts to implement these and other provisions of the TMA are well underway, with the deadline for implementation set for December 27, 2021. Public feedback has been and will continue to be essential to USPTO’s rulemaking process. Brand owners and stakeholders can learn more by visiting the Trademark Modernization Act page of the USPTO website, emailing TMFeedback@uspto.gov with any feedback, or by viewing the recording of our public roundtable on the implementation of the TMA held on March 1, 2021. Further, there will be the opportunity to submit formal comments on the Federal Register website next month when a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is published.
Our trademark ecosystem will benefit greatly from these important new provisions which will remove clutter and provide greater access to new marks, thus benefiting businesses and entrepreneurs throughout the United States.
USPTO concludes successful Women’s Entrepreneurship Symposium
The USPTO hosted the final installment of the 2021 Women’s Entrepreneurship Symposium (WES) on March 31, where participants heard from a diverse panel of successful women innovators who shared their stories of entrepreneurship and the challenges they faced along the way.
WES, an annual event launched in 2011, has proven to be one of the USPTO’s most popular programs to date. Over 6,000 attendees tuned in this year to hear lessons learned, helpful tips, and resources for women entrepreneurs to protect the various forms of intellectual property (IP) which might be present in their businesses - namely patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets.
The speakers at the March 31 session described how they got to where they are, and what they recommend for all the aspiring young women in our country. They also addressed the vital role of IP protection, how to identify a market segment for growth, and discussed best practices and successful habits in today’s changing business climate.
Panelists included Janeya Griffin, Founder and CEO, The Commercializer; Rea Huntley, Founder and CEO, Lavii INC; and Sarah Gibson Tuttle, Founder and CEO, Oliver and June. Dr. Lisa Cook, Professor at Michigan State University, and Edison Research Fellow at the USPTO, moderated the panel.
Throughout the month of March, WES offered engaging, expert panels featuring successful women entrepreneurs, notable inventors, and subject matter experts from the USPTO, the International Trade Administration and the Small Business Administration.
In addition, the discussions focused on important topics such as expanding opportunities for women and underrepresented groups in innovation, increasing educational opportunities for girls and women in invention and STEM, and highlighting the role women entrepreneurs play in innovation and economic growth.
Spotlight on Commerce: Valencia Martin-Wallace, Deputy Commissioner for Patents, USPTO
Guest blog post by Valencia Martin-Wallace, Deputy Commissioner for Patents, USPTO
Valencia Martin-Wallace, Deputy Commissioner for Patents, USPTO (Photo by Jay Premack/USPTO)
As the Deputy Commissioner for Patents at the USPTO, I am responsible for leading the organization’s international patent cooperation programs and initiatives. I also have oversight of the technology centers responsible for examining patent applications in the fields of telecommunications, mechanical technologies, and design.
I graduated with a B.S. in electrical engineering from Howard University, where I learned alongside a wonderful group of students from diverse backgrounds. After flexing my engineering muscle for three years, I decided to pursue intellectual property (IP) law at George Washington University School of Law. At about the same time, I began my career at the USPTO as a patent examiner. After graduating from law school, I realized public service at the USPTO was the right career choice for me. Nearly 29 years later, I’m still a member of the USPTO community. I would not be where I am today, in an exciting career in IP, without the support and guidance of very progressive parents, teachers, and mentors, and the examples set before me by talented women scientists, engineers, and attorneys.
I also have the unique pleasure and responsibility of being the executive lead, assisting the Director of the USPTO, with establishing the National Council for Expanding American Innovation (NCEAI) and the development of the national strategy for expanding American innovation.
The NCEAI consists of leaders from every corner of the innovation ecosystem; it was established to help guide the USPTO in developing a comprehensive national strategy to build a more diverse and inclusive innovation ecosystem by encouraging participation of women and other underrepresented groups. This strategy will be organized by a broad conceptual framework that considers the entire pathway along which interest and expertise in intellectual property and innovation is cultivated and nurtured in an individual.
I am honored to be a part of the Department of Commerce USPTO family during this groundbreaking period in the history of intellectual property. I feel privileged to be a part of this movement to increase participation in our innovation ecosystem by inspiring, empowering, and supporting all future inventors and entrepreneurs. These efforts will advance innovation and help our Nation’s economy grow.
Whenever I have the opportunity to talk to young women about intellectual property, I encourage them to challenge their minds through the fields of sciences, technology, engineering, and math. I know they would find the same fulfillment in these fields that I have always found. I also urge them to work hard, take pride in a job well done, never limit themselves, and reach back to help those who come behind them.
During Women’s History Month, I celebrate the accomplishments of the women engineers and scientists who have paved the way for me and many women just like me. I revel in the contributions of the women who have played a vital role in advancing our great country. Women like Beulah Louise Henry, a prolific inventor with 49 U.S. patents and over 100 inventions credited to her name; Marian Croak, a pioneer in the advancement of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) who holds over 200 patents; and Ellen Ochoa, the first Hispanic-American woman in space and co-inventor on three patents. These and so many other women inventors are an inspiration and I look forward to seeing how future women innovators and entrepreneurs will shape our world.
Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting the contributions of Department of Commerce employees during Women’s History Month.
Posted at 04:25PM Mar 22, 2021 in USPTO |
Artificial intelligence tools at the USPTO
Blog by Drew Hirshfeld, performing the functions and duties of the Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO
Among the most important technological developments has been the advent of artificial intelligence (AI), a transformative technology that promises tremendous societal and economic benefits. USPTO operations can be one of its beneficiaries. The integration of AI technologies into next generation tools offers an exciting opportunity to enhance the quality and efficiency of patent and trademark examination.
To incorporate AI into our examination tools and processes at the USPTO, we’ve undertaken a comprehensive development strategy including extensive market research and rigorous testing of a wide range of proof-of-concepts to identify the best solutions. Our objective is not just to deploy smarter technology, but to build a smarter organization by coupling the strengths of our workforce with the strengths of AI. This is the beginning of a whole new trajectory in how we leverage technology to transform patent and trademark operations for the better.
We are incorporating AI tools into two critical areas of patent examination: search and classification.
Performing a complete prior art search is a critically important component of the patent examination process and the USPTO’s mission to issue reliable patent rights. However, the exponential growth of prior art and tremendous pace of technological innovation make it increasingly more difficult to quickly discover the most relevant prior art. To meet this challenge, we have developed an AI-based prototype search system that helps to identify relevant documents and provides suggestions for additional areas to search. In addition to providing world-class patent AI models, the system is designed to learn from the world’s greatest patent searchers, our USPTO examiners. The system is configured to automatically capture feedback data from our examiners to yield additional enhancements over time. We are also developing features to help examiners interpret results generated by the AI models to provide transparency into the system. A beta version of this new AI tool was released to a subset of examiners in March 2020. Assessments conducted to date yielded promising results, and steps are being taken to incorporate AI into our next generation search tool for examiners.
We also developed an auto-classification tool that leverages machine learning to classify patent documents using the Cooperative Patent Classification (CPC) system. The system can suggest CPC symbols, and includes the ability to identify claimed subject matter for additional refinement of the suggested CPC symbols similar to our AI search system. The auto-classification system also includes indicators that provide users with insight into the reasoning of the AI, by linking suggested CPC symbols to specific portions of the document. Enhanced feedback mechanisms designed into the system integrate with our existing classification processes to support training the AI. Based on an analysis of system performance, the USPTO implemented auto-classification in December 2020 to automatically identify claimed subject matter with CPC for internal operations. As a result, the agency is realizing reductions in procurement expenditures for acquiring CPC data. Additionally, we are continuing to develop further capabilities to support a broader range of patent classification requirements at the USPTO.
These successes are demonstrating the value of applying AI to improve the agency operations and strengthen the IP system. To continue building from these successes, our Patents team has expanded their investigations to explore potential new opportunities to leverage AI. For example, research is now underway on AI-based image search capabilities which could open up whole new ways to retrieve prior art. This could be particularly useful for searching patent applications where examiners rely heavily on images for making patentability determinations, such as design patent applications.
On the Trademarks side, we recently completed market research in AI capabilities for image comparison and for checking the acceptability of identification of goods and services against the entries in the Trademarks ID Manual. The USPTO team developed AI prototypes to compare trademark images, to suggest the correct assignment of mark image design codes, and to determine the potential acceptability of the identifications of goods and services. A beta test of these prototypes through a common user interface with approximately 10 stakeholders began in November 2020 and continues, with a larger beta possible later this year. In addition, the USPTO has tested solutions for false specimen detection capabilities using a software program, which was integrated on December 1, 2020 into the agency’s efforts to identify digitally manipulated specimens of use or mock-ups of web pages. Finally, a prototype of an AI based chatbot for answering frequently asked questions via the USPTO website could be ready for beta testing later this year.
Overall we have achieved some remarkable milestones and made great strides toward integrating AI into the USPTO’s day-to-day functions. Stay tuned for more exciting updates from the USPTO on AI in the near future.
USPTO celebrates American women inventors and entrepreneurs
Editor's note: This is a blog about the USPTO from the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Most Americans have likely heard of Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, or Alexander Graham Bell. But what about Harriet Strong, Frances Arnold, and Juliette Gordon Low? These and so many more women inventors and scientists have made lasting contributions to our nation’s history. They have inspired future generations of innovators to change the world with their ideas.
In honor of Women’s History Month, as part of its mission to protect and promote the ingenuity of American inventors and entrepreneurs, the Department of Commerce’s U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is sharing the stories of notable women innovators, past and present. A few of these stories are highlighted below, but we encourage you to take a moment to learn more about these incredible women through the USPTO’s popular Journeys of Innovation series and on social media.
Juliette Gordon Low founded the Girl Scouts of the USA and patented the organization’s iconic trefoil badge in 1914. A three-leafed clover design adapted from the Boy Scouts’ similar badge, Low’s trefoil suggested a fundamental equality between girls and boys on the eve of women’s suffrage and continues to signal girls’ invaluable contributions to American life and culture.
Juliette Gordon Low received U.S. design patent No. 45,234 on February 10, 1914 for the trefoil, worn as a badge for the Girl Scouts.
In 2018, Frances Arnold became the first American female Nobel laureate in chemistry, for her work in harnessing the power of evolution to create new proteins that have useful properties not found in nature. She has devoted her 30-year career to making chemistry green, clean, and more efficient. A winner of the National Medal of Technology and Innovation, an inductee in the National Inventors Hall of Fame, and currently serving as co-chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, she is passionate about mentoring the next generation of young scientists.
Nobel laureate and inventor Frances Arnold. (Photo courtesy of Caltech)
A pioneer in advanced technologies, Marian Croak, holds more than 200 patents and has over 100 pending applications. Her many achievements include pioneering work advancing the Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) with inventions that made internet phone calls more reliable and secure; text-to-donate technology inspired by Hurricane Katrina that revolutionized how people give to charitable organizations; and work on the telephone network and voting system used for American Idol®. Now a Vice President of Engineering at Google, she focuses on reliability engineering to improve the performance of Google systems and services.
Marian Croak speaks at the Google for India event in 2015. (Photo courtesy of Google)
Temple Grandin is an inventor, professor, author, inspirational speaker, and a leading advocate for the humane treatment of livestock. Unable to speak until almost age four, no one expected Temple Grandin to do much in life, let alone become one of the world’s compelling voices in science and innovation. Now, Grandin is one of the world’s most well-known autistic individuals and proponents of neurodiversity and also holds a U.S. patent for her farm animal handling system. On March 25, don’t miss the webinar on differing abilities in STEM, featuring Temple Grandin, and hosted by the U.S. Department of Education and the USPTO.
USPTO’s Director of Education and Outreach Joyce Ward presents Temple Grandin with an oversized copy of her inventor trading card and her livestock handling designs. USPTO Inventor Trading Cards aim to inspire children with stories of diverse inventors. (Photo by Unsu Jung/USPTO)
Since she was a child, Sangeeta Bhatia has enjoyed figuring out how things work. Now a biomedical researcher, MIT professor, and biotech entrepreneur, she has invented human microlivers to study drug metabolism and liver disease as well as nanoparticles that help diagnose, study, and treat ailments like cancer. Bhatia has also received the prestigious Heinz Award for her groundbreaking innovations and advocacy of women in STEM fields.
Sangeeta Bhatia and her students have explored the use of CRISPR-Cas9, a genome editing tool, for the treatment of hepatitis B. (Photo courtesy of Justin Knight)
Hinda Miller, Polly Smith, and Lisa Lindahl created the sports bra, a true entrepreneurial endeavor which has spurred women’s participation in athletic activities and advanced women’s health and well-being. Originally designed to decrease discomfort for female runners, their invention has since become a necessity for female athletes and a modern fashion staple. The empowering story of these three women offers a compelling example of determination, ingenuity, and creativity.
From left: Inventors of the sports bra Polly Smith, Lisa Lindahl, and Hinda Miller. (Photo by Jay Premack/USPTO)
The USPTO is dedicated to encouraging and equipping Americans across all demographics and throughout the United States to become innovators, and to ensuring they have equal opportunities to succeed. One exciting initiative, the National Council for Expanding American Innovation (NCEAI) is strategizing new ways to expand American innovation by tapping into the strength of our nation’s diversity and increasing the opportunities for all Americans to participate in innovation. Comprised of respected leaders in the private and public sectors, one of the foremost priorities for the Council is to help the USPTO develop a long-term comprehensive plan aimed at expanding participation in America’s innovation ecosystem among women, minorities, and other underrepresented groups. Learn more about NCEAI and other USPTO initiatives, events, and resources on the Expanding Innovation page of the USPTO website.
The growing importance of international cooperation to the protection of industrial designs
Blog by Drew Hirshfeld, performing the functions and duties of the Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO, and Mary Critharis, Chief Policy Officer and Director of International Affairs of the USPTO
Industrial design has been an essential aspect of developing new products since the beginning of the industrial revolution in the 18th century. This focus on making a product more appealing and intuitive to the user by improving its appearance, function, and manufacturing has driven designers for centuries and touches our everyday lives––from making a toothbrush fit more easily in one’s hand, to creating automobile dashboards that are easier to comprehend.
Today industrial design helps turn complex technologies into products that can be used by billions of people, surmounting massive differences in language and culture. But with industrial design’s growing complexity, its exponential growth in importance in our time, and the advent of new technologies—such as personal computing and the numerous digital devices on the market today—it is important to ensure that our systems for protecting designs are meeting the needs of global designers.
In response to these challenges, the world’s five largest industrial design offices—the China National Intellectual Property Administration, European Union Intellectual Property Office, Japan Patent Office (JPO), Korean Intellectual Property Office (KIPO), and the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)—came together in 2015 to create the Industrial Design 5 Forum, or ID5. Their goal was straightforward: the five offices pledged to “promote and further the development of user-friendly, highly efficient and interoperable industrial design protection systems.”
The ID5 celebrated its fifth anniversary in October 2020 at the annual meeting hosted by the United States (and the forum’s first-ever virtual meeting). Meeting virtually may have been driven by necessity, but it highlighted the forum’s versatility and provided representatives from the five intellectual property offices with the opportunity to take stock of the impressive progress they have made since 2015 and to map a way forward for future cooperation.
Those accomplishments include:
- Implementation of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Digital Access Service for designs. This electronic document exchange system has made the process of seeking design protection in multiple jurisdictions around the world significantly more efficient, and has resulted in substantial cost savings for patent applicants. (And, given the challenges presented by the pandemic in obtaining certified paper copies of applications, has eliminated countless problems and headaches for applicants across the globe.)
- Agreement by the JPO, KIPO, and USPTO on a set of common recommended design formalities practices. This agreement is in line with the draft Design Law Treaty that is currently still pending at WIPO.
- Completion of 16 projects and comparative studies providing patent applicants with numerous new comparative reference manuals to help them more easily navigate the global design patent system. Key topics include eligibility, grace period, partial designs, and 3D printing.
For U.S. patent holders and applicants, these accomplishments mean simplified electronic procedures for design patent filings abroad, and the availability of a set of tools to help them understand the practices and procedures of the five partner offices where international protection is most often sought.
Over the coming years, it will be essential for the USPTO and its international partners to work together through forums such as the ID5 to anticipate and address the challenges that still exist in the global design system for applicants. The ID5 partners recognized this at their October meeting by undertaking a number of new projects, including studies on term and renewal of protection and deferred publication and examination. They also made plans to engage in further discussions regarding the use of new technologies in examining and issuing industrial design rights.
In addition, the ID5 partner offices underlined the importance of soliciting stakeholder input in the forum’s deliberations by unveiling a joint communication plan that will allow for improved engagement with stakeholders.
Finally, recognizing the important role of intellectual property offices in the current climate, the offices pledged in a special joint statement on COVID-19 that they “stand united in their efforts to respond to the pandemic and to continue to strengthen the international intellectual property system.”
More than ever, industrial designs are being used around the world to create intuitive interfaces that turn complex technologies into useful tools. Facilitating their development and protection within a workable, international framework will be important to meeting the needs of the international design community. The USPTO is hard at work with its ID5 partners to meet this collective challenge, and is actively engaged with U.S. stakeholders, through such means as a recent forum on global trends in industrial design, to ensure that the latest developments in international design protection are made widely known. To learn more, visit the ID5 website.
Spotlight on Commerce: LaRita Jones, Division Chief, Office of Human Resources, USPTO
Guest blog post by LaRita Jones, Division Chief, Office of Human Resources, USPTO
LaRita Jones, Division Chief, Office of Human Resources, USPTO
Black History Month is a time to honor and show gratitude to African Americans who have made contributions – whether extraordinary or minute, well-known or untold – to better humanity in some way. It is a time to express pride as we reflect on a heritage full of triumph over the harshest of adversities and celebrate innovations we have made in the arts, science, and technology and our achievements in politics and business. It is a time to remember the Black heroes of the past while uplifting our heroes of today.
A personal hero of mine is my father, Carl Ross. He was a career Army soldier who served two tours in Vietnam and retired as a master sergeant. He performed his duty with the highest work ethic and took so much pride in defending his country, even when fellow soldiers and officers did not treat him as their equal. I admire him for leading a life of bravery, honor, and integrity despite all the barriers to equality that he faced.
I remember him meticulously pressing his uniform and polishing the toes of his combat boots so perfectly that I could see my reflection. My father taught me that education was the top priority and that hard work starts with showing up and ready to work hard every day. He said that being a committed, responsible individual who can be trusted is important, particularly when things are not fair or favorable. I have leaned on all that my dad taught me about having integrity and dignity, showing up every day, working hard, and treating others with respect – even when I did not receive the same in return.
That advice was especially relevant when I attended the University of Washington to earn a degree in Sociology. There were few African Americans enrolled here and it was not always easy. As a way to connect with other students of color, I joined Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and volunteered in communities with other Black sororities and fraternities.
It was through this sisterhood that I gained a deeper understanding of, and reverence for, my African American heritage, which is filled with heroes who continue to break barriers still today. With immense pride, I have witnessed the election of the first female, and first African American vice president Kamala Harris, who is also a member of our illustrious sorority.
Seeing my father give his entire career in service to his country and then joining an organization rooted in service to humanity, a career in public service was a natural fit for me. Currently, I serve as the division chief of a high-functioning team of human resources professionals responsible for recruitment, classification, and staffing consultation in support of the Patents business unit.
I extend my father’s advice to my employees and I can see in their work ethic that they share the same passion as I do for connecting top Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) talent with fulfilling careers at the Commerce Department’s U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Careers in government are more progressive, inclusive, and agile than ever before. Opportunities today seem limitless compared to when I started my own government career. And I am proud to work at an agency that champions diversity and inclusion in the way that the USPTO does.
We are constantly striving to increase recruitment and retention among underrepresented populations as part of one of our agency’s key strategic goals to “recruit, enhance and sustain an engaged workforce.” As we continue to build deeper and more meaningful relationships to attract, hire, and retain talent from historically Black colleges and universities, Hispanic serving institutions, tribal and community institutions, and women in STEM organizations, it is my hope to see the USPTO significantly boost each of these employee groups in the years to come.
I also hope that my work in some way—whether extraordinary or minute—inspires students at those institutions who may not yet grasp that their personal and professional opportunities are indeed limitless, thanks in large part to the contributions of African Americans in this country.
Each celebration of Black History Month means that there is another opportunity to celebrate African American heroes. Hopefully, it also motivates and encourages future generations to value themselves and fully appreciate all they can become.
Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting the contributions of Department of Commerce African Americans during Black History Month.
Leading the way in the IP economy
Blog by Andrei Iancu, Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO
Director Iancu at the quarterly meeting of the Patent Public Advisory Committee at the USPTO in Alexandria, Virginia on August 2, 2018. (Photo by Jeff Isaacs/USPTO)
At the outset of my tenure as Director of the USPTO in early 2018, I challenged the USPTO staff and stakeholders to focus on reclaiming our nation’s leadership on intellectual property, first by creating a new, pro-innovation, pro-IP dialogue and, second, by balancing our IP systems and increasing the reliability of the rights we issue.
Working together for the past three years, we did exactly that—and so much more. The list below summarizes a number of our accomplishments, but let me highlight a few.
We issued new guidance to our examiners on patent subject matter eligibility in 2019. The USPTO’s Chief Economist confirmed in a study released in April 2020 that the uncertainty of examination in this area has decreased by a remarkable 44% in the one year following publication of the guidance.
We balanced post-grant proceedings at the Patent Trial and Appeal Board through a series of carefully calibrated initiatives, including aligning the claim construction standard with the district courts, improving the amendment process, reducing duplicative proceedings, and increasing transparency and consistency of decisions. We decreased patent examination pendency to 23.3 months on average, the lowest since 2001. We also reduced the average patent appeal time to a remarkable 13 months, down from 30 months in 2015.
We reduced fraudulent trademark applications through improved technology, examination, and various new procedures. And we saw the passage of the Trademark Modernization Act, the most important trademarks legislation in decades.
Furthermore, we improved operations at the USPTO, and upgraded, backed up, and secured our vast data repositories, information technology systems, and telecommunications networks. We completely revamped and modernized our website. And we created artificial intelligence tools for classification, examination, and much more to come. Importantly, we maintained continuity of operations during the pandemic and during a government shutdown due to lapse in funding.
Director Iancu and Director General Juan Lozano Tovar, Instituto Mexicano de la Propiedad Industrial (IMPI) at the signing ceremony for the USPTO-IMPI Work-Sharing Agreement on February 5, 2020.
Internationally, we forged a broad-based coalition of countries to elect new leadership at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) that respects and champions intellectual property rights. We implemented a first-of-its-kind Parallel Patent Grant with Mexico. And we signed a patent validation agreement with Cambodia, and many MOUs with countries around the world.
We recognized the need for a renaissance in American innovation – one that opened doors for more women, minorities and geographic regions to participate in the American intellectual property system. As a result, last fall we kicked-off the inaugural meeting of the ground-breaking National Council for Expanding American Innovation, which is now fully operational and in the process of helping us develop a first-ever National Innovation Strategy aimed at substantially broadening participation in the innovation economy, demographically, geographically and economically.
Director Iancu meets with a kindergarten class at Terra Centre Elementary School in Burke, Virginia on April 4, 2019, where he took part in their Kindergarten Invention Expo and gave a presentation on IP and invention. (Photo by Jay Premack/USPTO)
Additionally, I’ve spent the past year presenting to faculty and students at dozens of America’s top intellectual property universities, seeking to establish among our next generation of IP professionals a common understanding of, and appreciation for, the theories, benefits, and practical applications of intellectual property laws.
Through these and numerous other engagements, we have highlighted for teachers, parents, and students from kindergarten through college the virtues of invention, IP protection, and entrepreneurship, and shared information about the important and exciting careers that exist for innovators and IP professionals. Additionally, we created new training programs, such as the Legal Experience and Advancement Program, for fledgling patent attorneys so they can gain confidence and experience in patent and trademark proceedings.
Director Iancu interviews Dr. Martine Rothblatt, the creator of SiriusXM Satellite Radio, former CEO of GeoStar, and the founder and CEO of the Board of United Therapeutics on December 4, 2019, as part of the USPTO Speaker Series. (Photo by Jay Premack/USPTO)
We have promoted the incredible—yet mostly unheralded—stories of the people whose inventions have fundamentally changed the lives, and livelihoods, of millions of Americans. For example, we created the first-ever USPTO Speaker Series, bringing to USPTO employees and the public some of our nation’s greatest inventors and entrepreneurs. We also took the opportunity of promoting the grant of Patent 10 Million to raise the profile of our inventors and entrepreneurs, and we created the Journeys of Innovation series of online articles about innovators who have made a positive difference in the world. These people should be our most celebrated national figures, role models, and mentors for the next generation of Americans.
We have worked to improve the dialogue surrounding IP in many other ways too. When I arrived at the USPTO, I noted that for too long, the words used to describe our patent system focused too heavily on its faults. Our IP system—born from the Constitution and steeped in our history—is a crown jewel, a gold standard. It must be defined by its goals, aspirations, and successes. As a result, we worked to create a new, pro-innovation narrative that focuses on the brilliance of inventors, the excitement of invention, and the incredible benefits they bring to society, while still ensuring patent and trademark examination of the highest quality.
Director Iancu and Deputy Director Laura Peter, shown with Ray Latypov, patent-holder and CEO of Virtusphere, (a device created for full body immersion into virtual reality) and joined by his son Alfred. Latypov’s invention was displayed at the USPTO on July 23, 2019 in conjunction with an event commemorating the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. (Photo by Jay Premack/USPTO)
This pro-innovation, pro-IP dialogue is more important than ever, since we depend on inventors and entrepreneurs to solve mankind’s most vexing problems, including the current pandemic. These and creators of all kinds have always defined America, and, with a robust IP system, will continue to do so.
Director Iancu visits Camp Invention at Hyattsville Elementary School, Maryland, on June 26, 2019. (Photo by Jay Premack/USPTO)
Through it all, the most amazing people I met these past few years are the inventors of the future—starting with kindergarteners making their first creations and excitingly explaining them to me. Jumping up and down, many would say, “Director, I want to be an inventor when I grow up!” Their unbridled enthusiasm assures me that America’s best days are yet to come.
Thank you for the opportunity to serve this great country that I love.
Highlights of USPTO Accomplishments (2018-2021)
1. Strengthened the USPTO’s Patent and Trademark Operations
- Reduced patent pendency to below 15 months for a first Office action and below 24 months for final disposition, the lowest patent pendency since 2001.
- Reduced ex parte appeal pendency to 13 months, down from 30 months in 2015.
- Accomplished mandatory electronic filing for all trademark filings.
- Developed artificial intelligence and machine learning tools for patent and trademark application processing and examination.
- Achieved permanent congressional authorization of the TEAPP telework program, which will ensure strong hiring, retention, and cost savings.
- Achieved enactment of legislation to allow the USPTO to limit response periods for trademark Office actions in order to further reduce pendency.
2. Increased the Certainty, Reliability, and Quality of IP Rights
- Issued Section 101 examiner guidance on patent eligibility, improving certainty of examination by 44%.
- Improved and added to patent examiners’ search tools, including launch of collaborative search pilot training and enhanced examiner search training.
- Established a new automated routing system for patent applications to help ensure incoming applications are best matched with examiners with relevant experience.
- Adjusted the performance appraisal plan for patent examiners to focus on improved search and examination quality.
- Reorganized senior patent management to broaden responsibility for operations and quality.
- Increased the rate of patent examiner interviews to an all-time high.
- Negotiated a revised policy with the U.S. Department of Justice and the National Institute of Standards and Technology on standard essential patents.
- Prepared and released multiple reports on public views on artificial intelligence and IP policy.
- Achieved the enactment of trademark legislation to strengthen trademark owners’ enforcement rights in court and to create additional tools for the USPTO to combat fraud on U.S. IP systems.
- Achieved the enactment of legislation to implement the Marrakesh Treaty, which enables greater access to copyrighted content by the blind, visually impaired, and otherwise print disabled.
- Multiple legislative achievements to balance and strengthen the copyright system.
3. Changed the Dialogue on IP
- Created a public relations and media campaign celebrating the patent system, including the signing of patent 10 million.
- Held Patents for Humanity awards ceremonies for inventors who create solutions to humanitarian crises.
- Achieved enactment of legislation to enhance the Patents for Humanity program by allowing the award benefits to be transferable.
- Conducted numerous briefings for Members of Congress and their staff on the importance of patents to producing lifesaving technologies.
- Promoted the induction of 56 inventors into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
- Created the USPTO Speakers Series to allow leaders in the IP system to share innovation success stories with Office employees and the public.
- Created the Journeys of Innovation series on the USPTO’s home page to celebrate inventors and their personal stories.
4. Balanced AIA Review Proceedings at the Patent Trial and Appeal Board
- Promulgated rules to change claim construction standard to match district courts, to allocate burdens with respect to motions to amend, to respond to all claims and grounds in a petition, and to weigh all evidence at the institution stage equally for both patent owners and petitioners.
- Created a Precedential Opinion Panel to address important issues before PTAB.
- Designated numerous decisions as precedential and issued guidance memoranda to improve consistency of PTAB proceedings.
- Developed institution factors to reduce multiple patent challenges.
- Created a Motion to Amend Pilot Program to improve amendment process.
- Established standard operating procedures to improve transparency.
5. Bolstered the United States’ Leadership in IP
- Extended the U.S.’s lead as first in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global IP Index, and increased the U.S.’s rank in patents from twelfth (2018) to tied for second (2020) and in trademarks from fifth (2017) to tied for first (2020).
- Led effort to elect a WIPO Director General with strong support for intellectual property protection.
- Helped lead the Administration in adding new IP provisions as part of the USMCA.
- Achieved the first ever Parallel Patent Grant Agreement with Mexico and Patent Validation Agreement with Cambodia.
- Negotiated new work-sharing agreements with multiple foreign IP offices.
- Elevated the diplomatic rank of four USPTO IP Attachés.
- Worked with international IP forums to assist innovators and stakeholders to create
6. Reduced Abuse of the IP System
- Established U.S. Counsel Rule to reduce fraudulent trademark filings.
- Worked with the National Crime Prevention Center to launch a nationwide public awareness campaign regarding the dangers of counterfeit products.
- Established a special task force to monitor and identify fraudulent trademark filing behaviors and to develop tools, including policies, to address them.
- Established a successful pilot program and then a permanent program to conduct random audits of post-registration maintenance and renewal documents to ensure the accuracy of the trademark register.
7. Strengthened the USPTO’s Fiscal Health
- Extended USPTO fee-setting authority for an additional eight years, through the end of 2026.
- Restructured patent and trademark fees to ensure better cost recovery.
- Increased the reserve fund to ensure stability and continuity of USPTO operations.
- Maintained USPTO operations during temporary suspension of funding.
- Identified $1B in diverted fees in the U.S. Treasury.
8. Expanded American Innovation
- Submitted the SUCCESS Act report to Congress, which studied participation rates among women, minorities, and military veterans in patenting.
- Prepared and released well-received Progress and Potential Report and update, which studied participation rates among women in patenting.
- Launched a National Council of private, academic, non-profit, and public sector executive-level leaders to expand American innovation.
- Created the LEAP program at PTAB for training and developing new patent attorneys, and established a PTAB law clerk program.
- Supported independent inventors, small business concerns, and nonprofit organizations in filing patent applications and encouraged collaboration with the federal Government by expanding the opportunities to qualify for the small entity discount for inventions made during the course of federally-funded or federally-supported research.
- Enhanced the USPTO’s home page to allow first-time inventors and small businesses to easily access a map of all the resources the USPTO offers in their local areas.
- Launched an online platform available on the USPTO website that provides resources for inventors and practitioners to encourage greater participation in the patent system.
- Renamed Alexandria headquarters’ auditorium after Clara Barton, the first public space at the USPTO ever named after a woman.
9. Ensured Continuous Operations During Pandemic
- Transitioned seamlessly to all telework presence for employees during pandemic.
- Transitioned to all-virtual board hearings.
- Successfully sought enactment of statutory authority to provide relief at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Issued extensions of time for patent and trademark filing and fee deadlines, due to COVID-19 issues, within three days of enactment of statutory CARES Act authority.
- Established fast-track examination programs for COVID-19-related medical treatments and devices.
- Established the Patents 4 Partnership program to facilitate licensing of COVID-19 innovations.
- Launched the first all-virtual, entry-level training program to on-board over 400 new examiners.
10. Modernized the USPTO IT System
- Upgraded the USPTO IT system with new, faster, more efficient, and secure servers.
- Established redundant systems to ensure continuity of operations in case of certain IT failures.
- Initiated transition to the cloud for essential services.
- Rebuilt the USPTO website for a more modern look and a more interactive interface.
Launch of the National Council for Expanding American Innovation
Blog by Andrei Iancu, Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO
On September 14, the National Council for Expanding American Innovation had its inaugural meeting, virtually of course. The National Council includes respected leaders in the private and public sectors who are committed to fostering a more inclusive innovation ecosystem. The National Council is charged with helping develop a National Strategy to expand American innovation by tapping into the strength of our nation’s diversity, and increasing innovation opportunities for all Americans. I encourage you to learn more about the initiative by reading the excellent remarks made by the council members or by watching the recording of the event.
The National Council was born out of a report we transmitted to Congress in 2019 in response to the Study of Underrepresented Classes Chasing Engineering and Science Success (SUCCESS) Act of 2018. This report came on the heels of one of the most comprehensive studies on women inventors that was published by the USPTO in February 2019 titled “Progress and Potential: A profile of Women Inventors on U.S. Patents.” In that study, we found that only about 12 percent of inventors named on U.S. patents are women. The 2020 update to our Progress and Potential study reviewed an additional nearly one million issued patents and three years of new data and found that more women are entering and staying active in the patent system than ever before. Despite this progress, however, the gap is still wide, and there is still much that remains to be done to close it.
One of the foremost priorities for the National Council is to help the USPTO develop a long-term comprehensive plan aimed at expanding participation in America’s innovation ecosystem among women, minorities, other underrepresented groups, and Americans across the geography of the United States. It is imperative that we substantially broaden participation in the technologies that are driving a new industrial revolution.
This national strategy will encourage and equip Americans across all demographics and across the United States to become innovators and ensure they have equal opportunities to succeed. It will include innovation and intellectual property education at all levels—from kindergarten to graduate school—and emphasize employment development, access to capital, and product commercialization.
Our plan will identify specifically where along a potential inventor’s path we come up short and specifically how we can address it, and will also include metrics against which results can be measured over time. Mere rhetoric will no longer suffice. To move the needle, we must act with specificity, and we must insist on measurable results.
Expanding participation in the innovation ecosystem is one of our nation’s best and most tangible opportunities for enhancing economic growth and improving the standard of living and quality of life for every American. Industry, government, academia, and professional groups must work together to ensure that all Americans have the opportunity to innovate, start new companies, succeed in established companies, and achieve the American Dream. This will help unleash the next technological revolution, drive economic growth, and solidify America’s competitive edge as a global innovation leader.
In the upcoming months, the USPTO will have numerous engagement activities that focus on the pursuit of expanding American innovation. We have already enjoyed a number of speaking engagements at universities around the country discussing with students and faculty the importance of diversity in the innovation and intellectual property ecosystems. And in order to consider everyone’s suggestions as part of this strategy, a request for comments was published in the Federal Register asking the public to provide input to assist in the development of the national strategy. Comments can be submitted until February 8, 2021.
To more broadly engage with the public on our Expanding American Innovation initiative, we also kicked off a series of virtual “innovation chats.” The first one is a recently-recorded conversation between myself and Lisa Jorgenson, the newly appointed Deputy Director General for Patents and Technology at the World Intellectual Property Organization. You can view the video here. For more information about the National Council for Expanding American Innovation, please contact NCEAI@uspto.gov, and join the conversation on social media using #ExpandingAmericanInnovation.
A year to remember
Blog by Andrei Iancu, Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO
“Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering ‘it will be happier’.”
― Alfred Lord Tennyson
The end of a year is always a time for reflection on what we’ve accomplished and where we want to go. In 2020, the world faced a pandemic unlike anything we have seen in a century. Yet, as they always do during difficult times, inventors and entrepreneurs rose to the challenge.
Consider, for example, the multiple COVID-19 vaccines that were developed in less than a year, but are based on decades of research and countless inventions in dozens of scientific and technology disciplines. The importance of our nation’s consistent support of such creativity over time is more evident now than ever. As one COVID-19 vaccine manufacturer noted in its press release: “Intellectual property rights play an important role in encouraging investment in research.”
There are many other innovations that helped confront the global health crisis. Some companies built ventilators, masks, testing equipment, and other life-saving necessities at a previously unimaginable scale. Many others facilitated a quick and massive shift to telework. The advanced networks making this possible are keeping large segments of the U.S. economy operational. They have reduced exposure to the virus and will permanently change how we work, shop, and live.
The USPTO has been instrumental in spurring these innovations. When we do our job right, individuals and companies are motivated to keep inventing, secure in the knowledge that our great nation will protect their IP. And when it mattered most over this tumultuous year, we certainly did our job right.
Most importantly, we remained open for business and we worked harder than ever before. Because we have been a national leader in telework, we were well positioned to transition the USPTO’s 13,000-plus employees to full-time telework. Still, this required herculean efforts on the part of everyone, but especially our IT professionals who continue to make it possible. As a result of their amazing efforts, our employees’ productivity did not suffer. In fact, we are examining patent applications faster than last year.
We also implemented a number of programs to directly assist our stakeholders. We recognized that small companies and individual inventors play a critical role inventing treatments and cures for COVID-19, and we were vigilant in ensuring that they received the support they needed. To that end, we instituted the COVID-19 Fast Track Program, which enabled small- and micro-entities to accelerate prosecution of COVID-19-related patent applications, at no charge. We also launched Patents 4 Partnerships, which provided a repository of COVID-19-related patents and patent applications, and created a voluntary platform for connecting patentees and potential licensees.
More generally, we instituted a number of temporary changes providing the greater innovation community with more flexibility in meeting filing deadlines and making fee payments. Within days of Congress passing the CARES Act, we waived many patent and trademark-related deadlines for situations where an applicant could not meet a deadline or make a payment because of the pandemic. We lifted all original signature requirements; and we moved to an entirely electronic filing system, including even for plant patents.
And, notwithstanding the difficulties caused by COVID-19, we continued to implement broader improvements to the American innovation ecosystem. For example, we improved our Section 101 analysis, increasing the certainty of examination by a remarkable 44%. And we restored balance to post-grant proceedings at the PTAB through a series of carefully-crafted reforms. We initiated a major national effort to broaden participation in the IP community by launching an Expanding Innovation hub, and starting the National Council for Expanding American Innovation. And we launched the Legal Experience and Advancement Program (LEAP) to help develop the next generation of attorneys. We saw the new – and very significant – Trademark Modernization Act signed into law. And we helped more trademark applicants than ever before, with the Trademark Assistance Center answering 128,370 calls, a 10% increase over the prior year.
This year, during the pandemic, we also greatly increased our collaboration with other countries to the benefit of our stakeholders. We entered new bilateral agreements, such as a parallel patent grant agreement with Mexico; a patent validation agreement with Cambodia; and a new memorandum of understanding with India. And on the multilateral stage, we worked closely with many other nations to create a broad coalition of countries to elect new leaders at WIPO who champion the importance of, and respect for, intellectual property. We also elevated the rank of our IP attachés at several major embassies, in a clear signal that the United States takes very seriously the protection and enforcement of IP rights around the world.
These are just some of the highlights. You can find others on our website and news releases. I am so very proud to have led the dedicated employees of the USPTO who stepped up to the challenges of a most remarkable year to help keep America moving forward with critical innovations that are now saving lives across the globe.
And the best is yet to come. Our intellectual property system — born from our Constitution and steeped in our history — is strong and it supports our nation’s innovators who are more creative and more capable than they have ever been. “Hope smiles” on this great country, and I am convinced that its future is bright indeed.
On behalf of our entire nationwide USPTO workforce, I wish for you a safe, healthy, and prosperous 2021. For, as Alfred Lord Tennyson ventured, “It will be happier.”
Interview practice and its importance at the USPTO
First Action Interview Pilot Program to end on January 15, 2021
Blog by Andrei Iancu, Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO, and Drew Hirshfeld, Commissioner for Patents
Virtual interview between a patent attorney and a patent examiner
Whether initiated by the applicant or the examiner, interviews during patent prosecution provide an opportunity for the participants to discuss the merits of an application and gain insights that are sometimes not apparent through written exchanges. Examiners are available for telephonic or video interviews, with video interviews gaining in popularity. The USPTO’s improved information technology infrastructure is now permitting high-quality virtual interactions that far exceed past experiences.
Interviews can lead to a better understanding of an applicant’s invention, bridge gaps between the examiner and applicant, and serve as an effective mechanism for facilitating agreement and furthering prosecution. Recent data shows that applications with at least one interview had an allowance rate 10% higher than those with no interview, demonstrating that interviews are an effective tool to place claims in a condition for allowance. This statistic is especially meaningful, as interviews most commonly occur when rejections or objections are pending and the path to allowability is not immediately clear.
As a result of the USPTO’s efforts to promote interview practice at all stages of prosecution, the percentage of applications having at least one interview is now at an all-time high, having risen from 19.6% at the beginning of FY 2010 to 38.1% at the end of FY 2020. To maintain steady progress in this area, we are constantly monitoring and refining our programs. Over time, the USPTO has introduced a number of successful enhancements to facilitate interviews, including: Automated Interview Requests, a convenient web-based method to request an interview; Technology Center Interview Specialists, subject matter experts on interview practice and policy; video conference interviews, allowing an examiner and an applicant to interact in real time from anywhere using video and document sharing; and public interview rooms, available at each USPTO office (when our physical premises reopen).
On the other hand, the Full First Action Interview Pilot Program has not been as successful. The program couples an interview before a first office action on the merits at the request of the applicant with modified prosecution procedures. During the 12 years of the program’s existence, it has been used for only approximately 0.2% of eligible applications. Due to its limited use, the program will be discontinued effective January 15, 2021. This will allow us to concentrate on more effective actions.
We look forward to continued engagement with our stakeholders not only through general interview practice, but also through Patents Customer Partnership Meetings, the Patent Examiner Technical Training Program, and other programs designed to provide unique and invaluable opportunities to communicate, collaborate, and cooperate. If you have ideas to improve our interview process, please contact us at ExaminerInterviewPractice@USPTO.gov.