Director's Forum: A Blog from USPTO's Leadership
Monday May 14, 2018

Innovation is alive and well in 2018

By Andrei Iancu, Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office

 2018 NIHF inductee Sumita Mitra speaks behind a podium at the 2018 induction ceremony.

2018 National Inventors Hall of Fame inductee for Nanocomposite Dental Materials, Sumita Mitra, accepts her award, and thanks the many people she says helped her along the way. Photo courtesy of NIHF.

Innovation is alive and well in 2018. How do I know? On May 3, I had the honor of helping induct 15 of America’s greatest innovators into the 46th class of the National Inventors Hall of Fame (NIHF).

The historic National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., echoing with memories of America’s greatest thought and political leaders, was a fitting backdrop for the momentous event. The personal stories of these visionary men and women encouraged everyone present to keep dreaming of a better tomorrow.

By the end of the evening we had inducted 10 living inventors, named another five posthumously, and raised thousands of dollars for Camp Invention – NIHF’s nonprofit elementary enrichment program that is building the next generation of inventors, innovators, and entrepreneurs like 8-year-old Mighty Minds contest winner Nikaya Baranwal. I’ve spoken before about the power of a childlike wonder for discovery and invention. Camp Invention spreads and nurtures that wonder in children today, especially in underserved communities, so that they can be the innovators of tomorrow.

 A woman stands on stage smiling with a young girl.

2017 NIHF inductee Frances Ligler discusses the excitement of invention with 2018 Camp Invention Mighty Minds winner Nikaya Baranwal of Clifton Park, New York. Photo courtesy of NIHF.

The induction ceremony on May 3 was part of a series of events honoring both the new and previous inductees, which kicked off with an illumination ceremony on May 2 at the National Inventors Hall of Fame Museum on the USPTO campus in Alexandria, Virginia. If you haven’t been to the NIHF museum, I encourage you to make a visit part of your summer plans; I guarantee you’ll be inspired.  

 Stan Honey inserts his name plaque into a hexagonal icon at the NIHF museum.

2018 NIHF inductee for Sports Broadcast Graphics Enhancements, Stan Honey, illuminates his name in the Gallery of Icons at the 2018 illumination ceremony at the NIHF museum in Alexandria, Virginia. Photo by Jay Premack/USPTO.

During the illumination ceremony, each inductee places their name into a beautifully lit hexagonal icon. The shape of the icons is deliberate – a structure based on hexagons grows stronger with each new addition just as each of the inductees have added to the economic and social strength of our nation. And each one adds their light to the bright beacon of invention.

 The 2018 inductees were not the only stars at the museum last week. In recognition of their important work, the patent examiners of record on NIHF inductee patents attended the ceremony. Each went home with a certificate of appreciation from the USPTO and NIHF, and an opportunity to meet the grateful inventors behind the hall of fame patent they examined. As I’ve said before, across our desks, and through our doors, comes the future. I cannot overstate how essential our patent examiners are to the innovation ecosystem.

 All present NIHF inductees sit or stand on stage for a group photo at the 2018 NIHF induction ceremony.

All National Inventors Hall of Fame inductees present at the 2018 induction were recognized on stage with the newest class of inventors to share the prestigious title. Photo courtesy of NIHF.

Collectively, this year’s inductees have used IP protection to create more than 16 startups, some of which have grown into leading American companies in fields from biotechnology to wireless communications. They have dramatically changed things from the way we watch sports and communicate to the way we eat food and care for the environment. Their vision has manifested into thousands of jobs and countless improvements to our very way of life. We are forever grateful for the contributions of all National Inventors Hall of Fame inductees, and I know I am not alone when I say we look forward to seeing what the future brings.

Learn more and watch a video on the inspiring work of all the inductees.

Thursday Apr 26, 2018

USPTO Celebrates Women Innovators for World IP Day

A blog about the USPTO from the Department of Commerce

 By Andrei Iancu, Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office

World Intellectual Property Day 2018, Powering Change, Women in Innovation and Creativity.

Today, April 26, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) celebrates World Intellectual Property (IP) day in Washington, D.C., as well as across the country in HoustonChicago and Silicon Valley. The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) established World IP Day in 1999 to celebrate the important role of intellectual property, and the contributions made by creators and innovators around the globe. The theme of this year’s World IP Day is “Powering Change: Women in Innovation and Creativity.”

Consider, for example, Mary Dixon Kies the first woman to apply for and receive a U.S. patent in her own name. Her patent, issued May 5, 1809, was for a straw-weaving process that was widely used for over a decade. New England’s hat-making industry adopted her patented process, and First Lady Dolly Madison personally praised her invention and recognized the prosperity it helped bring to the region.

This afternoon we are holding a World IP Day program on Capitol Hill featuring three of today’s remarkable female innovators. Dr. Cherry Murray of Harvard University, Dr. Irina Buhimschi of Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, and Danya Sherman, Founder of KnoNap,LLC, will discuss their innovations, how women have inspired them, and how they wish to empower fellow and future women innovators. The event is free and open to the public

Dr. Francis Ligler speaks to an audience of USPTO employees.

National Inventors Hall of Fame Inductee, Dr. Frances Ligler, talks to USPTO employees about her career, current research, and the importance of women inventors and innovators.  

On April 24, we celebrated World IP Day with hundreds of USPTO employees at our headquarters and around the country with a keynote speech from Dr. Frances Ligler from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University. She holds 32 U.S. patents (and counting) and has commercialized 11 of those inventions. Inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2017, Dr. Ligler invented portable optical biosensors, which are used in food production, health clinics, pollutant cleanup sites and military applications, including detecting botulinum toxin and anthrax during Operation Desert Storm. During the event, Dr. Ligler discussed her career at the Naval Research Laboratory and her current research, as well as her insights about women as inventors and innovators.

 I also invite you to watch this special video featuring Dr. Ellen Ochoa – inventor, NASA astronaut, and Director of the Johnson Space Center – about the importance of women in innovation as well as her thoughts on mentorship and leadership.

From the 19th century economy of New England to the International Space Station orbiting the Earth, women continually shape the innovation landscape, playing a critical role in improving our way of life and enhancing our country’s economic prosperity. Their work reminds us that every day is IP Day, an opportunity to celebrate the creativity and innovation of people from all walks of life.

Thursday Mar 22, 2018

Greetings from Director Iancu

Blog by Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO, Andrei Iancu

By the end of this week, I’ll have held the title Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO for more than six weeks. In that short time, apart from learning to say my whole title in one breath, I’ve learned a great deal about the day-to-day activities of the USPTO. From greeting examiners who arrive for work in my first week, to speaking to a group of over 700 managers and attending the African American Leadership Breakfast, it has been thrilling to learn more about what USPTO employees do every day.

Director Iancu greets employees entering the building for work.

Director Iancu (center) greets employees arriving to work at the USPTO Alexandria campus.

The work we do here at the USPTO every day is vital to our nation and its economy. Our vision is to fully realize our constitutional mandate to “promote the progress of science and useful arts” so that we may ensure that impact for future generations. It is no coincidence that innovation has thrived here for centuries, under the auspices of our Constitution that explicitly lays out protections for intellectual property.

The public servants at the USPTO are at the crux of innovation, and our agency serves as a fulcrum on which our customers can leverage their creations towards further development and growth. Examiners work within a very challenging set of laws, against tight time and quality constraints, yet deliver results on a consistent basis.

We will continue working with inventors, innovators, and entrepreneurs to ensure that when they disclose their inventions, we properly scope and protect their best ideas by granting strong and predictable IP rights. We will also cement our IP system as balanced, efficient, and industry neutral. Whether we’re working with a small inventor with a big idea, or a big company with a small improvement, or everyone else who comes before us, each customer who comes through our doors can be assured that they will receive the highest quality service.

Director Iancu sits at the center of a large conference table , speaking with employees.

Director Iancu (center) meets with USPTO leaders and employees.

I think of inspiring inventors like Michael Schultz, the U.S. Paralympic competitor who built himself a better prosthetic, which led to a better life for himself and amputees around the world. Inventors like Michael, as well as the public, must have confidence in our system in order to spur increased innovation, productive competition, and job creation.

I look forward to talking with and listening to our many partners, customers, stakeholders, and employees to ensure the USPTO and the U.S. IP system continue to be at the forefront of our nation’s growth.

Monday Mar 19, 2018

Spotlight on Commerce: Errica Miller, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

Blog about the USPTO from the Department of Commerce

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.

Errica Miller, Senior advisor to the Deputy Commissioner of Patent Administration.

As the Senior Advisor to the Deputy Commissioner of Patent Administration, I am responsible for tracking, analyzing, and providing advice and support on a full range of strategic, operational and policy initiatives and issues. Currently, I am on a special assignment as the Acting Director for the Office of Data Management, where I oversee the day to day operations of the patent publication process.

I grew up in Prince Georges County, Maryland and attended Suitland High School. While I am the first of three generations to receive a college degree in my family, I did not follow a traditional path to higher education. Initially, I was content with my role at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). In the mid- 1990’s, there was a wave of young African-American examiners hired at the USPTO. Most were younger than me, but making double my salary. They challenged me to go to college and change my career track. Naturally, the prospect of a higher salary was intriguing, but I wasn’t sure if college was the right choice for me.

Eventually, I accepted the challenge, enrolled at Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) and started taking a few classes offered at the USPTO. I attended part-time for many years while working full-time and was on track to complete my degree. However, the universe often has other plans, and I discovered I was pregnant. Instead of completely abandoning my educational path, I chose to continue my classes, taking breaks between courses when needed.

My goal was to complete my degree before my first son started elementary school. Although that seemed a long way off, I was determined. I transferred to University of Maryland University College (UMUC). There, I faced some of my most difficult classes. Thankfully, the same people who challenged me to earn my degree were there to support, tutor, and mentor me. That was especially true of my USPTO colleagues. I eventually earned my Bachelor of Science in Human Resource Management from UMUC. Standing at graduation, with my family and friends cheering me on, I realized that through determination, hard work, sacrifice, and support, I could achieve the things that I want in life. So, I kept moving forward. I reenrolled in UMUC and earned my master’s degree in Business Information Systems and Services while pursuing and completing a master’s certificate in Project Management from George Washington University.

One of my favorite quotes is “Challenges make you discover things about yourself that you never really knew” – Cicely Tyson. It reminds me that if I had never challenged myself, I probably would not be where I am today.

To assist others in taking on new challenges, my colleagues and I established the Patent Technical Support Staff Learning Opportunities Program. To help create a positive environment where all employees can reach their full potential, this program provides opportunities for administrative and technical support staff at the USPTO to improve their knowledge of the organization while advancing personal and professional education. This team was instrumental in the development of some other programs offered at the USPTO such as the Mentoring Program, the Administrative Professionals Excellence (APEX) Program, and the Job Coach Program.

Women’s History month gives me the opportunity to recognize those women whose love, friendship, support, and mentorship throughout the years have made me the person I am today. It is also a time to reflect on the accomplishments and contributions women have made to society as well as the future generations of women who will carry on that tradition. In particular, working at the USPTO has provided me the opportunity to observe how women make a difference in the areas of science and technology.

If I had one piece of advice for others, it would be to remove the word “can’t” from your vocabulary. It limits and hinders your personal and professional growth. Seek out and take advantage of opportunities when they arise, no matter how small. This will enable you to engage and build relationships with new and different people while enhancing self-confidence, skills, and experiences.

 

 

Monday Mar 05, 2018

2018 National Inventors Hall of Fame Inductees announced

Blog about the USPTO from the Department of Commerce

Earlier this year, the National Inventors Hall of Fame, in partnership with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), announced the 2018 class of inductees.

These visionary innovators each patented inventions that revolutionized their industries and changed people’s lives. Of the fifteen new inductees, five will be honored posthumously.

The National Inventors Hall of Fame was established in 1973 by the USPTO and honors monumental individuals who have contributed great technological and scientific achievements and helped stimulate growth for our nation and beyond. The criteria for induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame requires candidates to hold a U.S. patent that has contributed significantly to the nation's welfare and the advancement of science and the useful arts. The inductees are honored at the National Inventors Hall of Fame museum located in the Madison Building on the USPTO campus in Alexandria, Virginia.

Men and women in black tie attire being honored on-stage under.

This year’s class of inductees includes:

  • National Medal of Science winner Marvin Caruthers who developed the chemical synthesis of DNA;
  • Emmy winner Stan Honey for his work in sports television graphics, including football’s Virtual Yellow 1st&10® line;
  • Sumita Mitra for invention of the first nanoparticle dental filling material;
  • Marconi Prize winner Arogyaswami Paulraj, who invented MIMO wireless technology, a foundation for WiFi and 4G mobile networks;
  • NASA scientist Jacqueline W. Quinn, for developing an environmentally safe water decontamination technology, emulsified zero-valent iron (EZVI);
  • Ronald Rivest, Adi Shamir, and Leonard Adleman for their invention of RSA Cryptography, used in almost all internet-based transactions;
  • Ching Wan Tang and Steven A. Van Slyke, who invented organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs) now used in computers, cell phones, and televisions;
  • Warren S. Johnson, pioneer of temperature regulation technologies and co-founder of Johnson Controls;
  • Howard S. Jones, Jr., who developed antennas that conformed to shape of the object they were on, a breakthrough for rockets, missiles, and spacecraft;
  • Mary Engle Pennington, a pioneer in safe preservation and storage of perishable foods;
  • Joseph C. Shivers, Jr., who invented Lycra® fiber or spandex;
  • Paul Terasaki, for invention of tissue-typing for organ transplants and the Terasaki Tray.

Be inspired by watching this short National Inventors Hall of Fame video on the 2018 inductees.

NIHF will honor both the new and previous inductees in a two-day celebration in May. It will kick off with an illumination ceremony at the museum at USPTO headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia on May 2, followed by the National Inventors Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony on May 3 at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. The National Inventors Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony will be emceed by CBS News correspondent and television personality Mo Rocca.

Strengthening intellectual property (IP) protection is one of the strategic objectives of the Department of Commerce’s 2018–2022 Strategic Plan. A strong, high-quality and balanced patent system ensures that innovators and creators can be rewarded for their inventions – helping create jobs and grow the economy.

 

 

 

Tuesday Feb 06, 2018

Spotlight on Commerce: Bismarck Myrick, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

Blog about the USPTO from the Department of Commerce

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

As the Director of the Office of Equal Employment Opportunity and Diversity (OEEOD) at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, I provide strategic direction and guidance in carrying out the Agency’s equal employment opportunity and civil rights initiatives.

In June, I will celebrate a decade as the Director of OEEOD. Among my most proud accomplishments is the organizational transformation of a small Civil Rights office nestled within the agency’s administrative directorate, to a new Office of Equal Employment Opportunity and Diversity. Through this organizational transformation, I became the principal advisor to the Under Secretary and Director of the USPTO on equal employment opportunity, reasonable accommodation, civil rights compliance, and diversity strategies. 

Prior to becoming the Director of OEEOD, I was the Supervisory Attorney Advisor and Assistant Director of the USPTO’s Office of Civil Rights from July 2003 until June 2008. Before joining the USPTO in 2003, I served as a civil rights attorney at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) Office of Federal Operations, where I drafted hundreds of federal sector appellate decisions adjudicating the merits of complaints of employment discrimination, and provided training throughout the federal sector on civil rights law. Previous to my federal service, I was a trial attorney for the City of Baltimore, Maryland.

 Bismarck Myrick meets with employees.

Bismarck Myrick (center) meets with staff at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's Alexandria campus.

I earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication Studies from Florida State University in 1993 and a Juris Doctorate Degree from the University of Missouri in 1996. I am a member of the bars of the District of Columbia and the State of Maryland. In 2008, I completed Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government Senior Executive Fellow program. I entered the Senior Executive Service in 2012.

I am a second-generation federal executive. My father’s job in the United States Army and the Foreign Service required us taking up residence in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Monrovia, Liberia, Fayetteville, North Carolina, and Alexandria, Virginia, to name a few places. I admire my father’s professional accomplishments rising out of poverty in Portsmouth, Virginia, to achieve two consecutive, Senate-confirmed, ambassadorial appointments to the Kingdom of Lesotho and the Republic of Liberia. Despite all of this moving around, I consider my mother’s hometown, Columbus, Georgia, home. Growing up, she was the most influential person in my life. She always expects more than what can immediately be seen. I believe that to be one of the most important characteristics of effective leaders.

I struggle with providing career advice because I think of my career as being unconventional. Here are two pieces of advice for young professionals. First, work hard trying to leave more than you take; this is the only way to pay back the sacrifices which led you to a place of remarkable opportunity. Second, appreciate the counterintuitive fact that the greater your reputation for selfless service, the more likely you are to receive promotion and recognition. 

Friday Jan 12, 2018

Successful Track Record of Patents Customer Partnership Meetings

Guest blog by Commissioner for Patents Drew Hirshfeld and Deputy Commissioner for Patent Operations Andy Faile

In 2017, the USPTO’s Technology Centers held ten Patents Customer Partnership Meetings, and based on their success, we plan to increase the number of meetings this year. Started several years ago, these meetings provide a valuable opportunity for our customers to meet directly with Technology Center Group Directors, Supervisory Patent Examiners, and other agency representatives in a collaborative forum. The meetings focus on various technical areas such as manufacturing, biotechnology, cybersecurity, business methods, computer, and other electrical technologies. The events are free, open to the public, and are often webcast to include viewing sessions across the country.

Customer Partnership Meetings enable the patent community to share ideas, experiences, and insights as well as to discuss examination policies and procedures, mutual concerns, and solutions to common problems. These discussions help provide a solid foundation to facilitate resolution of any future prosecution related issues. Because these meetings are hosted by the Technology Centers, technology specifics can also be readily discussed as well as changes to the legal landscape that may impact some areas of filings more significantly than others. The meetings also allow the USPTO to share plans on any operational efforts and upcoming changes.

Technology Center 3600/3700 Customer Partnership Meeting

Technology Center 3600/3700 Customer Partnership Meeting

All of the events have received enormous positive feedback, including:

July 2017, Technology Center 2600 Customer Partnership Meeting – Attendees stated “In my experience, I feel that the quality of examination and the level of cooperation that I now receive from the PTO examiners (particularly over the last 2-5 years) is better than it has ever been” and “I’ve been in this business for 25 years, and I found the day to be extremely worthwhile.” Other attendees expressed that discussions held at these customer partnership meetings will help them in preparing responses to examiner office actions that will advance prosecution in a more productive manner.

September 2017, Business Methods Partnership Meeting – This was a great opportunity to bring stakeholders together to share ideas, experiences, and insights and provided a forum for an informal discussion of many topics specific to the Business Methods area.  Attendees stated “This is a helpful, productive partnership meeting... A balance of USPTO updates, new initiatives, and panel discussions between USPTO and outside practitioners is great.”

October 2017, Partnering in Patents – One of the discussion topics was Alice in the Electrical Arts. Several of the attendees indicated that the discussion with those who are reviewing cases on a regular basis, specifically for statutory subject matter, really provided an insightful perspective in their approach to making decisions on abstract ideas, as well as what qualifies as significantly more.

The next event is a Technology Center 2600 (Communications Technology) Customer Partnership Meeting on January 17. We have also launched a page on the USPTO website to host all information related to Patents Customer Partnership Meetings. On the webpage, users can browse past and upcoming Patents Customer Partnership Meetings, and also sign up for Patent Alerts, which provide useful notifications about upcoming events, meetings, and updates.

Friday Jan 05, 2018

Trademark Trial and Appeal Board Celebrates 60 Years

Guest blog by Chief Administrative Trademark Judge Gerard Rogers and Administrative Trademark Judge Susan Hightower

Employees of the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) like to say: “We have our trials, but our work is appealing.” So what does that mean, exactly? The Board’s 60th birthday in 2018 offers the perfect opportunity to take a closer look.

The TTAB is an administrative tribunal within the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and seeks to spur job creation by the timely adjudication of trademark disputes. The Board’s trial proceedings are similar in many ways to a federal district court, except that we don’t hear testimony from live witnesses. Instead, our proceedings are conducted outside the Board and in writing; and we make decisions based on written administrative records, although parties can opt for an oral hearing in their cases, after the presentation of evidence is complete.

Today, most cases commenced at the TTAB – around 70% – are trial cases, but most cases decided on the merits – around 75% – are ex parte appeals by applicants whose applications to register trademarks have been refused by a Trademark Examining Attorney. The trial part of the Board’s work involves deciding trademark registration disputes between two or more parties, known as inter partes proceedings. Most of these inter partes proceedings before the TTAB are oppositions, where a plaintiff attempts to prevent registration of a pending trademark. Cancellations are cases in which the plaintiff is trying to cancel an existing registration. Approximately 50 paralegals, attorneys and administrative trademark judges work on these cases. Our decisions in both ex parte appeals and inter partes proceedings can be reviewed by either a U.S. district court or the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

Things were very different 60 years ago. When the Trademark Act (15 U.S.C. §§ 1051-1141) – also commonly known as the Lanham Act – was enacted in 1946, ex parte appeals were heard directly by the Commissioner of Patents, while inter partes cases were decided by an Examiner of Trademark Interferences, with the right to appeal to the Commissioner of Patents. (Both types of cases could be delegated to an Assistant Commissioner of Patents.) Due to the volume of these cases, in a 1955 article in the Journal of the Patent Society, Assistant Patent Commissioner Daphne Leeds, who was the first woman Assistant Commissioner and an active member of the American Bar Association committee that assisted in drafting the Trademark Act, suggested creating an administrative board to handle the workload.

Leeds’ idea came to fruition on August 8, 1958, when President Eisenhower signed an amendment to Trademark Act Section 17, 15 U.S.C. § 1067. The amendment created the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board “to determine and decide the respective rights of registration” and provided for the appointment of Board members to hear and issue, by a three-member panel, final decisions in inter partes cases and ex parte appeals. Four members were appointed, and the Board consisted of those original four members through 1974. The Board still decides the merits of its cases by panels of three judges, now called administrative trademark judges – ATJs for short – appointed by the Secretary of Commerce. Board paralegals and attorneys handle motions and “interlocutory” filings to keep cases moving through the appeal and trial processes, so that they are ready for submission “on brief” or after oral argument.

The Board’s leader was known as the “Chairman of the Board” until 1993 and today has the title “Chief Administrative Trademark Judge.” Past and present Chairmen of the Board/Chief Administrative Trademark Judges include Saul Lefkowitz (1975-81), Dan Skoler (1982-84), David Sams (1984-2009), and Gerard F. Rogers (Acting Chief Judge 2009-10; Chief Judge 2010-present). The first Deputy Chief Judge, Susan Richey (2014-2017), was appointed in 2014.

Throughout the years, the TTAB has presided over a variety of cases presenting issues of “first impression” or which garnered significant public attention. While most cases involve word marks or designs such as logos, the Board has also had to rule on the registrability of scent marks, sound marks, color marks and the shape or “configuration of” products or product packaging.

TTAB decisions rarely are discussed in cases reaching the U.S. Supreme Court, but in 2015, in the case of B&B Hardware, Inc. v. Hargis Industries, Inc., 135 S. Ct. 1293, that court held that Board decisions “can be weighty enough to ground issue preclusion” when the parties that were involved in a Board case later are involved in a case in a U.S. district court. In other words, the Board decision may, in appropriate circumstances, bind the district court and bar the parties from relitigating the issue in that subsequent court proceeding.

Most recently, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in Matal v. Tam, 137 S. Ct. 1744 (2017), in which musician Simon Shiao Tam applied to register the mark “The Slants” for his dance-rock band. Tam’s application was denied as disparaging to people of Asian descent under a provision of the Trademark Act that prohibits registration of any mark that “may disparage persons, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols,” a decision which the TTAB affirmed. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, in an en banc decision, vacated the TTAB’s decision on constitutional grounds and the case wound up before the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ultimately agreed with Tam that the disparagement clause of the Trademark Act violated the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.

Twice within the last decade, the Board also decided challenges brought by Native Americans seeking to cancel as disparaging the “Redskins” trademark owned by the Washington Redskins professional football team. Though both decisions were appealed to district courts, neither reached the Supreme Court. The more recent of these two cases was rendered moot by the Supreme Court’s decision in Matal v. Tam.

Examples of some other recent high-profile cases include refusals to register marks for marijuana products (illegal under federal law); disputes over who owns registrations after musical groups break up; and attempts to register someone’s name as a trademark without their permission (“Obama Bahama Pajamas,” for one).

In the years to come, the Board will continue to hear and decide trials and appeals of cutting-edge trademark issues reflecting the rapid changes in U.S. commerce and society, and the products and services that we all use. We look forward to the challenge.

For more information, please visit the TTAB page of the USPTO website

Friday Dec 29, 2017

IP Attachés - Providing Resources to Texas Businesses

Guest blog by Director of the Texas Regional United States Patent and Trademark Office Hope Shimabuku

During the week of December 4, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to travel through the Dallas area with several of the USPTO’s intellectual property (IP) attachés, who came here from their international posts in Brazil, China, Kuwait, Mexico, and Thailand to conduct outreach visits to local businesses and stakeholders. These included the Dallas Bar Association and several local Dallas businesses with an interest in learning about our efforts to protect and enforce IP rights abroad through the USPTO’s IP Attaché Program. Outreach activities such as this are conducted by the attachés several times a year. The last one was in Southern California this past October.

A highlight of the week came on December 5, when the attachés gave a half-day presentation on the IP Attaché Program to members of the Dallas Bar Association’s Intellectual Property Section at the association’s headquarters, the Belo Mansion. During the course of the program, the attendees—many of whom were unfamiliar with the IP Attaché Program—heard from the visiting attachés about how their expertise has helped U.S. businesses already operating in, or considering entering, foreign markets to better navigate IP issues. They also heard some real-life examples from the attachés’ case files.

IP attaches at the Dallas Bar Association

IP attachés at the Dallas Bar Association’s headquarters  

For example, the IP attaché in Shanghai, Mike Mangelson, recounted how he provided information to a U.S. shoe manufacturer that helped it to enforce its IP rights against local counterfeiters. The situation was successfully resolved when a raid conducted by Chinese authorities resulted in the seizure of more than 1,000 pairs of counterfeit shoes. Another example came from the USPTO’s IP attaché in Kuwait City, Pete Mehravari, who related how introductions made to a senior Kuwaiti Customs official and Kuwait’s Criminal Investigations Department on behalf of a U.S. entertainment company led to the successful resolution of an important trademark enforcement issue.

“Such real-life examples,” notes Dominic Keating, the IP Attaché Program’s director, “demonstrate how the USPTO’s IP attachés are helping U.S. companies improve their understanding—and avoid the pitfalls—of foreign laws, regulations, and court systems and thereby better protect and enforce their IP rights overseas.”

The IP attachés also provided some valuable best practices for IP protection and enforcement in their respective regions. These included filing trademark applications early in China to avoid trademark squatters in this first-to-file jurisdiction. Other recommendations included considering the creation of a multilayered IP portfolio in key markets, consulting with competent IP counsel, and working closely with your IP attaché.
I also joined the IP attachés in visiting and touring the headquarters of several other major U.S. stakeholders the Dallas area during the week. Our visits included Bell Helicopter, Texas Instruments, AT&T, Flowserve, and Mary Kay.

It was during our visit to Mary Kay—a Texas-based company that sells hundreds of products in approximately 40 countries—that a senior representative shared with us that the attachés possess “a wealth of knowledge” that should be fully utilized to assist U.S. businesses abroad. It’s a sentiment that I couldn’t agree with more.

If you would like to learn more about the USPTO’s IP Attaché Program—and see first-hand the “wealth of knowledge” that these dedicated professionals use to advocate on behalf of U.S. business interests—I urge you the visit the IP Attaché Program page of the USPTO website.

Thursday Dec 28, 2017

PTAB Issues Guidance for Motions to Amend After Aqua Products

Guest Blog by Chief Administrative Patent Judge of the Patent Trial and Appeal Board David Ruschke 

The Patent Trial and Appeal Board (Board) has been conducting America Invents Act (AIA) trials for about five years. The trials were designed by Congress to be a faster and less expensive alternative to district court litigation for challenging the validity of a patent. The ability to amend the patent is one aspect of the trials that is particularly unique to the Board as compared to district court litigation. If the Board institutes a trial, the patent owner may file a motion to amend the challenged claims. In the motion, the patent owner may propose substitute claims in place of the originally-patented claims to overcome any unpatentability arguments raised by the petitioner.

In October, the Federal Circuit, sitting en banc, issued a decision in Aqua Products, Inc. v. Matal, 872 F.3d 1290 (Fed. Cir. 2017), concerning motion to amend practice before the Board. The Federal Circuit addressed the burden of proof that applies to proving patentability of the substitute claims. The en banc court concluded that the USPTO had not appropriately placed the burden on the patent owner through rulemaking.

The Board recently issued guidance in view of Aqua Products. The intent of the guidance is to provide certainty and transparency on how the Board will handle motions to amend going forward. Consistent with the Court’s decision, the Board will not place the burden of persuasion on a patent owner with respect to the patentability of substitute claims presented in a motion to amend. Rather, if a patent owner files a motion to amend, the Board will determine whether the substitute claims are unpatentable based on the entirety of the record, including any opposition made by the petitioner.

We believe this guidance will continue to promote patent quality, allowing the USPTO to fulfill its statutory mandate to issue amended claims that are “determined to be patentable.” Any new amended claims will be narrower than the original claims that were previously examined, and will have overcome the prior art that had cast doubt on the sufficiency of that initial examination, as well as any other prior art of record. Although the Board will rely on submissions made by the parties, rather than a new examination of the amended claims, this approach is consistent with the AIA’s post issuance review paradigm, rather than the patent prosecution examinational model.

The Board also recognizes that the pre-Aqua Products approach of placing the burden of persuasion on patent owners with respect to amended claims may have been perceived as requiring patent owners to prove the negative, i.e., that no prior art read on their claims. Understandably, some may have been frustrated by the perception that amended claims might be rejected because of a failure to analyze and address prior art that was not of record. Under the new guidance, if a motion to amend meets obligations of the statute and rules, such as a showing of written support and a narrowing of claims, the Board will analyze amended claims under the same framework applied to original claims, that is, whether they are patentable over the prior art of record.

For the present time, the technical aspects of motion to amend practice before the Board will not change. The Board will continue its current briefing practice as to the types, timing, and certain procedural requirements. In addition, a patent owner must continue to confer with the Board before filing a motion to amend.

If a party in a particular case believes there is a need to discuss the impact of Aqua Products with the Board, they may contact us to arrange a conference call. During the call, they may request briefing changes or an additional briefing, and the Board generally will permit a supplemental briefing if requested. For more details, please read the Guidance on Motions to Amend in view of Aqua Products.

The Board continues to evaluate its processes to keep the AIA trial proceedings fair and balanced for all parties. To that end, we welcome comments and feedback on the Aqua Products guidance. Please share your views by emailing PTABAIATrialSuggestions@uspto.gov.

Thursday Dec 14, 2017

Updates on Modernizing the Electronic Patent Application Process

Guest Blog by Commissioner for Patents Drew Hirshfeld

Launched in 2015, the eCommerce Modernization (eMod) Project aims to improve the electronic application process for patent applicants by modernizing the USPTO’s filing and viewing systems. Our goals with eMod are to streamline and enhance our systems for an easier, faster, and improved user experience. An important milestone for eMod will be the upcoming replacement of EFS-Web and PAIR, called Patent Center, which we are implementing in phases.

Recent improvements leading up to the rollout of Patent Center have included modernizing our authentication process and implementing structured text functionalities. With Patent Center, additional users from the same firm will be able to have their own accounts and access shared information. Structured text allows applicants to more easily submit their documents in text-based documents, rather than having to create PDF documents. This streamlines the application and publication processes for the applicants, examiners, and the USPTO. We tested the capabilities of structured text within EFS-Web and PAIR with our eMod Text Pilot Program, implemented from August 2016 until September 2017. The pilot was successful and many improvements were made based on user feedback from applicants, which include independent inventors, law firms, and corporations. Structured text features are now available to all EFS-Web Registered and Private PAIR users, and include the ability for applicants to file structured text via EFS-Web, and access structured text submissions, structured text office actions, and XML downloads via Private PAIR. Additional information can be found in the associated DOCX Intake, and Access and Download DOCX guides.

Our next milestone will be the Patent Center beta release in early 2018. Patent Center is the new and unified system in development to replace the EFS-Web and PAIR systems. The next generation system will be more user friendly and allows applicants to file and view their patent applications in one central location. New features will include the ability to upload multiple documents at a time, drag-and-drop documents, and save submissions at any time. During the testing or beta phase, Patent Center will be available to participants for live filing and managing of patent applications. This beta phase will be a great opportunity to start the transition to using the new tool and provide feedback for improvements towards further development. If you would like to join the beta phase, guidelines and registration will be posted to the eMod page of the USPTO website, under eMod Programs as the release date approaches.

The eMod project team will continue developing and enhancing Patent Center based on public feedback, and anticipate the completed product to be ready to replace EFS-Web and PAIR in 2019. There will be a transition period while EFS-Web and PAIR are available in parallel with Patent Center.

If you have any feedback, we encourage you to contribute via eMod Ideascale by sharing, voting, and/or commenting on ideas. For more information, please visit our eMod page of the USPTO website or attend one of our outreach events. You can also contact us directly at eMod@uspto.gov.

We will continue to share updates and work with you on eMod to make our patent application process as effective, efficient, and user friendly as possible.

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.

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