Director's Forum: A Blog from USPTO's Leadership
Director's Forum: A Blog from USPTO's Leadership
Tuesday Dec 06, 2016

Providing Clear and Transparent Patent Quality Metrics

Guest blog by Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Deputy Director of the USPTO Russ Slifer

It is critically important that the USPTO issue patents that are of the highest quality possible, and to accomplish this, we are taking measures to achieve greater accuracy, clarity, and consistency in examination and prosecution. One important component of this effort is providing metrics that are more clear and understandable to all our stakeholders. Based on public feedback, we established the Quality Metrics program, part of the USPTO’s ongoing Enhanced Patent Quality Initiative, designed to enhance the assessment of our work products and to more clearly communicate our quality measurements.

Early in the Enhanced Patent Quality Initiative, we received feedback that the Quality Composite Score we use to assess our examiners’ work was not sufficiently precise because it combined indicators of both work product quality as well as process quality into a single score. Therefore, we discontinued the Quality Composite Score and proposed a new approach to quality metrics in a Federal Register Notice in March 2016. Our new process, which is further explained on the Quality Metrics page of the USPTO website, will allow us to accurately measure quality by differentiating between work product metrics and efficiency of the examination process.

When assessing work products, the USPTO considers a quality patent to be one that is correctly issued in compliance with all the requirements of Title 35 as well as the relevant case law at the time of issuance. By analyzing work product indicators and by conducting reviews, we have developed new statutory compliance metrics, which we have published on the Correctness Indicator page of the USPTO website, along with information on how we developed these metrics. The webpage contains breakdowns, such as by office action type, allowing the general public to explore the data at varying levels of granularity. We also recently enhanced how clarity is evaluated during office action reviews, which you can read about in a recent blog by Director Lee.

To accurately assess the efficiency of the examination process, we are analyzing reopenings of prosecution and rework of office actions, as well as focusing on improving consistency of decision making. Using data from our Patent Application Location and Monitoring (PALM) system, we are able to identify trends in examiner behavior to determine where the process is working well and where there may be potential quality concerns. We can then determine which areas of the process can be streamlined, and what areas may require additional training, as well as identify best practices.

Our stakeholder feedback is of utmost importance to us, and we will continue to administer internal and external surveys on quality. We will continue to publish the results of the surveys, and will incorporate what we find into our training and continuing quality improvement efforts. As always, we are open to your suggestions on ways to improve our patent quality metrics, as we push to find new and innovative ways to improve patent quality at the USPTO.

Monday Dec 05, 2016

Patents for Humanity Award Recipients Honored for Work in Providing Global Disease Health Care Solutions

A post about the USPTO from the Department of Commerce

This year’s winners of the Patents for Humanity Award found new and innovative ways to administer and provide health care solutions in some of the most disadvantaged and underserved regions of the world. On November 16, four entities – a university, a federal agency, a business and a nonprofit– were recognized at the National Press Club for their work in tackling the global burden of disease and changing the world for the better.

Winners included Case Western Reserve University for a low-cost malaria detection device, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for an improved meningitis vaccine, GestVision, Inc. for a quick diagnostic test for preeclampsia, and Global Good Fund at Intellectual Ventures for a cooler which can preserve vaccines for over a month with no outside power source. Read more about each of the award recipients.

Launched by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in February 2012 as part of an Obama administration initiative, the Patents for Humanity program promotes game-changing innovations that solve long-standing development challenges. The award is the USPTO’s top honor for recognizing patent owners and licensees who use game-changing technology to meet global humanitarian challenges. In addition to being recognized for their work, winners also receive accelerated processing of select matters at the USPTO.

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro spoke at the awards ceremony, stating: “There is no greater effort that the federal government can be involved in than the opportunity to save lives. Borders are irrelevant to disease, and projects like these help get a discovery to market where it can make a difference.”

“Altogether the work of our Patents for Humanity applicants and awardees proves that great things that can be accomplished when intellectual property rights and innovation work together to solve problems of a truly global scope, ” said Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO Russ Slifer, who delivered remarks at the ceremony. “In addition to the very tangible benefits their inventions will deliver, they will also inspire others to bring the power of innovation to bear on more of the world’s most pressing humanitarian challenges.” Read Deputy Director Slifer’s full remarks.

Programs like Patents for Humanity help scale and incentivize innovation by spurring more game-changing work by the innovation community. The winners’ technologies and solutions show tomorrow’s scientists and engineers how the power of innovation can change the world for the better.

See a Facebook album of photos from the ceremony.

Tuesday Nov 29, 2016

USPTO Attachés: A Valuable Resource for U.S. Intellectual Property Interests Abroad

A post about the USPTO from the Department of Commerce

U.S. companies may understand how to handle their intellectual property (IP) interests within the United States, but selling products and being competitive in foreign markets with varied and unfamiliar local IP laws is a different ball game. Independent inventors and small and medium-sized entities may lack the in-house resources and expertise they need to deal with foreign IP regulations.

And today, looking after those IP assets is more important than ever: according to a recent estimate from the International Chamber of Commerce, the global value of counterfeit and pirated products could be as high as $1.8 trillion a year. This represents a huge loss of revenue.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s (USPTO) IP Attaché Program supports U.S. stakeholders that sell in foreign markets or want to enter them. These attachés are IP experts stationed at select U.S. embassies and consulates around the world, working directly with U.S. businesses on intellectual property issues—including helping to stop counterfeiting and piracy—while supporting U.S. efforts to improve IP laws internationally.

In addition, the attachés advocate for U.S. IP policies; coordinate training on IP protection matters; and work with judicial, administrative, legislative, and enforcement officers to assist U.S. businesses that own or use IP. Currently, the USPTO’s IP Attaché Program has 14 positions around the world.

Recently, one industry-leading furniture manufacturer from Tennessee with production capability in China learned the value of the assistance that the USPTO’s IP attachés can provide. The company ran into difficulties when one of its former original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) obtained 13 Chinese design patents and used them to block the company’s other OEMs from manufacturing and exporting products. Our IP attaché in Guangzhou met with the company’s CEO and provided information and guidance on patent invalidation proceedings and how to navigate China’s IP judicial system, and offered suggestions on working with local customs and government authorities. One week after the meeting, three containers of furniture were released for export by Chinese customs officers, and $3.5 million in orders were fulfilled.

Companies can also face dangers abroad even where their operations are exclusively domestic. For example Mabrey Products—a small U.S. company based in Chico, California, that designs and manufactures wooden urns for funeral homes—made the surprising discovery last year at a trade show in the United States that a Chinese vendor was displaying urns that were direct copies of Mabrey’s product line. The company’s owner turned to one of our IP attachés stationed in China, who was able to provide guidance on how the company could protect its IP against this Chinese vendor and other infringers.

Now, other countries and markets may operate differently, each having its own—and sometimes quite distinct—set of rules and regulations regarding IP. But these examples show that the USPTO’s IP Attaché Program is working throughout the world to help U.S. businesses and stakeholders. To find out more about the program and how it can help you, visit the IP Attaché Program page of the USPTO website. Additional information on how to protect or use IP abroad, including links to IP Toolkits for more than 20 countries and regions, can be found on the USPTO website.

Tuesday Nov 22, 2016

Results of the Post Grant Outcomes Pilot

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

As part of the USPTO’s ongoing Enhanced Patent Quality Initiative, in April 2016 we launched the Post Grant Outcomes Pilot, focused on pending patent applications that are related to issued patents undergoing an America Invents Act (AIA) trial proceeding  before the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB). We’d like to report that the Post Grant Outcomes Pilot has succeeded in making examiners aware of patents related to applications they are examining that are involved in PTAB trials, and in turn has facilitated the timely and effective examination of applications.

AIA trial proceedings contain prior art and arguments that might be highly relevant to the patentability determination of related applications currently under examination. This pilot was intended to help examiners harness the art presented during AIA trials to enhance examination of a related application, so they could reach more expeditious decisions on patentability.

During the pilot, we notified examiners via email when they had an application related to an AIA trial, and we streamlined access to the contents of the trial by pinpointing for examiners the most relevant documents. We then surveyed the examiners to gain detailed feedback.

The survey results showed that our examiners found the PTAB information—especially the initial petition (including the prior art citations), the PTAB’s institution decision, and any expert declarations—to be highly useful.  We also found that 46% of the examiners referred to at least one reference cited in the AIA trial petition during the examination of their own case, either by citing it in a rejection or as pertinent prior art.  If an examiner did not use or cite the prior art from the trial, it was most likely because the claims were different between the “parent” and the “child” case, the examiner disagreed with the AIA petitioner’s analysis of the prior art and/or claims, or the examiner was able to find better art. 

To further facilitate the process, in August 2016 we deployed an upgrade to examiners’ desktop application viewers which allows automated access to the contents of related AIA trials, including access to the entire file, and any cited prior art.  

Our next objective with regards to the post grant outcomes process is to identify examination best practices or deficiencies that we can address through additional examiner training.  To accomplish this, we are currently analyzing data gathered about the AIA trials with respect to prior art searching and claim interpretation, and are also working to thoroughly analyze how PTAB trials impact related applications.

Our final objective is to provide examiners with a periodic review of post-grant outcomes focused on Supreme Court, Federal Circuit, district court, and PTAB decisions that relate to their specific technological area.  It is our hope that by providing this information, examiners will gain a better understanding of the current state of the law and what happens to a patent after it leaves the USPTO. 

We are dedicated to ensuring examiners have all pertinent information, especially post grant outcomes information, easily and readily available, in order to issue the highest quality patents possible and enhance patent quality overall. Based on the program’s initial results, we can already see that our examiners are benefitting, and we will continue to identify additional ways to improve our processes.

Monday Nov 21, 2016

Optimizing Patent Examination Time

Guest Blog by Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Deputy Director Russ Slifer

The USPTO is committed to issuing the highest quality patents possible, as evidenced by our Enhanced Patent Quality Initiative (EPQI). An important part of this effort is evaluating our patent examination time goals with the help of the public.

Examination time goals, which vary by technology, represent the average amount of time a patent examiner is expected to spend examining an application. Because examination time goals impact both patent pendency and quality, we want to ensure that our examination time goals accurately reflect the amount of time needed by examiners to conduct quality examination. A critical part of our efforts is obtaining stakeholder input. 

The last assignment of expectancies for examination time was over 40 years ago. Since then, circumstances have required occasional adjustments and establishment of new goals for emerging technologies. There has not been, however, a comprehensive reevaluation of examination time since those expectancies were established. Since the examination time goals were originally assigned, significant changes to the examination process have occurred, including increased use of electronic tools, changes in law due to court decisions, a growing volume of prior art, and progress in technology which results in increasingly complex subject matter in applications.

One of the most significant changes has been the USPTO’s transition from the United States Patent Classification (USPC) system, used to categorize patents to facilitate prior art searches by examiners, to the Cooperative Patent Classification (CPC) system, an international, flexible and highly specific classification scheme. Because the current examination time goals were assigned based on the USPC system, implementation of the CPC system and the other significant changes to the examination process have caused us to reconsider and reassess the assignments of examination time goals.

As part of the EPQI, we are assessing the relationship between examination time and value-added examination activities, such as enhancing the clarity of the record with respect to claim interpretation, interview summaries, and reasons for allowance. All of these factors warrant a reevaluation of our examination time goals.

Internally at the USPTO, we’ve established teams to take a look at the impacts of both the transition to the Cooperative Patent Classification (CPC) system and the EPQI programs on examination time. We are also developing, in collaboration with the examiners’ union, surveys on examination time that will be available for all Examiners and Supervisory Patent Examiners to complete in early 2017.

The public can provide us their input on examination time goals in several ways. On October 25, 2016, we published a Federal Register Notice to announce our effort, and we are accepting comments by email ExternalExaminationTimeStudy@USPTO.GOV or through our Ideascale site until January 30, 2017.

We are also holding roundtables in all of our offices across the country. We held our first roundtable on November 14 in Alexandria, VA. As a participant on the Alexandria panel, I had the opportunity to hear directly from many stakeholders about their interests and priorities with respect to examination time goals and quality, pendency, and cost for services.

Our next roundtable will take place on November 29 in Dallas, followed by roundtables in Detroit and Denver on December 15, and Silicon Valley on January 11. For more information on how to participate in these events, visit the Examination Time Analysis page of the USPTO website.

We look forward to hearing from you to help us guide the development and implementation of our new examination time goals.

Tuesday Nov 15, 2016

New Trademark App Open Source Code on Github

Guest blog by Chief Technology Officer David Chiles

Improving the way the government delivers information technology (IT) solutions to its customers isn’t just a goal, it’s our mission. We at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office know that by publishing our open source code, the public can help us come up with new and better IT solutions. In advance of the new Federal Source Code Policy and in support of the Administration’s Open Government Initiative, we have been publishing content on Github for over a year, and it now includes source code for a mobile application for trademarks.

The new published source code on Github is for a sample application enabling a user to access and track the status of a trademark. This application enables the user to receive a push notification anytime the status of a trademark application changes. The idea for this app began with feedback from the leadership in Trademarks, and we believe that it will also be a useful tool for our own employees. We’re making our code for this application open to the public, so you can also use it in your own projects, improve it so it works best for you, or create an entirely new application. 

Image of mobile phone with trademark app

Through our Open Data and Mobility Program, we’ve already made over 200 years of intellectual property information available to the public, and have published application program interfaces (APIs) so you can more easily search, use, and manipulate patent and trademark information. We want to make it as easy as possible for you to use our data. 

As America’s Innovation Agency, we hope that our open source initiatives will spur innovation and create new ideas. We are looking to the public to come up with the next greatest idea, like we recently did through our Cancer Moonshot Challenge

Let us know how you like our Trademark app, and keep an eye on our Github page as we’ll be publishing more and more open source projects.

Thursday Nov 10, 2016

Celebrating Veterans at the USPTO

Guest blog by Chief Administrative Officer Fred Steckler

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday Nov 09, 2016

Collegiate Inventors Competition Showcases Tomorrow’s Entrepreneurs

A post about the USPTO from the Department of Commerce

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

View a USPTO Facebook album of photos from CIC.

Tuesday Nov 08, 2016

Results of the Clarity of the Record Pilot

Blog by Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO Michelle K. Lee

I’m pleased to report that we have completed the Clarity of the Record Pilot launched earlier this year as part of our Enhanced Patent Quality Initiative. We’ve achieved our goal of identifying some best practices for enhancing the clarity of various aspects of the prosecution record. These include best practices for documenting the USPTO’s positions with respect to claim interpretation, reasons for allowance, and interview summaries as well as encouraging examiners to initiate pre-search interviews when needed to gain a better understanding of the claimed invention. I would like to fill you in on some of our findings, and also encourage you to attend our day-long patent quality conference on December 13, where we will report in detail on the progress of the dozen or so programs in the Enhanced Patent Quality Initiative.

Through this pilot, we identified the following best practices as key drivers for clarity and trained our examiners on these practices:

For interview summaries, providing:

  • the substance of the examiner’s position
  • details of any agreement reached
  • a description of the next steps that will follow the interview

For reasons for allowance:

  • addressing each independent claim separately
  • particularly identifying the applicant’s persuasive arguments (wherever they may be in the record)
  • identifying allowable subject matter of the claim rather than merely reciting the entire claim as the basis for allowance

For claim interpretation: 

  • putting all 35 USC 112(f) presumptions on the record 
  • explaining how the presumptions were overcome 
  • identifying on the record the structure in the specification that performs the function
  • when a prior reference is used to reject multiple claims, clearly addressing specific limitations in each claim that is anticipated by the art

As a result of this pilot, we found there is progress to be made in the treatment of 35 USC 112(f) limitations, interview summaries, and reasons for allowance, while our highest clarity was in the area of 35 USC 102 and 103 rejections. Going forward, we plan to continue increasing clarity in all aspects of our practice.

Overall, we measured 68 unique data points, each data point representing a different best practice for achieving clarity. We found that on average, pilot examiners used 14% more of these best practices in pilot cases as compared to control cases, and this increased use of best practices contributed to an increase in overall clarity in pilot cases. Notably, we found that in pilot cases examiners employed:

  • 38% more best practices as compared to control cases for 35 USC 102 rejections and
  • 140% more best practices as compared to control cases for assessments of 35 USC 112(f) limitations.

Also, we found that pilot participants carried on using the best practices they learned in the pilot, even to applications not in the pilot program.  This is a strong indication that the examiners embraced the training.  We also had anecdotal evidence that pilot participants encouraged fellow, non-pilot examiners to use the best practices during the prosecution of their own cases.  Clearly the pilot participants saw a value to using these best practices when examining applications.

The Clarity of the Record Pilot ran from March 6 to August 20 of this year. To ensure a diverse pool of examiners, we invited randomly selected utility patent examiners with at least two years of patent examining experience to participate. All told, 125 examiners representing all utility technology centers participated, and roughly two-thirds of these participants were primary examiners. 

The pilot kicked off with initial training in the form of four different modules – an initial module to provide participants with an overview of the pilot and three modules to provide identified best practices to enhance clarity with respect to the pilot’s three focus areas – claim interpretation, reasons for allowance and interview summaries. All of the modules started with a discussion about the goals of the pilot and the importance of clarity of the record.

Pilot participants were expected to use identified best practices when drafting office actions for a select number of cases.  In addition, throughout the pilot, participants attended meetings (called “quality enhancement meetings”) to discuss interesting takeaways with fellow pilot participants. The quality enhancement meetings were typically held with examiners working within similar technologies; however, there were also pilot-wide meetings involving invited speakers, including a judge from the Patent Trial and Appeal Board and the Commissioner for Patents, who shared their perspective on the importance of clarifying the prosecution record. Participants also met biweekly with a pilot manager to receive one-on-one training and to consult on lessons learned.

To evaluate the pilot, the Office of Patent Quality Assurance reviewed the clarity of approximately 2,600 cases for a statistical assessment of whether the best practices of the pilot improved the clarity of office actions.  In addition, we analyzed feedback from the quality enhancement meetings and training sessions, including a list of best practices developed by the pilot participants. Using this information, we identified the best practices that were key drivers of overall clarity. Based on the results from the pilot program, we are analyzing the data to provide recommendations on implementation of the pilot’s best practices across the patent examining corps.

Please join us at our patent quality conference on December 13, where we will share more details and results on the Clarity of the Record Pilot and other EPQI programs.

Monday Nov 07, 2016

IT Innovation at the USPTO in 2016

Guest blog by Chief Information Officer John Owens II

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

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

Bringing you next generation technology

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

DevOps has a firm hold

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

Embracing open source and open data

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

Your customer experience

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

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

What to look for in 2017

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

Thursday Nov 03, 2016

Enhancements to Trademark Trial and Appeal Board Proceedings

Guest blog by Chief Administrative Trademark Judge Gerard F. Rogers

The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) announced the culmination of an in-depth outreach effort to stakeholders focused on enhancing the Board’s appeal and trial processes. In a Notice of Final Rule-Making (NFRM), published in the Federal Register on October 7, 2016, the USPTO said new rule changes will benefit the public by providing more clarity in the rules, flexibility for parties involved in Board proceedings, and increased procedural efficiency. At the same time, the rules further a USPTO strategic objective to increase end-to-end electronic processing of trademark matters, which reduce costs to the USPTO and the public, and helps avoid errors that may creep into records during manual entry of data contained in paper filings.

The last major set of TTAB rule changes took effect in 2007. Since then, there have been case law developments, changes in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and the rollout of the USPTO’s Accelerated Case Resolution (ACR) process. Therefore, it is an ideal time to update the rules to make the benefits of ACR available to all parties, as well as to promote electronic filing and communication. The rule changes, major provisions of which are summarized below, reflect significant input from the Trademark Public Advisory Committee, individual stakeholders, and professional associations, and have been well-received since publication in the Federal Register.

One of the most overarching rule changes involves the Board assuming responsibility for service of the complaint filed to initiate an inter partes proceeding. This rule change shifts responsibility for service of the complaint in an opposition or cancellation proceeding from the plaintiff to the Board, in an effort to reduce the responsibilities of litigants during the commencement of a proceeding.

Another exciting change is the Board moving exclusively to use of electronic filings and communication. In this new all-electronic environment, instead of mailing hard copies of institution orders and complaints, the Board forwards an order by email, with a link to both the proceeding file and the complaint, as displayed in the Board’s electronic docketing system known as TTABVUE. The rule changes also mandate that parties file documents through ESTTA, the Board’s electronic filing system. That requirement results in cost-savings to the USPTO and to private litigants, and will increase the efficiency with which the Board can process matters. Finally, filings and papers are now required to be exchanged between parties by email, with exceptions made for technical problems or extraordinary circumstances; and to allow the parties flexibility, they may agree to alternate methods of communication or exchange of documents and information that work best in their particular circumstances.

Reflecting recent amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, new discovery provisions in the rule changes help curtail abuse and reduce litigation expense for stakeholders. The number of requests for production of documents and requests for admission are now limited to 75, paralleling the current limitation on interrogatories. To avoid disadvantaging parties that use requests for admission to authenticate produced documents, the changes provide for one comprehensive request for admission to the producing party to seek authentication of identified documents or specification of those documents which cannot be authenticated. This option facilitates introduction of produced documents at trial by notice of reliance, rather than through painstaking witness identification and testimony, thereby providing the parties more flexibility during trial. Finally, the rule changes afford the parties substantial flexibility to stipulate to various limitations on discovery in terms of duration, number of requests, and the elimination of discovery altogether.

Additionally, the rule changes establish new deadlines in discovery, paving the way for another significant change -- a requirement that motions to compel discovery or to determine the sufficiency of responses to requests for admission be filed prior to the deadline for plaintiff’s pretrial disclosures. These revisions help parties avoid the expense and uncertainty that arise when discovery disputes erupt on the eve of trial and ensure parties make pretrial disclosures and engage in trial preparation only after all discovery issues have been resolved. As with the timing of motions relating to discovery disputes, motions for summary judgment must be filed prior to the deadline for plaintiff’s pretrial disclosures. This avoids disruption of trial planning and preparation which can occur by filing such motions late in the process.

ACR procedures have proven particularly effective at streamlining trial proceedings. These include agreements to limit discovery and to shorten trial periods or the time between trial periods, and stipulations to certain facts or to the admissibility of documents or other evidence. Accordingly, parties are still able to enter into stipulations regarding proffers of testimony, but the rules allow any party unilaterally to choose to present trial testimony by affidavit or declaration, subject to the right of cross-examination by the adverse party or parties.
Finally, the rule changes include expanding the parties’ options through which evidence is submitted during trial. Parties may now make of record, via notice of reliance, pleaded registrations and registrations owned by any party by submitting a current copy of information from the USPTO electronic database records showing current status and title; and the rule changes codify this option. In addition, parties may now also use the notice of reliance method for submitting internet materials.

The rule changes become effective January 14, 2017, and apply to all proceedings pending at that time or begun thereafter. All employees at the Board, including our 243 information specialists and paralegals, our 245 attorneys, and our judges, have been involved in identifying these improvements, and we strongly believe that these changes help streamline our trial proceedings and avoid unnecessary expense and complications for parties involved in our cases.  We continue to welcome any feedback you have on TTAB trial proceedings in order to increase clarity, efficiency, and effectiveness of our processes.

Friday Oct 21, 2016

When Patents and Trademarks Go Bump in the Night

A post about the USPTO from the Department of Commerce

Innovation comes in all shapes and forms, and every October the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) uses social media as a fun and timely way to educate the public about the importance of intellectual property (IP) and how it impacts their everyday lives. Halloween is crawling with countless examples of intellectual property. From the registered trademarks protecting the candy you eat and the costumes you wear, to the utility and design patents behind the tools to make them, IP is alive and well. 

Several years ago, the USPTO decided to explore the deepest and darkest corners of more than two centuries worth of patent and trademark archives as a seasonal extension of its Today in Patent and Trademark History series known as “Creepy IP.” Whether it’s the trademark for Ghostbusters®, a sound mark for Darth Vader®, a patent for a winged suit to fly away from a burning building, a patent for producing lifelike simulations to inanimate objects, or a patent for vampire-shaped pasta, the USPTO’s public records are full of interesting inventions and commercialized products from the past.

Since its initial launch in October 2011, the #CreepyIP hashtag has generated wide appeal and remains one of the USPTO's most successful interactive social media campaigns with other federal agencies, private companies, the press, and members of the general public routinely using the hashtag to contribute their own intellectual property-inspired posts. Part of the USPTO’s mission is to educate the public about the importance of IP, and it does this through programs throughout the year as well as digitally and with social media.

Creepy IP generates tremendous awareness by highlighting the touchpoints where patents and trademarks impact our daily lives. Innovation and creative endeavors are indispensable elements that drive economic growth and sustain the competitive (and sometimes creepy) edge of the U.S. economy. In turn, IP protection provides incentives to invent and protects innovators from unauthorized use of their creepy inventions.

View the USPTO’s Facebook album of Creepy IP posts. Follow the USPTO on Twitter and Facebook or contribute to #CreepyIP this October. Happy Halloween!

Monday Oct 17, 2016

National Trademark Expo October 21-22

Guest blog by Commissioner for Trademarks Mary Boney Denison

I am pleased to invite you to attend the 2016 National Trademark Expo on Friday October 21st and Saturday October 22nd in Washington, D.C. The two-day event is free and designed to educate the public about the instrumental role that trademarks play in business development and the value of trademarks for growth in the global marketplace.

The theme of the 2016 Expo is “Movement and Energy.” Highlighting key themes such as “Unusual Trademarks” and “Brand Evolution,” the Expo will offer a variety of educational seminars including “Trademark Basics,” “Applying to Seek Federal Registration” “What Happens After Registration,” and “Why Buy Legit.” A number of our country’s leading corporations, small businesses, and governmental agencies will also be on site, highlighting their trademarks and providing information on the benefits of federal trademark registration.

We’re very excited that this year’s opening ceremony, which takes place on Friday October 21st at 10 a.m., will feature the U.S. Army’s Continental Color Guard wearing replica 1784-style infantry uniforms as well as a singing of our National Anthem. This year, the guest speaker at the Expo’s opening ceremony will be Kevin Haley, Under Amour’s President of Category Management & Innovation, who will discuss the importance of Under Amour’s federal trademark registrations. 

The Expo will also feature children's workshops and guided tours of educational content and exhibits. Costumed characters, led by our very own T. Markey, will be introduced during the opening ceremony and make appearances throughout both days of the Expo, and inflatable characters will be on display. This year’s Expo will feature exhibits and display cases of authentic goods alongside counterfeit goods, including a display by the Indian Arts and Crafts Board.  Losses to U.S. businesses from counterfeiting of trademarked consumer products are estimated at billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of jobs annually and create serious public health risks and safety hazards. The Expo is part of the Trademark organization’s continuous efforts to educate the public on the role of trademarks. The last several Trademark Expos attracted thousands of visitors of all ages and I encourage you to bring your friends and family.

If traveling by metro, the auditorium is a short walk from the Federal Triangle Metro station, or if driving, view directions and parking information. For additional information, please visit the Trademark Expo page of the USPTO website.

Friday Oct 14, 2016

Protecting the Rights of American Innovators in Cuba

Guest blog by Russ Slifer, Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Deputy Director of the USPTO

President Obama’s historic announcement, just two years ago, paved a new course of history for a more open U.S.-Cuba relationship—and today the Administration is taking steps to not only break down economic barriers, but also give way to more scientific collaboration, unlocking new opportunities for innovation. That presents a dynamic opportunity for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) — an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce — to support and facilitate trade and investment between our countries. That’s why under leadership of President Obama and Secretary Pritzker, we are working to create a framework for strong intellectual property rights that will anchor investment, and fuel research and development in both countries.  And it’s also why last week I participated in an historic office-to-office meeting between the USPTO and the Cuban Intellectual Property Office (OCPI) during the World Intellectual Property Office (WIPO) General Assemblies in Switzerland, to exchange perspectives on how each of our systems can be strengthened for the 21st century.

As authorized commercial ties between Cuba and the United States strengthen, intellectual property (IP) plays a key role in future trade and foreign direct investment. Strong IP rights help anchor foreign direct investment and capital flows both by bringing adequate rule of law but also by inspiring market confidence in terms of the commercial enforceability of IP. Accordingly, the USPTO has begun to engage with our Cuban counterparts in ground-breaking meetings over the past few months to develop a long term strategy to protect IP in the region.

Just this September, the USPTO participated in a regional WIPO seminar on the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) held in Havana to explore ways in which we are currently enabling country to country filings. USPTO staff discussed the U.S. experience with implementing the PCT, which aims to simplify the process of filing foreign patent applications. Additionally, I traveled to Havana to meet with Cuban officials, including OCPI, to discuss the USPTO’s mission and to reaffirm our interest in possible future collaboration on IP matters.

In May 2016, USPTO staff traveled to Cuba to participate in a series of events organized by WIPO and the OCPI to begin a dialogue to strengthen the relations between our two offices. Participants included academia, local industry, IP professionals, and government officials and focused primarily on patents and technology transfer issues. During this trip, USPTO officials were able to conduct the first face-to-face meetings with OCPI officials in over fifty years. We provided background information about the USPTO’s patent and trademark operations and expressed interest in establishing a solid foundation for future collaboration.

This series of steps is just the beginning, but it builds upon actions Secretary Pritzker and President Obama have taken to help position businesses for future growth in both our countries, facilitate trade, and drive investment. We are focused at the USPTO on championing IP both domestically and abroad, as businesses in a global economy need the security of knowing that their innovative technology, brands, creative works and even trade secrets, are secure in foreign markets.

As our authorized commercial ties with Cuba begin to strengthen, there is no doubt that U.S. companies will increase their use of the Cuban IP system. With this in mind, it is important for the USPTO to establish a line of communication and build a relationship with our Cuban counterparts to help achieve this objective. We are optimistic that our relationship with OCPI, and with Cuba in general, will continue to strengthen.

Wednesday Oct 05, 2016

Improving the Trademark Register

Guest Blog from Commissioner for Trademarks Mary Boney Denison

When selecting a mark for a new product or service, a business will search the USPTO database of registered marks to determine whether a particular mark is available. Registered trademarks that are not actually in use in commerce unnecessarily block someone else from registering the mark.

To ensure the accuracy of our trademark registry, in 2012, the USPTO launched a pilot program to gather data on whether registered marks were actually being used on the products and services listed on their registrations.

During the pilot, in 500 randomly-selected maintenance filings we required the registrant to submit proof of use for two additional items for each class listed on the registration.  Although the registrant must submit one example of use per class in a maintenance filing, typically the registration will list multiple products or services for each class.

At the conclusion of the pilot, the USPTO determined that in more than half of the trademark registrations selected, the owner was unable to verify the actual use of the mark for the goods or services queried. This was in spite of the owner having recently sworn under penalty of perjury to such ongoing use as part of the maintenance filing. We issued a report on the results and held a roundtable to discuss the results and next steps. The consensus among roundtable participants was that the results of the pilot program indicated a need for some action to improve the accuracy and integrity of the register.  As a result of these findings and input from the trademark community, we are now taking a three-pronged approach to tackling the so-called “deadwood” in our searchable database of registered marks.

First, we are increasing the readability of the registration declaration. We have reformatted the declaration to it make it more readable and therefore more likely for the signer to read the declaration swearing to use for each and every good or service listed.

Figure (1): Current Form

Current Form

Figure (2): New Form

 New Form

Second, we are planning to make the random audits of existing registrations permanent. A Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to make our random audits program permanent published June 22 in the Federal Register. The comment period recently closed and we are now drafting a final rule.

Once implemented, attorneys representing trademark registrants will be able to make registrants aware that, in order to maintain their registrations, they may be asked to submit and prove use on more than the one item of goods or services per class. Specifically, for selected registrations, we may require submission of information, exhibits, affidavits or declarations, and additional specimens to ensure that the register accurately reflects the marks are in use in United States for all goods and services identified in registrations, unless excusable nonuse exists.

Third, we are considering proposing one or more new or revised procedures to cancel registrations for marks either no longer in use or never in use. On April 28, the Trademark Public Advisory Committee convened an executive session to discuss the possibility of a new expungement procedure as well as several streamlined Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) cancellation procedures. Preliminary meetings with various stakeholder groups continue. We are close to fully developing these concepts. Under consideration are options that include:

  • A Trademark Examining Operation Nonuse Expungement Proceeding where the Director will expunge registrations that have never been used, upon request, and
  • A new TTAB proceeding to expunge registrations that have never been used, and
  • Streamlined TTAB procedures where goods and services in question can be deleted if the TTAB determines that the mark has been abandoned or that use-requirements were not met during the initial USPTO examination process.

Ensuring the integrity of the Federal Trademark Register is of utmost importance to the USPTO. Please be on the lookout for further updates on this important topic.

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