Leading the way in the IP economy
Blog by Andrei Iancu, Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO
Director Iancu at the quarterly meeting of the Patent Public Advisory Committee at the USPTO in Alexandria, Virginia on August 2, 2018. (Photo by Jeff Isaacs/USPTO)
At the outset of my tenure as Director of the USPTO in early 2018, I challenged the USPTO staff and stakeholders to focus on reclaiming our nation’s leadership on intellectual property, first by creating a new, pro-innovation, pro-IP dialogue and, second, by balancing our IP systems and increasing the reliability of the rights we issue.
Working together for the past three years, we did exactly that—and so much more. The list below summarizes a number of our accomplishments, but let me highlight a few.
We issued new guidance to our examiners on patent subject matter eligibility in 2019. The USPTO’s Chief Economist confirmed in a study released in April 2020 that the uncertainty of examination in this area has decreased by a remarkable 44% in the one year following publication of the guidance.
We balanced post-grant proceedings at the Patent Trial and Appeal Board through a series of carefully calibrated initiatives, including aligning the claim construction standard with the district courts, improving the amendment process, reducing duplicative proceedings, and increasing transparency and consistency of decisions. We decreased patent examination pendency to 23.3 months on average, the lowest since 2001. We also reduced the average patent appeal time to a remarkable 13 months, down from 30 months in 2015.
We reduced fraudulent trademark applications through improved technology, examination, and various new procedures. And we saw the passage of the Trademark Modernization Act, the most important trademarks legislation in decades.
Furthermore, we improved operations at the USPTO, and upgraded, backed up, and secured our vast data repositories, information technology systems, and telecommunications networks. We completely revamped and modernized our website. And we created artificial intelligence tools for classification, examination, and much more to come. Importantly, we maintained continuity of operations during the pandemic and during a government shutdown due to lapse in funding.
Director Iancu and Director General Juan Lozano Tovar, Instituto Mexicano de la Propiedad Industrial (IMPI) at the signing ceremony for the USPTO-IMPI Work-Sharing Agreement on February 5, 2020.
Internationally, we forged a broad-based coalition of countries to elect new leadership at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) that respects and champions intellectual property rights. We implemented a first-of-its-kind Parallel Patent Grant with Mexico. And we signed a patent validation agreement with Cambodia, and many MOUs with countries around the world.
We recognized the need for a renaissance in American innovation – one that opened doors for more women, minorities and geographic regions to participate in the American intellectual property system. As a result, last fall we kicked-off the inaugural meeting of the ground-breaking National Council for Expanding American Innovation, which is now fully operational and in the process of helping us develop a first-ever National Innovation Strategy aimed at substantially broadening participation in the innovation economy, demographically, geographically and economically.
Director Iancu meets with a kindergarten class at Terra Centre Elementary School in Burke, Virginia on April 4, 2019, where he took part in their Kindergarten Invention Expo and gave a presentation on IP and invention. (Photo by Jay Premack/USPTO)
Additionally, I’ve spent the past year presenting to faculty and students at dozens of America’s top intellectual property universities, seeking to establish among our next generation of IP professionals a common understanding of, and appreciation for, the theories, benefits, and practical applications of intellectual property laws.
Through these and numerous other engagements, we have highlighted for teachers, parents, and students from kindergarten through college the virtues of invention, IP protection, and entrepreneurship, and shared information about the important and exciting careers that exist for innovators and IP professionals. Additionally, we created new training programs, such as the Legal Experience and Advancement Program, for fledgling patent attorneys so they can gain confidence and experience in patent and trademark proceedings.
Director Iancu interviews Dr. Martine Rothblatt, the creator of SiriusXM Satellite Radio, former CEO of GeoStar, and the founder and CEO of the Board of United Therapeutics on December 4, 2019, as part of the USPTO Speaker Series. (Photo by Jay Premack/USPTO)
We have promoted the incredible—yet mostly unheralded—stories of the people whose inventions have fundamentally changed the lives, and livelihoods, of millions of Americans. For example, we created the first-ever USPTO Speaker Series, bringing to USPTO employees and the public some of our nation’s greatest inventors and entrepreneurs. We also took the opportunity of promoting the grant of Patent 10 Million to raise the profile of our inventors and entrepreneurs, and we created the Journeys of Innovation series of online articles about innovators who have made a positive difference in the world. These people should be our most celebrated national figures, role models, and mentors for the next generation of Americans.
We have worked to improve the dialogue surrounding IP in many other ways too. When I arrived at the USPTO, I noted that for too long, the words used to describe our patent system focused too heavily on its faults. Our IP system—born from the Constitution and steeped in our history—is a crown jewel, a gold standard. It must be defined by its goals, aspirations, and successes. As a result, we worked to create a new, pro-innovation narrative that focuses on the brilliance of inventors, the excitement of invention, and the incredible benefits they bring to society, while still ensuring patent and trademark examination of the highest quality.
Director Iancu and Deputy Director Laura Peter, shown with Ray Latypov, patent-holder and CEO of Virtusphere, (a device created for full body immersion into virtual reality) and joined by his son Alfred. Latypov’s invention was displayed at the USPTO on July 23, 2019 in conjunction with an event commemorating the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. (Photo by Jay Premack/USPTO)
This pro-innovation, pro-IP dialogue is more important than ever, since we depend on inventors and entrepreneurs to solve mankind’s most vexing problems, including the current pandemic. These and creators of all kinds have always defined America, and, with a robust IP system, will continue to do so.
Director Iancu visits Camp Invention at Hyattsville Elementary School, Maryland, on June 26, 2019. (Photo by Jay Premack/USPTO)
Through it all, the most amazing people I met these past few years are the inventors of the future—starting with kindergarteners making their first creations and excitingly explaining them to me. Jumping up and down, many would say, “Director, I want to be an inventor when I grow up!” Their unbridled enthusiasm assures me that America’s best days are yet to come.
Thank you for the opportunity to serve this great country that I love.
Highlights of USPTO Accomplishments (2018-2021)
1. Strengthened the USPTO’s Patent and Trademark Operations
- Reduced patent pendency to below 15 months for a first Office action and below 24 months for final disposition, the lowest patent pendency since 2001.
- Reduced ex parte appeal pendency to 13 months, down from 30 months in 2015.
- Accomplished mandatory electronic filing for all trademark filings.
- Developed artificial intelligence and machine learning tools for patent and trademark application processing and examination.
- Achieved permanent congressional authorization of the TEAPP telework program, which will ensure strong hiring, retention, and cost savings.
- Achieved enactment of legislation to allow the USPTO to limit response periods for trademark Office actions in order to further reduce pendency.
2. Increased the Certainty, Reliability, and Quality of IP Rights
- Issued Section 101 examiner guidance on patent eligibility, improving certainty of examination by 44%.
- Improved and added to patent examiners’ search tools, including launch of collaborative search pilot training and enhanced examiner search training.
- Established a new automated routing system for patent applications to help ensure incoming applications are best matched with examiners with relevant experience.
- Adjusted the performance appraisal plan for patent examiners to focus on improved search and examination quality.
- Reorganized senior patent management to broaden responsibility for operations and quality.
- Increased the rate of patent examiner interviews to an all-time high.
- Negotiated a revised policy with the U.S. Department of Justice and the National Institute of Standards and Technology on standard essential patents.
- Prepared and released multiple reports on public views on artificial intelligence and IP policy.
- Achieved the enactment of trademark legislation to strengthen trademark owners’ enforcement rights in court and to create additional tools for the USPTO to combat fraud on U.S. IP systems.
- Achieved the enactment of legislation to implement the Marrakesh Treaty, which enables greater access to copyrighted content by the blind, visually impaired, and otherwise print disabled.
- Multiple legislative achievements to balance and strengthen the copyright system.
3. Changed the Dialogue on IP
- Created a public relations and media campaign celebrating the patent system, including the signing of patent 10 million.
- Held Patents for Humanity awards ceremonies for inventors who create solutions to humanitarian crises.
- Achieved enactment of legislation to enhance the Patents for Humanity program by allowing the award benefits to be transferable.
- Conducted numerous briefings for Members of Congress and their staff on the importance of patents to producing lifesaving technologies.
- Promoted the induction of 56 inventors into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
- Created the USPTO Speakers Series to allow leaders in the IP system to share innovation success stories with Office employees and the public.
- Created the Journeys of Innovation series on the USPTO’s home page to celebrate inventors and their personal stories.
4. Balanced AIA Review Proceedings at the Patent Trial and Appeal Board
- Promulgated rules to change claim construction standard to match district courts, to allocate burdens with respect to motions to amend, to respond to all claims and grounds in a petition, and to weigh all evidence at the institution stage equally for both patent owners and petitioners.
- Created a Precedential Opinion Panel to address important issues before PTAB.
- Designated numerous decisions as precedential and issued guidance memoranda to improve consistency of PTAB proceedings.
- Developed institution factors to reduce multiple patent challenges.
- Created a Motion to Amend Pilot Program to improve amendment process.
- Established standard operating procedures to improve transparency.
5. Bolstered the United States’ Leadership in IP
- Extended the U.S.’s lead as first in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global IP Index, and increased the U.S.’s rank in patents from twelfth (2018) to tied for second (2020) and in trademarks from fifth (2017) to tied for first (2020).
- Led effort to elect a WIPO Director General with strong support for intellectual property protection.
- Helped lead the Administration in adding new IP provisions as part of the USMCA.
- Achieved the first ever Parallel Patent Grant Agreement with Mexico and Patent Validation Agreement with Cambodia.
- Negotiated new work-sharing agreements with multiple foreign IP offices.
- Elevated the diplomatic rank of four USPTO IP Attachés.
- Worked with international IP forums to assist innovators and stakeholders to create
6. Reduced Abuse of the IP System
- Established U.S. Counsel Rule to reduce fraudulent trademark filings.
- Worked with the National Crime Prevention Center to launch a nationwide public awareness campaign regarding the dangers of counterfeit products.
- Established a special task force to monitor and identify fraudulent trademark filing behaviors and to develop tools, including policies, to address them.
- Established a successful pilot program and then a permanent program to conduct random audits of post-registration maintenance and renewal documents to ensure the accuracy of the trademark register.
7. Strengthened the USPTO’s Fiscal Health
- Extended USPTO fee-setting authority for an additional eight years, through the end of 2026.
- Restructured patent and trademark fees to ensure better cost recovery.
- Increased the reserve fund to ensure stability and continuity of USPTO operations.
- Maintained USPTO operations during temporary suspension of funding.
- Identified $1B in diverted fees in the U.S. Treasury.
8. Expanded American Innovation
- Submitted the SUCCESS Act report to Congress, which studied participation rates among women, minorities, and military veterans in patenting.
- Prepared and released well-received Progress and Potential Report and update, which studied participation rates among women in patenting.
- Launched a National Council of private, academic, non-profit, and public sector executive-level leaders to expand American innovation.
- Created the LEAP program at PTAB for training and developing new patent attorneys, and established a PTAB law clerk program.
- Supported independent inventors, small business concerns, and nonprofit organizations in filing patent applications and encouraged collaboration with the federal Government by expanding the opportunities to qualify for the small entity discount for inventions made during the course of federally-funded or federally-supported research.
- Enhanced the USPTO’s home page to allow first-time inventors and small businesses to easily access a map of all the resources the USPTO offers in their local areas.
- Launched an online platform available on the USPTO website that provides resources for inventors and practitioners to encourage greater participation in the patent system.
- Renamed Alexandria headquarters’ auditorium after Clara Barton, the first public space at the USPTO ever named after a woman.
9. Ensured Continuous Operations During Pandemic
- Transitioned seamlessly to all telework presence for employees during pandemic.
- Transitioned to all-virtual board hearings.
- Successfully sought enactment of statutory authority to provide relief at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Issued extensions of time for patent and trademark filing and fee deadlines, due to COVID-19 issues, within three days of enactment of statutory CARES Act authority.
- Established fast-track examination programs for COVID-19-related medical treatments and devices.
- Established the Patents 4 Partnership program to facilitate licensing of COVID-19 innovations.
- Launched the first all-virtual, entry-level training program to on-board over 400 new examiners.
10. Modernized the USPTO IT System
- Upgraded the USPTO IT system with new, faster, more efficient, and secure servers.
- Established redundant systems to ensure continuity of operations in case of certain IT failures.
- Initiated transition to the cloud for essential services.
- Rebuilt the USPTO website for a more modern look and a more interactive interface.