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The Importance of Independent Inventors to America – and America’s Economy
Blog by Joe Matal, Performing the Duties and Functions of the Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO
Throughout history, independent inventors have transformed our lives with their innovative ideas and played a key role in the growth of the U.S. economy. Regardless of whether these ideas spawned small family businesses or large corporations, the work of small inventors is part of the fabric of American innovation. Think of names like Dupont, Ford, Kellogg, and Wright; and technology such as the telephone, the electric lightbulb, the steam engine, and the airplane. A disproportionate number of the most important technological advances started in the minds of small-scale, independent inventors, and their ideas have helped create new jobs, businesses, and even entire global industries. Today, the importance of small inventors and small business endures. According to the Small Business Administration (SBA), two out of three net new jobs in the U.S. are created by small businesses.
The resourcefulness and resilience of today’s independent inventors are indeed impressive, and at the USPTO, and because they’re responsible for so many great technological leaps, we want to help them succeed. The USPTO needs to hear about the real challenges they face as they work to protect and manufacture their innovations and start and grow their own businesses. In the months I’ve been leading this agency, I’ve made time to meet with inventors to hear their stories and learn how they believe the USPTO can help them overcome roadblocks. Just recently, for example, I attended a meeting of the Tampa Bay Inventors Council. Some of them expressed concern about the fairness of the IP system, and some criticized the USPTO’s post-issuance review proceedings, arguing that they are stacked against patent owners. Others noted that they found the process of obtaining a patent to be too lengthy, cumbersome, and cost-prohibitive. They’re also extremely concerned about the ease in which their product ideas can be copied and sold into the United States from other nations.
After a meeting with members of the Tampa Bay Inventors Council, Joe Matal (left) speaks with Steve Gordon, the inventor and manufacturer of the INSTANT-OFF Water Saver. (Photo by Paul Morinville)
Our policies and processes throughout the USPTO are intended to drive entrepreneurship and innovation, and create a fair, accessible, and easy-to-use system for all inventors. As I explained in Tampa, there’s always room for improvement at the USPTO. Every aspect of our agency is continually being refined to better serve the patent and trademark owner community. Hearing from them helps us identify ways we can make that happen.
To that end, the USPTO has a wide variety of resources designed to help independent inventors. They can take advantage of our Patent Pro Bono Program and Pro Se Assistance Program, which help applicants who seek patents without the assistance of a lawyer. Historically, USPTO has found that pro se applicants have substantially higher abandonment rates than do other applicants. The agency has recently begun expanding its pro se assistance program in order to ensure that every pro se inventor who wants to can be assisted by this art unit, in which examiners play an active role in guiding the inventor through the prosecution process. The USPTO also offers its Track One program, which provides expedited patent prosecution, and does so with significant discounts for small, independent inventors. Our Inventors Assistance Center, which is staffed by former patent examiners, intellectual property specialists, and attorneys, can answer general questions concerning patent examining policy and procedure.
In addition, our four regional offices, located in each of the U.S. time zones, serve to make our services more readily available to local communities, and their unique industry and innovation needs, whether it be an event on the basics of patents and trademarks, or meeting directly with an examiner to discuss an application. Representatives from across the USPTO regularly meet with groups of inventors, startups, and businesses. I encourage you to browse our list of all upcoming events to find one that interests you.
I look forward to continuing the discussion with inventors to learn what we’re doing well, what we can do better, and how best to serve their needs. Only by working together will we achieve the best outcomes for our nation’s inventors and entrepreneurs, and help grow our economy, create new jobs, and build new industries.