Inventors Eye

November2014

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Connecting Expertise and Strengthening the Patent System

For over 200 years the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has advanced the state of science and technology by issuing patents for new inventions and discoveries.

In exchange for the powerful business incentives that patents provide, inventors disclose the inner workings of their technology so that others may understand it, add to it, and innovate around it. This innovation ecosystem relies on the expertise of inventors and patent examiners alike to ensure that patents are issued for novel inventions. And right now, USPTO is expanding its efforts to help experts share their knowledge with patent examiners.

The Patent Examiner Technical Training Program (PETTP) was created to put industry experts in front of the examiners who examine patent applications in related fields of technology. PETTP is a voluntary program that gives technology experts the opportunity to provide relevant technical training and expertise to patent examiners. Presenters often provide illuminating perspectives of specific technologies, explanations of their histories and the challenges, how breakthroughs happen, and where the future of the technology is headed. It is vital that experts share these wide views of technology with those who review patent applications. This allows patent examiners to stay on the cutting-edge of their field of technology and it helps ensure that the quality of examination will be the highest possible.

Examiners who have attended PETTP presentations have reported a positive impact on their work. (View the PETTP brochure for specific examples of technologies and presenters.)

Individuals interested in presenting as guest lecturers must be willing to volunteer their time and travel expenses, but the USPTO is working hard to make it easier for everyone to share their expertise. Historically, PETTP events have been held at USPTO headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia, but with the opening of USPTO satellite offices in Detroit and Denver experts are now able to present at these regional offices in addition to headquarters. And, regardless of where they take place, presentations can be webcast to all examiners working across the country. The planned 2015 opening of satellite offices in Silicon Valley, California, and Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, will further expand opportunities for participation.

Please visit the PETTP Web page to learn more and sign-up to share your expertise today!

Alexa Neckel : Patent Training Academy

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Potential Pro Se applicant reviewing the filing a patent application booklet.

Introducing the Pro Se Assistance Program

Independent inventors and small business owners have a long tradition of creating innovative products and opening up new sectors of the American marketplace. Some of today’s most well-known companies and innovators started small in someone’s garage or basement.

While many factors contribute to the road to success, it is critical for innovators to take steps to protect their intellectual property to hone a competitive advantage. This often means filing a patent application.

But filing for a patent takes time and expertise. Many patent applicants enlist the help of a registered patent attorney or agent. For some inventors, however, this is not an option and they choose to file an application for a patent on their own, a process known as “pro se” filing.

Earlier this year, President Obama called on the USPTO to strengthen the patent system and expand opportunities and outreach to pro se inventors. One reason for the focus on these inventors is statistics that show that applications filed pro se have an exponentially higher rate of abandonment and improper filings than those applications prepared by an attorney. Even when pro se applications mature into full patent grants, they sometimes embody weak legal protection, which places the invention at risk for infringement.

In responding to this call, the USPTO has launched its Pro Se Assistance Program, which is a comprehensive pilot initiative to provide targeted outreach for pro se inventors and to enhance the examination practice of pro se applications. The new program offers a variety of resources for inventors, including:

  • Walk-in assistance at USPTO’s headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia
  • Pro se-specific educational resources on patents and electronic filing
  • Dedicated customer service and targeted assistance
  • Enhanced examiner-applicant interaction

Through the Pro Se Assistance Program, applicants will get better guidance and assistance during their application filing and prosecution. The program consists of a customer service unit staffed by dedicated personnel that connect applicants with the information they need. Walk-in customers at USPTO headquarters can work one-on-one with program personnel, and a public computer workstation equipped with public search and examination tools is available for use.

The other component of the Pro Se Assistance Program is not as visible, but it is just as important: a new, first-of-its-kind, pro se patent examination unit created to solely examine applications identified as pro se. Examiners in this unit have a wealth of experience and enthusiasm for examining pro se applications and are encouraged to communicate frequently and closely with applicants to solve any issues that arise during the course of prosecution.

For more information, visit the Pro Se Assistance Program online, call 1-866-767-3848, or email independentinventor@uspto.gov.

Michael Razavi : Office of Innovation Development

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U.S. Patent Number 4,910,814

Patents Pick-5
America’s Pastime Patents

Cooling weather, changing leaves, and the start of holiday preparations – for many, these signs of the changing season are first in mind when autumn arrives.

But for me, the fall means something else. The crack of the bat, a 98 mph heater in the crucial 9th inning, and the champions of so many memorable World Series, including the 1979 Pirates, the 1983 Orioles, and the 1988 Dodgers. Along with all the memories and fun, baseball would also be less enjoyable without proper equipment to keep the players safe. And guess what, there are patents for all of that!

Note: This article is part of an ongoing series detailing some of the Inventors Eye staff’s favorite patents. For each article, the writer selects their five favorite patents under a given theme. This list is from Management and Program Analyst Bruce Mihalick.

Baseball Cleats
U.S. Patent No. 1,867,219

This invention by George W. Harper of McNeil, Arkansas, was patented on July 12, 1932. While spiked shoes had been in use for quite some time, Harper’s baseball cleats changed the way sports footwear was designed. His innovation, was not only essential to running and the protection of a player’s foot, but also provided the traction necessary for stopping while being safer for defending players. As we all know, Ty Cobb had other (infamous) uses for the metal spike cleat prior to Harper’s invention.

Armor for Base-Ball Players
U.S. Patent No. 925,851

Having received a patent for this chest protector on July 7, 1908, former White Sox catcher Billy Sullivan was one of the few professional baseball players who actually invented equipment for the game he played and loved. I like this invention for obvious reasons: imagine unsuccessfully trying to catch a 95 mph fastball with no chest protection . . . ouch!

Fielder's Glove
U.S. Patent No. 1,426,824

Other than the ball itself, a glove (or mitt) is the most basic and essential piece of equipment a baseball player needs. Most every kid who has played the game from little league on up has that favorite glove that they took months to break in just right. While players had been using gloves at least 50 years earlier, William L. Doak of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, earned a patent for this fielder’s glove on August 22, 1922. Doak’s glove uniquely employed a net between the thumb and the index fingers, an important innovation in glove design that is still used today.

Improvement in Masks (Catcher’s Mask)
U.S. Patent No. 200,358

Before the invention of this mask, which has been said to resemble a very sturdy birdcage, baseball catchers played bare faced. Even today, with all the refinements and improvements that have been made to face mask technology, catchers are injured more than any other player besides pitchers. Imagine trying to catch a curve, slider, or fastball and you miss and take it squarely on the mouth, or your nose, or in the eye! First introduced by Harvard University’s baseball team, this innovation was patented by Frederick W. Thayer, the team’s manager, on February 12, 1878.

Adjustable Batting Tee
U.S. Patent No. 2,616,692

Batting tees have been a training aid for many years and are key to helping youngsters learn the game of baseball. However, one of the primary challenges with many tees is that they are not height adjustable. This invention, patented by Roy C. Bird from Ann Arbor, Michigan, on November 4, 1952, helped players set the tee’s height to find their correct swing plane. What better way to learn and develop hand-eye coordination and proper swing mechanics? No doubt this invention has been used by many a little leaguer dreaming of being the next Bryce Harper!

Bruce Mihalick : Office of Innovation Development

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Spark of Genius
Monkeying Around with Innovation

Four years ago, the Flying Monkeys, a FIRST LEGO League team consisting of six Girl Scouts from Ames, Iowa, embarked on an expedition into the world of invention that would change their lives—and the life of one little girl in Georgia—forever.

For the girls of team Flying Monkeys—Mackenzie Grewell, Zoe Groat, Gaby Dempsey, Maria Werner-Anderson, Courtney Pohlen, and Kate Murray—it was a journey that would also take them across the country and world, bring them face to face with distinguished inventors and public figures like President Obama, and culminate in the issuance of a U.S. patent for a cost-effective prosthetic hand device that has already made a difference in the world.

The Flying Monkeys’ tour through the world of invention began when they entered the FIRST Lego League’s (FLL) 2010 Body Forward Challenge, which challenged teams in more than 56 countries to explore the field of biomedical engineering and discover innovative ways to repair injuries, overcome genetic predispositions, and maximize the body’s potential. With the help of their coaches, Melissa Murray and Claire Reifert, the Flying Monkeys set out to prove that their all-girl team, aged 11-13 years old, could deliver a game-changing invention.

After brainstorming ideas, the Flying Monkeys decided to look for solutions to help people with the congenital absence or malformation of limbs (limb differences). While conducting preliminary online research, the team came to learn about 3-year-old Danielle Fairchild from Duluth, Georgia, who was born without fingers on her right hand due to the condition symbrachydactyly. Danielle’s limb difference posed special challenges because she is right-hand dominant and wanted to be able to draw and write using her right hand.

The team focused their efforts on helping Danielle. They had the unique opportunity to learn from team member Kate’s personal experience with limb differences. Born with five-and-a-half fingers, Kate already had a special prosthesis that allowed her to hold and play a violin and bow. Using Kate’s prosthesis as a jumping off point, the team then set to work creating a new device that would allow Danielle to write and draw.

The team may not have been aware of it at the time, but they had already started the invention process in a time-honored way: understanding the current state of the art, identifying the problems in it, and then figuring out how to improve it.

“They internalized the natural process of trial and error,” said team coach Murray. “It's okay to make a mistake; figure out where it went wrong, change it and try it again.”

After countless brainstorm sessions, concepts, and meetings with prosthetics manufacturers and doctors, occupational therapists, designers, and engineers, the team arrived at a prototype device they called the “BOB-1.” Costing less than $10 to build, the device was made from moldable plastic and a pencil grip, and was designed to be strapped onto the user’s hand to hold a pen, brush, or other devices.

But would it work?

“We put so much effort into that one tiny thing, and even when we finished we weren't sure how well it really turned out,” said Kate. The answer fell to Danielle, who put on the BOB-1 and drew with her right hand for the first time.

At the FLL Global Innovation Award ceremony at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) headquarters in spring 2011, the Flying Monkeys took top honors. As part of their prize, they received $20,000 from the X-Prize Foundation. A series of other honors followed, including an invitation to present the BOB-1 at the White House Science Fair and travel to Brazil to present at the Rio+20 United Nations Conference.

Even before winning the FLL prize, the girls had begun working with two patent attorneys, learning what exactly a patent is, and even writing the provisional application themselves.

“The girls learned, as many have, that filing a patent does not happen overnight. In fact, when the application was filed, none of them had started high school. Today, they are getting ready to enter college,” Coach Murray noted.

The moment everyone had been waiting for arrived on September 23, 2014, with the issuance of U.S. patent no 8,840,157 for a “Terminal end mounted prosthetic device.”

“This patent means a lot to me because it shows all of the hard work that we have done throughout the years as Flying Monkeys,” said Gaby. “It is good to know that something that you worked really hard at has paid off in the end.” 

While earning a patent was a huge accomplishment, knowing what they had created made a measurable difference in someone else’s life stood out for the team. “Seeing it work and hearing how pleased Danielle was [with it] was definitely the best part,” added Kate.

Today, Danielle continues to use the BOB-1 to write and draw with her dominant hand. And while there are no plans to mass-produce the BOB-1, several other children with limb differences across the country have also received the device, including Danielle’s little brother—although he prefers to call it “Fred.”

Coach Murray reflected that the project “Made the girls more aware of people with differences of all kinds. They noticed them, they watched and marveled at how creative and adaptable the body can be.”

As the girls now approach the end of high school, they’ve agreed that receiving a patent will close this chapter of their lives. While none of them have quite decided on career paths, they all believe that the experience of creating and patenting the BOB-1 has left them with a lasting appreciation for science and technology. Kate, who will start applying to colleges next year, has begun leaning toward creative writing or art, but STEM will still be an important part of her life. The other girls echo this. “I wasn’t quite as interested in science or anything of that type before,” said Zoe, “but now I’m more interested in it and pursuing it.”

Gaby is also interested in a career in the medical field and hopes to attend the University of Minnesota.

Don’t let their age fool you. These “Monkeys” are wise, as Kate demonstrated with some parting advice: “Science and technology aren't quick things. It takes time and effort, and you will change along the way whether you realize it or not.”

Whatever paths the Flying Monkeys continue to choose as individuals, we are entirely certain they will be lit by the bright light of their innovative minds.

Inventors Eye congratulates the Flying Monkeys on all their success and the issuance of their U.S. patent. To learn more about young innovators, visit USPTO Kids on our website.

Alex Camarota : Office of Innovation Development

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Using EFS-Web: 5 Electronic Filing Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

To compete in today’s innovation-driven economy, inventors and entrepreneurs need to get an invention from initial idea to submitted patent application as quickly as possible.

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events and announcements

November

Upcoming events and news in the world of innovation

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Organizations

Organizations and resources for the independent inventor community

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The USPTO gives you useful information and non-legal advice in the areas of patents and trademarks in Inventors Eye. The patent and trademark statutes and regulations should be consulted before attempting to apply for a patent or register a trademark. These laws and the application process can be complicated. If you have intellectual property that could be patented or registered as a trademark, the use of an attorney or agent who is qualified to represent you in the USPTO is advised.

 
In this issue
Connecting Expertise
Introducing the Pro Se Assistance Program
Patents Pick-5
America's Pastime Patents
Spark of Genius
Monkeying Around with Innovation
advice
Tips for Using EFS-Web
events and announcements
November
network
Organizations

 

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