June's advice article
File Online, Save Money and Protect Your Private Information
Online applications account for more than 93 percent of all applications at the USPTO, and the goal for the future is to eventually have all applications filed online. To encourage this more efficient and time-saving process, applicants receive a $400 incentive by filing electronically. While many applicants are taking advantage of this incentive, some might have concerns about what the online medium means for the security of their invention and personal information. It's important for inventors to understand what happens to their information once it's digitized and sent off into cyberspace. The USPTO goes to great lengths to secure the information that comes from the over half-million new applications it receives each year.
Rod Turk is in charge of protecting the network at the USPTO. As the Chief information security officer, Turk and his team confront and shut down any unauthorized attempts to access USPTO servers. To stop transgressors in their tracks, Turk says information technology (IT) security has two main objectives. "We constantly work to secure the 'perimeter' of the network and monitor the traffic going in and out from our network and security operations centers," said Turk. The term, "perimeter", describes the complex system of network controls and encryption tools that ensures no unauthorized connections make it through. While any large computer network-public or private-has security risks, Turk says the USPTO does not have as much to worry about. "Most of the information on the USPTO network is already in the public domain," he explained. As a fundamental principle of patent law, patent applications are kept confidential for 18 months after the first filing and then disclosed to the world, aside from certain classifications that are considered issues of national security or if an applicant requests non-publication at the time of filing.
According to Turk, the real security issue related to online filing happens long before the USPTO receives an application. "Home computers are much more susceptible to malware and spy applications," he said. "Those programs can record personal information like addresses and credit card numbers, and then send them to a third party." To ensure that private information remains safe, Turk urges all computer users to regularly scan their devices and use updated malware removal tools.
Even if a patent applicant chooses to use an attorney, Turk said that the vast majority of lawyers who file on behalf of an inventor do it online with a computer that is connected to their firm's own network. It's a good idea for clients to ask a few appropriate questions and make sure law firms are protecting their electronic information in a responsible manner.
Filing online makes the patent process more efficient and less costly for inventors, but before you click, "send," take a few important steps to secure your confidential information. You'll rest easy knowing the USPTO has already set in place a strong security system to keep both your private information and your invention safe.