November's featured article
Fiscal Year 2013 in Review: A Message from the Commissioner
As Commissioner for Patents at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), I'd like to welcome readers of Inventors Eye to a special end-of-year message. As you may know, the USPTO operates on a fiscal year that runs October 1 through September 30. The year that just concluded for the agency was truly historic, as it saw the final implementation of the America Invents Act (AIA). But before I discuss the AIA, let me share some statistics from this past fiscal year.
By the numbers, 2013 was an impressive showing for our patent examining corps. Both first action pendency and total pendency went in the direction we wanted to see: downward-and this was even as filings increased. Preliminary data shows that over 562,000 utility, plant, and reissue (UPR) applications were received in fiscal year 2013. Once application filings have been finalized, we anticipate a 6.5 percent increase over the number of applications filed in fiscal year 2012. Preliminary results also show that we issued 267,900 UPR patents in fiscal year 2013. This is an 8 percent increase over the previous fiscal year. All of this translates into a first action pendency of 18.2 months and a total pendency of 29.1 months in fiscal year 2013, and we will continue working to reduce pendency and the number of unexamined patent applications in the coming years. The faster the USPTO can award intellectual property rights to innovators, the faster those innovators can rely on that protection to bring products and services to the global marketplace.
The patent process is not just about numbers: it's about people. According to the most recent Partnership for Public Service rankings, the USPTO ranks as the 5th best place to work in the federal government out of 292 federal agency subcomponents. While this is a tremendous achievement, we are striving to be the very best place to work in the federal government. We have been able to achieve a high ranking by investing in our people. The USPTO currently employs 8,054 highly skilled and trained patent examiners. Providing ample tools and work-life options for staff translates into an improvement in both the quantity and the quality of work produced. The preliminary fiscal year 2013 results for the Patents Quality Composite Score is 71.6 percent. According to our quality composite matrix, 96.2 percent of all examiners' final dispositions of cases were in compliance, and 96.3 percent of all in-process work was also in compliance.
Now, let's get back to the AIA. On March 19, 2013, the USPTO was given the authority to set fees in accordance with Section 10 of the AIA. This is great news for independent inventors. Fee-setting authority allowed the USPTO to create a "micro entity" status. Thus, qualifying inventors are able to receive a 75 percent discount on most fees. Also, on March 16, 2013, the first-inventor-to-file provisions of the AIA went into effect. The Office for Innovation Development (OID) produced a series of videos that provide straightforward explanations of the important changes resulting from the AIA.
The AIA also authorized us to open regional offices across the country. The agency had already chosen Detroit as a location-which officially opened in July 2012-and it is now working to open offices in Denver, Dallas, and Silicon Valley. Judges for our Patent Trial and Appeal Board are already working at those three new locations.
Our pro bono program, which the AIA also authorized us to launch, helps inventors obtain free or reduced-cost legal services. It has expanded to cover 28 states and counting. On October 25, 2013, the USPTO oversaw the signing of a charter agreement for a newly formed advisory council that will be responsible for managing and growing the program. A signing ceremony was held with Chief Judge Randall Rader of the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.
The OID also sponsored several nationwide events for inventors and small business concerns this year, including a regional conference in Kansas and four Saturday Seminars in Detroit. In addition to providing education on patents and trademarks at these events, the USPTO invited representatives from state, federal, and private entities to discuss resources in the regions where the conferences are located. Such entities included Small Business Development Centers, Service Corps of Retired Engineers, Patent and Trademark Resource Centers, attorneys from intellectual property (IP) law associations, and subject matter experts in marketing and business. These collaborations strengthen our relationship with other government and non-profit organizations so that we may provide you with the best customer service and information possible. Our goal is to help you understand how patents and trademarks can be used as important components of your business strategy.
Lastly, in June we released an updated version of the IP Awareness Assessment Tool, a Web-based resource that helps users identify IP assets that may already be embedded in their businesses. By analyzing user-supplied answers to a comprehensive questionnaire, the tool generates a custom report with information and links to specific IP subjects relevant to the user. The tool was developed in partnership with the National Institute of Standards and Technology's Manufacturing Extension Partnership.
And don't forget that the OID provides many types of assistance to independent inventors and small business owners on its Inventors Resources Web pages. Here you will find plain language information about the patent and trademark processes and links to many useful tools and resources. Included is the pro se and pro bono Web page, which is designed for inventors filing for patent protection on their own behalf or seeking free services or greatly reduced fees from patent professionals. As rules or practices before the USPTO change, the page will be updated with current information.
Our goal is to be connected with you, the independent inventor, as you proceed through the inventing process. We are also available via telephone at 1-800-PTO-9199 or via email at IndependentInventor@USPTO.GOV.