April's featured article
Independent Inventors Conferences: A Look Inside
The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) engages with the independent inventor community via regional Independent Inventors Conferences (IICs) around the country. Let's take a look inside the USPTO's premier event focused on independent inventors and small business owners.
Many independent inventors who attend an IIC have a great idea-they just have no idea what to do with it. IICs are designed to provide information that helps you in all phases of developing your idea. The conferences are structured so that each day attendees participate in morning plenary talks, small-group breakout sessions, and a keynote lunch address.
While the USPTO always recommends that you enlist the help of a USPTO-registered patent attorney or agent to file your application, we know this is not always possible for some applicants. Filing for patents and trademarks without an attorney-a process called pro se filing-is a daunting task for the first-time applicant. IIC events start with the basics. Attendees learn about the different forms of intellectual property (IP) protection and receive guidance on how they can protect your ideas. In the case of patents, IIC conferences demystify the patent examination process and give attendees an overview of how it works and what to expect during prosecution of their application.
Every IIC also offers a class on patent claim drafting. Claims are really the core of a patent application, and examiners all agree that the most prevalent issue pro-se filers struggle with is the claims section. In this workshop, attendees have claims broken down in an easy-to-understand manner and learn how to draft them. In addition to claims drafting, another class demonstrates how to perform a basic patent search to check for pre-existing inventions and discoveries that may be similar, also known as "prior art." There are even classes on trademark searching and explaining basic patent terminology and concepts.
Even though the majority of the USPTO's operations are focused on patents, remember that applications for trademarks are also examined at the USPTO. Patents protect your invention, but "marks," as we call them, can protect your brand, and they're an important part of any business strategy. Every IIC provides information on preparing and filing trademark applications. Experts from the USPTO partner with local attorneys to provide information about the application process, including preparation and examination, as well as enforcement and protection strategies once marks are registered.
Every IIC usually contains at least one workshop focusing on special-topic IP issues. For example, the conference in Tampa, Fla., featured an exclusive session on protecting IP in China. As the globalized market continues to become more accessible for small business owners, topics like these are particularly timely to independent inventors, and hearing from the people who are at the forefront of global IP policy ensures you are armed with the most accurate information available. IICs have also brought in experts on crowdfunding and utilizing social media for marketing intellectual property.
For attendees with questions about patents and trademarks that are specific to their own situations, the IIC provides confidential, one-on-one sessions with both the USPTO experts and local attorneys and other resources. Attendees don't receive legal counsel but can obtain practical advice.
Every IIC also offers a wealth of information beyond the patent and trademark application processes. The USPTO brings together representatives from local government and community agencies in each region to showcase resources available for inventors and business owners in their own area. These entities may include local universities, Patent and Trademark Resource Centers, Small Business Development Centers, and BusinessUSA, among many others.
Some of the most popular sessions at IICs are the success stories told by inventors themselves. Audience members may hear a lot that's familiar in these stories-some from inventors who have gone from a single invention at their kitchen table to a $500 million enterprise and large portfolio of patents. Every conference also includes a catered lunch and keynote speaker-often a USPTO senior executive or recognized leader in the inventor or business communities. And attendees also find time to mingle and network with presenters and other attendees. Independent inventors tend to be generous with their time and advice for each other.
Whether you are a seasoned inventor or just starting out with a fresh idea, the USPTO's Independent Inventor Conferences have something for everyone. Check our current events page to see if one is happening near you.