Spring's featured article
Interview with Deputy Commissioner of Patent Administration
Recently, I sat down with Richard (Rick) Seidel, deputy commissioner of patent administration, for a brief interview. The following is what transpired.
Robin Hylton: Hello, Rick. Thank you for taking the time to introduce yourself and to highlight the services of your office to our readers.
Rick Seidel: It is my pleasure. Thank you for the opportunity to increase the awareness of our support and services to the independent inventor community.
Hylton: Terrific. Let’s get started. Rick, you have served the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for many years and in many different capacities. You also have a long history of work with the independent inventor community. Can you share with us how you started working with those inventors and what sparked your passion for that particular community?
Seidel: When I began my career at the USPTO as an examiner, I was in an art area where few independent inventors filed patent applications. It was after transitioning to another art area, mouse traps and fishing lures that I began to encounter pro se inventors and their applications. I realized they did not always understand the patent process (i.e.: how to draft claims that truly encompassed their inventions). I found that I needed to spend more time discussing the application with them to get a clear understanding of what was intended before I could conduct the search and prepare an Office action. Of course, once I became a supervisory patent examiner (SPE) I encountered even more pro se inventors through the examiners I supervised. Here was an opportunity to make a difference for each of those inventors.
Hylton: You currently serve as the deputy commissioner for patent administration. Please tell us about that office and how it carries on your commitment to serving inventors, entrepreneurs, and small business owners.
Seidel: Our work in Patent Administration is to ensure the patent process is transparent and accessible to all inventors. This includes all stages of the patent process -- from electronic filing, to obtaining priority documents, to examination, and ultimately to a granted U.S. patent. We realize that not every inventor knows how to navigate the patent system nor use the services of a registered patent attorney or agent. Therefore, programs, systems, and services must be in place to assist inventors in navigating the patent process as painlessly as possible. That is where the Pro Se Assistance Program comes in.
The Pro Se Assistance Program is a collaborative effort of the Office of Innovation and Development and the Office of Patent Information Management. Like the name implies, it provides assistance to pro se inventors as they navigate the patent system.
Hylton: You mentioned that DCPA includes the OID and the OPIM. Can you talk about programs/services that are available for, and tailored to, independent inventors through these offices?
Seidel: There are many services available through both offices. Too many to discuss fully, so I will highlight just a few.
The Office of Innovation and Development has established programs and initiatives that assist independent inventors, entrepreneurs, and small businesses. For instance, the Pro Se Assistance Center has a dedicated customer service telephone line (571) 272-8877, email address, and in-person service--at the USPTO Alexandria headquarters--available.
A new service available is the Virtual Assistance Program, provided in partnership with select Patent and Trademark Resource Centers. This service allows inventors to speak directly with USPTO representatives and share documents via a secured web-based service for discussion. The program launched in May 2017. Four PTRCs are available in the following locations:
• Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. (Broward County Main Library)
• Amherst, Mass. (University of Massachusetts Science and Engineering Library)
• Morgantown, Ky. (Evansdale Library, West Virginia University)
• Houghton, Mich. (Van Pelt and Opie Library, Michigan Technological University)
This is an exciting development since it potentially alleviates the need for inventors to travel to Alexandria, Va. for a discussion that can take place remotely.
Of course, the pro se assistance webpage is the first resource recommended. The site has helpful information such as application checklists, to guide inventors.
Finally, there are outreach programs like Invention-Con and Inventor Info Chats available to inventors. More information regarding these events can be found on the pro se inventor’s webpage.
OPIM also has services that assist pro se inventors. These include the Application Assistance Unit whose staff can assist with questions regarding application status, filing receipts, missing parts letters, power of attorney, and more. Inventors with questions regarding a specific application are encouraged to call AAU. My recommendation is to have the application number available when you call. That allows the customer service representative to assist you more efficiently.
The Electronic Business Center is the office to call if you have questions regarding submitting your application via EFS-Web, viewing your application information via Public or Private PAIR, technical problems or errors with your Patent Application, PDX/DAS Registration Inquires, and Issues for priority document retrieval. The technical staff can help you navigate the USPTO’s Patent e-Commerce systems.
An exciting initiative from OPIM, is the modifications to the Notice of Missing Parts. Right now, some of the language is a bit vague. There will be added clarification and information to specific areas, such as specification deficiencies, that will make the form more user-friendly.
Finally, there are videos on the Pro Se Assistance Program webpage that are helpful. They include Application Data Sheet training videos as well as videos from prior Inventor Info Chats.
As you can see, there is a lot of information, supporting materials, and staff available to assist pro se inventors and entrepreneurs through both OID and OPIM. I encourage our readers to take a look at what is available to assist them in their quest to secure a patent grant.
Hylton: Invention-Con 2018 is fast-approaching. You were involved in some of the early inventor conferences. In your view, what is the value of that event to the inventor community?
Seidel: Initially, I think that there were about 40-50 attendees at the first independent inventor conference in 1996. Back then, the attendees were given information in three-ring binders. The information was basically a “how to” guide for filing a patent or trademark application. In recent years the information has become more inclusive of success stories of independent, or garage, inventors. What were their challenges and strategies to overcome them? That not only inspires, but motivates people to continue to seek new ideas, driving innovation.
People need to understand the complexity of intellectual property. It is not just about getting a patent grant. You also need to know how to move from concept to patent grant, raise capital, understand the importance of a business plan, and how to strategically and effectively market an invention.
Learning those things is the value of the Independent Inventor’s Conference. The theme of Invention-Con 2018 is “From Concept to Commercialization;” attendees to the conference will learn just that, in addition to exposure to various networking opportunities.
Note: Invention-Con 2018 will be held on Aug. 17 and Aug. 18. Registration is now open via Eventbrite.
Hylton: Before we close the interview, what is the one tip that you would give an inventor who doesn’t know where to start with the patent process?
Seidel: I would encourage an inventor to take advantage of the Pro Se Assistance Program. There are so many services available. The first place to start is our webpage. There you will find information on the patent process, a link to the Inventors Assistance Center, and many other services. You will find an application checklist, information on navigating the application filing system, and links to upcoming events.
If you are visiting the USPTO headquarters in Alexandria, Va., you should take the time to visit the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame Museum. There you will find the names of inventors and various inventions that have heavily impacted society. I think you will find inspiration there.
While visiting USPTO headquarters, you can stop by OID. Appointments are encouraged.
Hylton: Rick, I want to again thank you for your time. As you know, the Inventor’s Eye reaches 30,000 subscribers quarterly. This current issue (as well as archived issues) is accessible via www.uspto.gov. I am sure our readers will find this interview to be enlightening and helpful. And hopefully inspiring as well.