November's featured article
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.