August's pro se update article

Pro Se Update

Alex Camarota : Office of Innovation Development

Since October 2014, the Pro Se Assistance Program has provided inventors and entrepreneurs with critical information and assistance. Read on to learn what the program has to offer and success stories of inventors who have used it.

The Pro Se Assistance Program is a pilot program launched in response to a White House initiative to “bring about greater transparency to the patent system and level the playing field for innovators.” The program Web page contains a slate of resources, including an informational video, a checklist of the basic components of a nonprovisional utility patent application, and links to other information and resources on the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) website.          

Users are able to interact with Pro Se Program representatives through a variety of channels: over the phone, by email, or even in-person during a pre-scheduled walk-in appointment. As the pilot approaches its first full year in operation, the amount of assistance it provides inventors filing for patents without an attorney (known as “pro se” applicants) increases steadily.

To date, Pro Se Program representatives have answered thousands of phone calls and responded to hundreds of emails and letters. At the USPTO headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia, program representatives provide direct assistance to dozens of inventors and entrepreneurs every week. Many walk-in customers are in the pre-filing stages of their patent application. The opportunity to sit down one-on-one with a pro se representative and discuss the requirements and components of a patent application has proven to be a great benefit for both applicants and the USPTO. Applicants leave with a better understanding of the process and filing requirements, as well as a packet of all the necessary forms. They also are able and encouraged to contact the same representatives later if they have follow-up questions. Well-equipped applicants such as these are likely to submit applications that are compliant with statute, potentially resulting in a more efficient examination and a higher quality patent.  

All pro se applicants, from those just starting out to those that may have questions about a notice they received or want to confirm the forms they are sending, can benefit from the Pro Se Assistance Program. In some cases, inventors have not yet filed for a patent and are looking for guidance on filing an application. The program is staffed by experienced primary examiners who specialize in pro se applications. Additional customer service is provided by representatives from the Office of Innovation Development, which oversees the program.

Success stories of inventors who have used the program stream in on a daily basis. Take Jerry,* for example, who had an application stuck in the pre-examination pipeline and had received two notices that he hadn’t completed a form properly. The Pro Se Assistance Program helped Jerry, who is elderly, understand the deficiencies and how to correct them. His application finished processing and has now been assigned to an examiner.

Sylvia,* a walk-in customer who had driven down to the USPTO from New York City, wanted to file a provisional application for a patent right away. The problem was Sylvia had not yet done a prior art search or completed a specification of her invention. After an in-depth meeting with a Pro Se representative who explained the process with her, Sylvia decided to stay overnight in Alexandria, Virginia, and work on her application. She returned the next day ready to file a completed provisional application. Sylvia recently contacted the Pro Se Program with the news that she is ready to file a corresponding nonprovisional application on her invention.

It is stories like these that show the importance of the Pro Se Assistance Program. The words of one Pro Se customer say it best: “Working on a nonprovisional application can be challenging. However, with the help of Pro Se, people like me have the chance to bring our ideas to life. I now have the opportunity to fix missing parts in my application. I am thankful for that, and these services should continue in order to maintain the flow of ideas that will continue to create jobs here in the United States. Thanks again!”

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The USPTO gives you useful information and non-legal advice in the areas of patents and trademarks. The patent and trademark statutes and regulations should be consulted before attempting to apply for a patent or register a trademark. These laws and the application process can be complicated. If you have intellectual property that could be patented or registered as a trademark, the use of an attorney or agent who is qualified to represent you in the USPTO is advised.