June's featured article

The White House Executive Actions

Anthony Knight : Office of Innovation Development

Patents are a hot topic these days. Sometimes it seems everyone is talking about them. The White House is no exception.

Back in February, President Obama called on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to work on implementing eight executive actions designed to make the patent system more transparent and accessible for the public. (Five of the actions were previously announced in June 2013.) Since then, the USPTO has been hard at work on these actions. So what's the buzz all about and, more importantly, what's in it for independent inventors and small businesses? More engagement with the USPTO, better quality patents that provide stronger protection in the marketplace, tools and information for consumers and small businesses confronted with patent infringement letters or lawsuits, and assistance for inventors and small businesses in preparing and prosecuting applications through the USPTO.

What exactly do these executive actions entail? "Claims" are the part of a patent that define the scope of its legal protection. They are the heart and soul of the patent, but they can be complicated and difficult to understand for people who are not patent examiners or attorneys. The president has called for better clarity in the way claims are written so that the boundaries for what is legally protected by the patent can be clearly understood by anybody who reads it. In addition to clearer claims, we are exploring ways to make sure that the most pertinent and relevant technical information is considered by examiners. This is one of the keys to ensuring that claims are not overly broad. To do this, we are looking to enhance the use of "crowdsourcing" for these publications, which harnesses the power of the Internet to find relevant publications that can be submitted to the patent examiner for consideration. Finally, we are enhancing examiners' training so that they stay up to date on the latest technological developments.

President Obama has also directed the USPTO to seek more public engagement through the use of round table discussions on such topics as glossaries in some patent applications and examiner access to documents that may not be in the public domain. Several sessions have already been held, and valuable data has been collected, which we are currently analyzing. We were also called upon to provide a tool that small business owners, entrepreneurs, and consumers can use if they are confronted with the threat of a patent lawsuit. This patent litigation tool kit provides useful links to resources and information about the legal process. In this same vein, we are also exploring new rules that allow the public to know clearly the actual owner(s) of a patent, and to store their information in a database at the USPTO for all to see. We have referred to this as naming the real party in interest or "attributable patent ownership."

Finally, we're examining ways to provide more assistance to inventors and small businesses that may not have the income or other financial resources needed to get started in the patent application process. We are currently expanding the Pro Bono program to cover the entire United States so that under-resourced inventors may find an attorney that they can turn to for free services. Additionally, we are looking to expand our own services for under-resourced inventors and small businesses with assistance before their applications are filed. Stay tuned to Inventors Eye for more information about this exciting service.

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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.