Progress as Promised? The USPTO Takes Action
In 2011, the President signed the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (AIA) which was designed to increase the efficiency of the patent system. On June 4, 2013, the White House issued a series of executive actions and legislative recommendations designed to protect innovators from frivolous litigation and promote higher-quality patents. In his State of the Union address in January 2014, President Obama renewed his request for passage of a patent reform bill that would help smaller businesses strive for innovation and worry less about litigation. More recently, the White House revealed progress results on the previously announced executive actions, and also announced four new actions with a purpose to increase patent quality.
The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) states that the goal of the intellectual property system is to provide American entrepreneurs (1) the incentives they need to innovate, (2) the tools and resources to help them produce and protect their intellectual property, and (3) the certainty they need to seek investments and balance risk while developing new technologies.
In response to the America Invents Act and legislation from the White House and President Obama, the USPTO has made efforts over the last several years to improve patent quality, to enhance examiner training, to include input from industry experts, and to identify and remove troublesome patents through post-grant review proceedings. The USPTO has used the Executive Actions outlined below as guidelines to make changes and improvements to the patent process.
EXECUTIVE ACTION #1
• Greater transparency of patent ownership information to the public.
In response, the USPTO established a rulemaking process that collects patent ownership information and makes that information available to the public through their website. The goal is to enhance competition, make technology transfers an easier process, promote the highest quality patents, and help the public better defend itself against groundless claims and lawsuits.
EXECUTIVE ACTION #2
• Targeted training for patent examiners to analyze certain types of patent claims that may be overly broad and to increase patent clarity.
In response, the USPTO added a multi-phased training program to their current Patent Examiner Technical Training Program that applies to all examiners and judges. The USPTO also established a pilot program that uses glossaries in patent specifications to define terms in a patent. The goal is to ensure claims are clear, evaluate functional claims, improve examination consistency, and to strengthen the enforceability of patents.
EXECUTIVE ACTION #3
• New education and assistance for patent holders who receive a patent infringement letter.
In response, the USPTO has provided an online toolkit of resources, which can be found at www.uspto.gov/patentlitigation. The goal of this toolkit is to help smaller retailers and consumers by providing them with a variety of free resources, answers to common questions, information about patent suits, and details about specific patents. The toolkit also includes information and links to services and websites to help consumers understand litigation and settlement risks and benefits.
EXECUTIVE ACTION #4
• Expansion of public outreach efforts and increased empirical research.
In response, the USPTO has utilized their Thomas Alva Edison Visiting Scholars program to recruit legal and economic scholars for the purpose of examining and researching intellectual property issues. The goal of this empirical research is to help the Administration better understand the current patent system and to promote improvements to patent policies and laws. The USPTO has also provided educational and practical resources to assist inventors who do not have and/or cannot afford legal representation. A position for a full-time Pro Bono Coordinator has been established and all 50 states have access to this service.
As of today, the USPTO asserts to have implemented the above legislative recommendations and actions and to have made changes and reforms to various aspects of the patent system in order to meet the legislative requirements. The USPTO has stated that as a result of their extensive efforts, they are now seeing evidence of a higher patent quality. Progress as promised.