Innovative Americans, tinkering away on their computers and workbenches, have produced a bumper crop of patent applications. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is toiling to work through 620,000 unexamined applications (down from 750,000 when President Obama arrived at the White House.)
In fiscal year 2011, the U.S. Government issued 223,135 patents and mailed nearly 198,600 rejections.
With the growth in trademark requests, and the government’s quest to create jobs, the administration and Congress have taken a few steps to make it easier for inventors to legally protect their creations.
Their latest initiative? More government offices. The Patent Office opened a first-ever satellite office, in Detroit, and has plans to open three more in the months ahead in the Dallas area, around Denver and in Silicon Valley. Local intellectual property gurus will work closely with entrepreneurs to speed through patent applications and appeals. "Now inventors can come in and use public search rooms to find out if patents already exist," says Vikrum Aiyer, a patent office spokesman.
This is all part of the government’s push to encourage American entrepreneurs. The Leahy-Smith America Invents Act—a bi-partisan effort signed into law last year—was seen as the first shakeup of the patents process in half a century. Supporters say it will more easily credit the first person or group who files for a patent, not necessarily the inventor. Critics of the new law say it imposes pressure on all companies to act as fast as possible to seek patents, even if research remains.
The White House says that patents are vital for businesses to get funding to bring a product to market, and that patents create jobs. The U.S. Commerce Department recently issued a report finding that industries rich in intellectual property are the source of 40 million jobs, contributing $5.06 trillion to the U.S. economy in 2010.
Patent Fast Lane
The law ushered in more online and human resources to make the patent review process quicker. One effort is the Track 1 program, which allows people to pay a fee to get a speedier patent review taking less than 12 months. The quicker consideration costs $4,800. Small businesses get a 50 percent discount and micro-entities, defined as a companies with fewer than 10 employees, pay just 25 percent.
Another measure meant to improve efficiency is for patent examiners to interview applicants. “Now I’m given the opportunity to talk to you and you can flesh out specific claims in your application,’’ Aiyer says. "We’re able to resolve questions of uncertainty in the application earlier in the process. It’s minimizing the backlog.’’ Applicants who are interviewed are more likely to get their applications considered, he says.
Patent Road Show
The patent office has been hosting independent inventors' conferences where officials review common queries such as, what is better to have, a patent or a copyright? The office also offers an Intellectual Property Awareness Assessment tool, a web-based tool designed to assess one’s intellectual property assets such as whether a business makes physical products or handles special material.
Next, the patent office will be taking its show on the road. In September patent officials will be visiting eight cities (Minneapolis, Alexandria, Va., Los Angeles, Denver, Detroit, Atlanta, Houston and New York) to share information about new provisions of the America Invents Act, including those concerning the inventor’s oath, pre-issuance submissions, supplemental examinations and various aspects of the review process.
Details can be found on the Patent Office's website.
Suzanne Sataline is a newspaper and magazine writer with 25 years experience, most recently on the staff of The Wall Street Journal. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Popular Science, Washingtonian magazine and The Christian Science Monitor, among others.
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