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Blog Category: Patent and Trademark Office

Encouraging Innovation, Not Litigation

Secretary Pritzker at the White House promoting the Administration's Patent Action

Importance of Patent Reform

America’s entrepreneurs, businesses, and workers are the primary source of new ideas that drive innovation. Patents, trademarks and copyrights–the main protections in our intellectual property (IP) system–are critical tools that help commercialize innovative, game-changing ideas, from advances in healthcare technology to improved consumer products. By creating a better environment for America’s private sector to capitalize on those ideas, IP protections help foster the innovation and creativity that leads to a stronger economy and more jobs.

In 2012, economists at the U.S. Department of Commerce studied industries that use patent, copyright or trademark protections most extensively, and found that these “IP-intensive industries” account for over one-third of our nation’s GDP, more than 60 percent of our exports, and nearly 28 percent of jobs. Clearly, IP protection is a pillar of the United States economy.

Department of Commerce’s Commitment

The Commerce Department is playing a major role in ensuring that the United States remains the world’s strongest ideas-driven economy with a 21st century patent system. A core part of the Commerce Department’s mission is to help American businesses build things here and sell them everywhere around the globe. That is why U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker made innovation a main pillar of the “Open for Business Agenda” that she launched in November to continue to serve entrepreneurs and businesses that drive innovation. 

Uncovering History’s Black Women Inventors

Dr. Patricia E. Bath and a drawing of her patent

Editor's note: This has been cross-posted from Inventor's Eye, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's Publication for the Independent Inventor Community

February and March are Black History Month and Women’s History Month, respectively. Inventors Eye takes a look at past and present to salute the many Black women inventors who have contributed to the growth of innovation in America.

Black women throughout American history have impacted and contributed to our nation’s culture of innovation. Patents offer a unique lens through which to view history. By tracing the technologies patents protect—or once protected—as well as the inventors listed on those patents, an image of the past emerges. The United States Patent and Trademark Office has granted patents for more than 200 years. That’s a lot of history, and it contains many stories of successful black women who have changed the technological face of America. Today, black women continue to ignite the spark of genius and make key and meaningful contributions to America’s inventive process. 

The trove of historical information locked in patents can be a challenge to extract, as patents do not record extensive personal details about inventors such as race. Adding to the difficulty is the common practice of early inventors to use initials as a way to conceal their identity or gender. There is ongoing debate about the first black woman inventor, but modern research tools have made it less difficult to assemble the pieces of the puzzle. Though we may never be able to tell the full story of black women inventors, the findings reveal that they have consistently conceived innovative ideas and aggressively filed patent applications throughout history.

Martha Jones of Amelia County, Va., might have become the first black woman to receive a United States patent. Her application for an “Improvement to the Corn Husker, Sheller” was granted U.S. patent No. 77,494 in 1868. Jones claimed her invention could husk, shell, cut up, and separate husks from corn in one operation, representing a significant step forward in the automation of agricultural processes. Five years later in 1873, Mary Jones De Leon of Baltimore was granted U.S. patent No. 140,253 for a novel cooking apparatus. De Leon’s invention consisted of the construction and arrangement of a device for heating food by dry heat and steam. The design of the apparatus shows that it was an early precursor to the steam tables now found often at food buffets.

Other documented 19th century black women inventors include Judy W. Reed and Sarah Goode. Reed, from Washington, D.C., was granted a patent in 1884 for a dough kneader and roller (U.S. patent No. 305,474) and Goode, from Chicago, was granted a patent in 1885 for a folding cabinet chair (U.S. patent No. 322,177).

A New Partner in Implementing Our Innovation Agenda

A New Partner in Implementing Our Innovation Agenda

Guest blog post from Dr. Patrick Gallagher, NIST Director performing the duties of the Deputy Secretary of Commerce 

Yesterday, I had the honor of swearing in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's (USPTO) new deputy director, Michelle Lee. 

Lee most recently served as the first director of the USPTO’s satellite office in the Silicon Valley, which has one of the nation’s highest concentrations of startups and companies in the high tech industry. While serving as director, Lee and her team actively engaged in patent and trademark education and outreach efforts to the vibrant entrepreneur community in Silicon Valley. 

Beyond the Silicon Valley office, Lee has played a broader role in helping shape key policy matters impacting the nation’s intellectual property system, focusing closely on efforts to continually strengthen patent quality, as well as curbing abusive patent litigation. Prior to becoming Director of the Silicon Valley USPTO, Lee served two terms on the USPTO’s Patent Public Advisory Committee, whose members are appointed by the U.S. Commerce Secretary and serve to advise the USPTO on its policies, goals, performance, budget and user fees.

 The USPTO has four satellite offices nationwide, which enable the agency to provide more resources to more area entrepreneurs, tailor programs to local startups and industries, and more effectively create good-paying, high-skilled jobs. 

The satellite offices are just one part of the USPTO’s work to protect the cutting-edge ideas that keep America globally competitive, help entrepreneurs get their products to market more quickly, and help empower innovators with more resources to protect and scale their products. The agency’s work also puts them in the critical role of supporting the growth of regional innovation ecosystems. 

U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Selects San Jose City Hall as Permanent Space for Silicon Valley Satellite Office

View of exterior of City Hall (credit: Atsuke)

Today, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) announced that the San Jose City Hall building will be the permanent location for the USPTO’s Silicon Valley satellite office, and is scheduled to open by the end of 2014.

The selection of a permanent USPTO office in the Silicon Valley is a key part of the Commerce Department and Obama administration’s efforts to strengthen American innovation. As a driver of U.S. competitiveness and job growth, promoting and strengthening innovation is a major priority in U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker’s “Open for Business Agenda,” which was launched last week.

The USPTO plays a vital role in helping protect cutting-edge, American ideas that drive our economy and keep the U.S. globally competitive. The satellite offices specifically advance the Department’s innovation agenda by helping entrepreneurs get their products to market more quickly, provide tailored resources to local start-ups and industries, and create good paying, high-skilled jobs.

USPTO Celebrates Our Next Generation of Inventors

USPTO Deputy Director Teresa Stanek Rea and Winning Inventors of the “PrestoPatch”

Today Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Deputy Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), Teresa Stanek Rea, welcomed America’s future innovative leaders to the USPTO headquarters for this year’s Collegiate Inventors Competition.

Introduced in 1990 and co-sponsored by the USPTO and Invent Now, the competition encourages invention, entrepreneurship and creativity in students who are working on cutting-edge inventions at their colleges and universities. Outstanding inventions in science, engineering, mathematics, technology (STEM) and other creative fields are judged by a panel of National Inventors Hall of Fame Inductees and USPTO officials.

The competition recognizes inventors and scientists early in their careers, and rewards students’ pioneering ideas as they address the problems of today’s world. Past finalists and winners have gone on to start their own companies based on their inventions, win prestigious fellowships and grants and receive national attention for their work.

This year’s finalists and winners trended strongly towards medical advances. Entries included a next-generation cancer chemotherapy patch; a powered upper body exoskeleton for physical therapy and occupational lifting applications; a mechanical leech for post-surgical treatment of tissue reattachment patients; a DNA sequence-based invention for the early detection of ovarian and endometrial cancers; and an intravenous drip designed to enable clinicians in developing countries to provide dehydrated children with life-saving intravenous fluids without the risk of overhydration.

Commerce Achieves Record Veteran Hiring Numbers in 2013

Veterans Day 2013 - Honoring All Who Served

In honor of Veterans Day, we wanted to take a moment to highlight the Department of Commerce’s commitment to hiring veterans. In Fiscal Year 2013, 13.2 percent of new Commerce hires were veterans and 3.6 percent were disabled veterans, the highest numbers of veterans the Department has employed in over 20 years.

The Department of Commerce (DOC) Veteran Employment Council, made up of volunteer human resources (HR) specialists, advisors, and program managers, plays a major role in hiring and retaining veterans and works with the individuals once they come on board.

“Here at Commerce, we take hiring veterans very seriously,” said Kevin Mahoney, Commerce’s Chief Human Capital Officer and Director, Office of Human Resources Management. “I would like to thank the DOC Veteran Employment Council for their hard work throughout the year, and we look forward to seeing even higher numbers next year.”

This year, the Department of Commerce trained over 3,100 hiring managers and human resources specialists on veterans’ preference and special appointing authorities for veterans and disabled veterans. Top performing agencies in the Department of Commerce for veteran hiring include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) at 31.8 percent, the Office of the Secretary (OS) at 20 percent, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) at 16.2 percent and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) at 13.2 percent.

United States Department of Commerce Plan for Orderly Shutdown Due to Lapse of Congressional Appropriations

Annual funding for the government expired on September 30. The Administration strongly believed that a lapse in funding should not occur. The Department is prepared for a lapse in funding that would necessitate a significant reduction in operations. Prior to a potential lapse in funding, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) required the Department to submit a draft plan for agency operations (PDF) in the absence of appropriations (a “shutdown plan”).

The plan may be modified with additional guidance from the Office of Personnel Management and OMB, and may be changed by the Department, as circumstances warrant. This plan (PDF) complies with the guidance provided by the Office of Management and Budget, the Department of Justice and the Department of Commerce. All employees who are Presidentially Appointed, Senate Confirmed will remain on duty.

In compliance with the restrictions of the Anti-Deficiency Act, the Department of Commerce will maintain the following services and activities during a lapse in FY14 appropriations:

• Weather, water, and climate observing, prediction, forecast, warning, and support
• Law enforcement activities for the protection of marine fisheries
• Fisheries management activities including quota monitoring, observer activities, and regulatory actions to prevent overfishing
• Essential natural resource damage assessment activities associated with the Deepwater Horizon incident
• Water level data for ships entering U.S. ports, critical nautical chart updates and accurate position information.
• Patent and trademark application processing
• Operation of the national timing and synchronization infrastructure as well as the National Vulnerability Database
• Maintenance, continuity and protection of certain research property and critical data records
• All services of the National Technical Information Service
• Export enforcement – the ongoing conduct of criminal investigations, and prosecutions, and coordination with other law enforcement and intelligence agencies in furtherance of our national security
• Budget operations required to support excepted activities under a shutdown, such as tracking of obligations and funds control.

The following services and activities will not be available during a lapse in FY14 appropriations:

• Most research activities at NIST and NOAA (excluding real-time regular models on research computers used for Hurricane and FAA flight planning)
• Assistance and support to recipients of grant funding
• Technical oversight of non-mission essential contracts
• Services and activities provided by:
−Bureau of Economic Analysis
−Economic Development Administration
−Economics and Statistics Administration
−Minority Business Development Agency
−Bureau of the Census
• Most services and activities provided by the International Trade Administration

USPTO Marks Second Anniversary of Milestone Patent Law—The America Invents Act

Deputy Director Teresa Stanek Rea of the United States Patent and Trademark Office provides opening remarks at a public forum marking the 2nd anniversary of the America Invents Act, the biggest overhaul of the nation’s patent laws since the 19th century.

When President Obama took office, he made overhaul of the patent system one of his top priorities. New innovations and ideas play a crucial role in creating American jobs, stimulating our economy, and remaining globally competitive.

And it was two years ago today that the president signed the America Invents Act (AIA) into law, setting in motion the most significant changes to the U.S. patent system since 1836. In just two years, the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s (USPTO) implementation of AIA has contributed to a more internationally harmonized, more predictable, and more flexible patent system for the United States, and one that is much more responsive to 21st century realities.

USPTO Deputy Director Teresa Stanek Rea marked the anniversary during a public forum at USPTO’s headquarters in Alexandria, Va., today. The meeting served as an opportunity to bring stakeholders together with USPTO experts to address and answers questions on AIA provisions.

Secretary Pritzker Tells Employees in the Northwest their Efforts are Key to American Innovation

Secretary Pritzker today in Seattle kicked-off her first visit to the Northwest as Commerce Secretary by visiting with EDA employees and employees from U.S. Export Assistance Center (USEAC), part of the International Trade Administration (ITA), U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) and Office of Inspector General (OIG). The secretary's visit is part of her latest stop on a nationwide listening tour and was an opportunity to thank the employees for their work for the Department of Commerce. 

At the meeting, the Secretary told employees gathered at the EDA regional office that the common thread in the bureaus throughout the department is working together to protect, promote, anticipate and inform what America needs to be competitive and innovative in the 21st century. This is the mission of the Commerce Department.

Secretary Pritzker praised the agencies in attendance for the great work they are doing in the region.

  • U.S. PTO patent examiners were spotlighted for helping Americans turn ideas into businesses quickly, even as PTO has had several straight years of 5 to 7 percent increases in patent applications.
  • The Seattle U.S. Export Assistance Center was praised by the Secretary for their work in industries like aerospace and defense which has proven to be crucial in growing exports and reaching record breaking numbers in the first half of this year. Recent Commerce data show that exports support nearly 40% of all manufacturing workers in Washington.
  • EDA’s regional office was acknowledged for their efforts in serving 8 states and a number of territories. EDA funds helped build a Pipeline Training Center in Alaska, expand a fiber optic network in California and launched several of new Jobs Accelerators. 
  • And, the Inspector General’s office was recognized for the crucial role they play. From reviewing NOAA’s fisheries enforcement efforts, climate monitoring systems, and other NOAA programs, their work ensures the Department is doing the best possible job.

Secretary Pritzker concluded her visit by encouraging the employees to continue their great work. She believes America is more competitive than ever before. Over the past 41 months, 7.3 million jobs were created. She said the Commerce Department’s goal is to accelerate that momentum through the great work of Commerce employees in the Northwest region, throughout the country, and across the world.

Commerce's Internet Policy Task Force Releases Report on Digital Copyright Policy

Report cover

Department Publishes Green Paper on Updating Copyright Policies for the Internet Age

The U.S. Department of Commerce today released a green paper on Copyright Policy, Creativity, and Innovation in the Digital Economy (Green Paper) to advance discussion on a set of policy issues critical to economic growth. The Green Paper discusses the goals of maintaining an appropriate balance between rights and exceptions as the law continues to be updated; ensuring that copyright can be meaningfully enforced on the Internet; and furthering the development of an efficient online marketplace.

The Green Paper released today is the most thorough and comprehensive analysis of digital copyright policy issued by any administration since 1995. The report is a product of the Department of Commerce’s Internet Policy Task Force (IPTF) with input from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). Through the IPTF, the USPTO and NTIA will solicit further public comments and convene roundtables and forums on a number of key policy issues.

“Copyright law strikes a number of important balances in delineating what is protectable and what is not, determining what uses are permitted without a license, and establishing appropriate enforcement mechanisms to combat piracy, so that all stakeholders benefit from the protection afforded by copyright,” said U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker. “Ensuring that our copyright policy provides incentives for creativity while promoting innovation on the Internet is a critical and challenging task. The Green Paper released today is an important step toward ensuring that the United States’ creative industries continue to have a substantial impact on strengthening our nation’s economy.” 

Copyright has been a vital contributor to U.S. cultural and economic development for more than two hundred years, fostering the production and dissemination of the valuable expression that has put America at the forefront of the global creative marketplace. Maintaining a balanced and effective copyright system should continue to drive the production of creative works while at the same time preserving the innovative power of the Internet and the free flow of information. The Green Paper provides a comprehensive review of current policy related to copyright and the Internet, and identifies important issues that call for attention and development of solutions. The solutions may entail a combination of legal remedies, technology, private sector cooperation, and public outreach and education, along with the continued development of options to legally access copyrighted works.