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A year to remember

Blog by Andrei Iancu, Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO 


“Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering ‘it will be happier’.”

― Alfred Lord Tennyson

The end of a year is always a time for reflection on what we’ve accomplished and where we want to go. In 2020, the world faced a pandemic unlike anything we have seen in a century. Yet, as they always do during difficult times, inventors and entrepreneurs rose to the challenge.

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USPTO year in review: New search tool, shorter examination times, and unexpected higher filing volume among highlights of 2020 for Patents and Trademarks

In an unprecedented year, both the Patents and Trademarks organizations worked tirelessly to ensure that the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) continued to improve its services for the innovation community.

Improved Patent Examinations

Patents continued its focus on improving the quality of patent examination:

  • The Patents End-to-End (PE2E)-Search Tool, a new patent search system, provides examiners with increased access to prior art. This tool currently provides examiners access to 39 million more foreign documents and full English translation documents than the current search tool (EAST/WEST); by April 2021, that number will increase to over 70 million. The search system can also integrate with an artificial intelligence-based tool to help examiners find more relevant prior art.
  • An updated performance appraisal plan for examiners provides a roadmap for enhanced patent quality, including an increased focus on search and the clarity of the written prosecution record.
  • Patent applications are now routed to examiners based on the correspondence of a technological profile of each application and each examiner’s work history profile.

Reduced Patent Examination Time

Under the leadership of Andrew Hirshfeld, who was reappointed as Commissioner for Patents in July 2020, the USPTO continued to reduce average patent examination time. The agency is now issuing final decisions—either allowing a patent or issuing a final rejection—on average within 23.3 months—faster than last year’s 23.8 months and significantly faster than in recent years. 

New Milestones for Trademarks

Under the leadership of the new Commissioner for Trademarks, David Gooder, who joined the agency in February 2020, the Trademarks organization saw several new milestones:

  • All-electronic processing of trademark applications rose to 88.7%, leading to more efficient processing, fewer errors, and more cost-effective transactions for USPTO customers.
  • The gains made in efficiency enabled Trademarks to meet pendency and quality performance goals for the 15th straight year, even as applications increased by 9.6% and operations shifted dramatically. The USPTO issued over 400,000 trademark registrations this year.
  • The Trademark Assistance Center answered 128,370 calls, a 10% increase over the prior year, and responded to 29,246 emails.
  • The organization advanced a number of initiatives to mitigate suspicious filings, fraudulent filings and specimens, and counterfeit products, including a joint anti-counterfeiting campaign with the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC), post-registration audits to validate marks in use, and a new U.S. counsel rule that requires U.S.-based representation for applicants, registrants, or parties to a trademark proceeding before the USPTO.

For more information on the Patents and Trademarks organizations’ work this year, view the full USPTO FY 2020 Performance and Accountability Report (PAR) on the USPTO website.

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USPTO year in review: In March, USPTO transitions 13,000 employees to remote work without missing a beat

After the intensive IT stabilization and modernization efforts of the past two years, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) was well prepared when the agency’s physical offices closed in March due to the pandemic.

The USPTO transitioned seamlessly to mandatory telework, despite having an unprecedented number of employees accessing agency IT systems from home. 

  • On average, over 13,000 secure Virtual Private Network (VPN) connections to the headquarters campus occur every day, a 75% increase over the daily average prior to the pandemic. 
  • Each day, an average of 6,000 participants hold 1,200 virtual meetings using the agency’s secure teleconferencing tools—supported by five system upgrades and configuration enhancements—which connect USPTO employees, contractors, and the public.
  • Over 9,000 patent examiners and trademark examining attorneys working virtually continue to diligently process tens of thousands of patent and trademark applications: examiner productivity has improved by 3%.

Utilizing these tools, the USPTO’s Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) and Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) were among the first tribunals in the nation to conduct virtual hearings, allowing pending appeals to continue on schedule. This year, PTAB held more than 1,024 all-virtual hearings, 213 of which had public attendees.

To support this all-virtual environment, IT and administrative personnel worked together to procure and deploy 2,000 monitors, 3,200 printers, and 4,500 broadband routers to teleworking employees in the first few weeks following the stay-at-home order. 

For more information on the USPTO’s successes in modernizing its technology infrastructure, read the Director’s Forum: A Blog from USPTO’s Leadership on the USPTO website. For all news updates on the USPTO’s responses to the pandemic, please visit USPTO notices regarding COVID-19.

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USPTO year in review: Nearly 400 applications receive prioritized examination under USPTO’s historic COVID-19 relief programs

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) earlier this year launched the COVID-19 Prioritized Patent Examination Pilot Program and the COVID-19 Prioritized Trademark Examination Program.

These programs enable the USPTO to grant requests for prioritized examination to qualifying patent applicants and to accept petitions to advance the initial examination of applications for trademarks used to identify qualifying COVID-19 medical products and services, without payment of the typical fees associated with other prioritized examination.

Since the programs’ enactment in May 2020 for patents and June 2020 for trademarks:

  • 251 patent requests for prioritized patent application examination have been granted, resulting in 33 patents being allowed or granted, and 
  • 129 trademark petitions have been granted.

More than half of the patent applications granted prioritized examination are directed to medical treatments, vaccines, and diagnostic technology. The balance of the applications are directed to ventilators, personal protective equipment (PPE), and other technology related to COVID-19.

Almost half of the trademark petitions granted are for items designed to detect and treat COVID-19. The other half are for PPE and medical goods, as well as medical services related to COVID-19.

“Our staff is working very hard to move COVID-19 related patent and trademark requests, ensuring the intellectual property system is fully responsive to this national emergency,” said Andrei Iancu, Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO. “Over the past two centuries, solutions to some of the nation’s greatest problems have passed through the halls of the USPTO, and it’s very likely that some of the solutions to America’s current pandemic have already been examined by this agency.”

For more information on applying, please visit the patent application and trademark application webpages on the USPTO website. For all news updates on the USPTO’s responses to the pandemic, please visit USPTO notices regarding COVID-19.

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Interview practice and its importance at the USPTO

First Action Interview Pilot Program to end on January 15, 2021

Blog by Andrei Iancu, Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO, and Drew Hirshfeld, Commissioner for Patents

Virtual interview between a patent attorney and a patent examiner

Whether initiated by the applicant or the examiner, interviews during patent prosecution provide an opportunity for the participants to discuss the merits of an application and gain insights that are sometimes not apparent through written exchanges. Examiners are available for telephonic or video interviews, with video interviews gaining in popularity. The USPTO’s improved information technology infrastructure is now permitting high-quality virtual interactions that far exceed past experiences.

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