United States Patent Office

Updates from America’s innovation agency
  1. A post about the USPTO from the Department of Commerce.

    Megan Miller, Plain Language Writer/Editor, USPTO. (Photo by Jay Premack/USPTO)

    After earning my engineering degree and serving in the Navy for seven years, the next logical step in my career was to take a position as a writer-editor. Sounds disjointed? It's a more natural progression than you might think.

    Growing up, I loved math and science. Math homework was my favorite! It was so satisfying to start with a few numbers and a question, then figure out what to do with those numbers to find the answer. In science classes, I asked enough questions to try the patience of both my teachers and fellow students. Predictably, I went to college to be an engineer. I studied biomedical engineering at the University of Rochester. It was fascinating to learn about how the human body works and how the biomedical field uses technology to make it work better. I couldn't wait to graduate and use my skills to build things that would solve real-world problems.

    As graduation grew closer, though, I decided I wanted to explore the world of engineering from a different perspective. So, I joined the Navy to study and work in nuclear propulsion. In my training, I learned how the Navy harnesses fission to move ships. It was staggering to learn about a system that starts with a few neutrons zooming around and ends with an aircraft carrier zooming through the ocean. Again, I was awestruck at how engineering gives us systems that are cohesive, despite their complexity, to elegantly solve the world's problems.

    During my time in the Navy, in addition to studying nuclear power, I was also a division officer. That meant that I bridged the gap between the command's leadership and the sailors in my division. Despite being on the same ship, those two groups had dramatically different needs and perspectives. Leadership focused on accomplishing the ship's mission and keeping the ship and crew safe. My sailors, on the other hand, were concerned about maintaining and operating a complicated weapon system. When those priorities were at odds, fulfilling my role as a liaison could be quite challenging. I quickly learned that in any form of communication, it's vitally important to start by understanding the needs and perspectives of the other person. The only way to reach them is to shape your message with those needs in mind. Ignore those needs, and you'll fail. For me, a few big failures helped me learn the lesson. Seven years of smaller failures helped me hone the skill, which is fundamental to effective communication.

    These experiences laid the groundwork for my career as a writer-editor at the USPTO. My focus in writing and editing is plain language. That doesn't mean that I dumb things down or that I make every piece of content understandable to the general public. It means that I write and edit so my audience can easily find, understand, and use the information they need.

    It's all about audience; understanding their needs is the cornerstone of writing in plain language. For me, writing in plain language requires employing the communication skills I developed and refined in the Navy. So, my plain language savvy is a direct result of my service.

    Even if you have a clear understanding of your audience, though, writing clearly can still be quite challenging. There are many obstacles to overcome. Sometimes, you're writing to multiple audiences who have vastly different needs. Sometimes, your organization's needs conflict with your audience's needs. Legal topics add another layer of obstacles. Sometimes, when you explain legal concept in the most straightforward way, you get a statement that's only true 99% of the time, making it legally inaccurate. Communicating clearly despite these roadblocks can be difficult, but it's possible. My job is to do just that, and it's my favorite part of writing and editing. Thinking outside the box to find ways to communicate clearly within these constraints is, dare I say, fun. I never expected words to be my medium for solving problems as an adult, but it's just as satisfying as the problem sets I loved as a kid. 

    My job is to serve Americans by making the information they need more accessible, using words to solve problems along the way. Though I thought I'd grow up to be a distinguished scientist or brilliant inventor, now I know that it's just as fulfilling to be a word engineer.

    Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting the contributions of Department of Commerce military veterans in honor of Veterans Day.

  2. A blog about the USPTO from the Department of Commerce.

    Guest blog by Supervisory Patent ExaminerJim H. Alstrum-Acevedo

    Supervisory Patent Examiner Jim Alstrum-Acevedo

    Jim Alstrum-Acevedo, Supervisory Patent Examiner at the USPTO. (Photo by Jay Premack/USPTO)

    I am a Supervisory Patent Examiner (SPE), whose team examines pharmaceutical and biotechnology patent applications. My skilled team of fifteen examiners evaluates patents concerning short polypeptides having less than 100 amino acids, compositions containing these polypeptides, and methods of making and using these compounds. Examples of polypeptides examined by my team include insulin derivatives used to improve the treatment of diabetes mellitus as well as polypeptides with uses as antibiotics effective against antibiotic resistant bacteria, immunosuppresants useful in organ transplantation, and polypeptides to control blood clotting for the treatment of clotting disorders, such as, hemophilia. In short, the patents issued by my team help promote the well-being and health of people all over the country by facilitating intellectual property protection for new peptidic drugs, pharmaceutical compositions, and treatments for chronic diseases (e.g. diabetes) and public health concerns, such as bacterial infections caused by methicillin resistant S. aureus (MRSA).

    I was born in Bogotá, Colombia to a Connecticut yankee, who was a former Peace Corps volunteer and an aspiring literature and Spanish language professor, and his smart Colombian wife, who was a high school English teacher. My family moved first from the high mesa of Bogotá to Laramie, Wyoming and Oxford, Mississippi, before settling down in Normal, Illinois, where my father was a Spanish language and Colombian literature professor, and my mom was a family counselor, after finishing a master’s degree in counseling. I grew up in an environment that emphasized education, learning, and helping others. My parents set a great example for me and my three siblings by their love of books, teaching, and service to others through their chosen professions, and work helping out the local Latino community in central Illinois.

    Unlike patent examiners in many other areas of patents at the USPTO, I’m not an engineer. I have a Ph.D. in inorganic chemistry from UNC Chapel Hill. For my dissertation, I worked on the synthesis of photoactive inorganic coordination compounds that I appended to organic polymers to obtain an “artificial photosynthetic system.” I did a short post-doc and was hired to be a patent examiner in Technical Center 1600 in 2005. After a few years of patent examining, I decided to get a juris doctor (JD) in the part-time program at The George Washington University and passed the Virginia bar in 2012. Having a law degree has helped me better understand case law, the positions advocated by applicants’ attorneys during patent prosecution, and to facilitate communication between examiners and applicants.

    I am a people person and helping others is something I really enjoy and find rewarding in my job as a SPE and in other interests that I have. For example, I am a member and president of the USPTO professional chapter of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, an affinity/employee resource group, which seeks to promote STEM education at all levels, provide a sense of family to SHPE members at the USPTO, and help with recruitment of talented Hispanics into STEM-based positions at the USPTO.  I’m also involved in a local non-profit called Asian American Success (AASuccess), which provides life skills training to Asian American youth, especially from the local Vietnamese community and remotely to a community in Vietnam. AASuccess tries to inspire youth to make giving back a key facet of their lives as they acquire life skills that will help them succeed in their chosen careers.

    Hispanic Heritage Month runs each year from September 15 through October 15 and highlights the many contributions Hispanics have made and continue to make to our great nation in various areas ranging from science and technology, to service in the armed services, and enriching our culture through new creative works, such as Lin-Manuel Miranda’s recent musical, Hamilton. This yearly celebration is also a great opportunity to inspire Hispanic youth, who are under-represented in STEM fields, to strive for careers in STEM so they can become tomorrow’s innovators, physicians, and educators who will continue to improve the lives of people all across the world.

    My advice for today’s youth interested in a career as a patent examiner or in STEM generally is to follow your passions, believe in yourself, ask questions, and always try to keep learning something new, regardless of where your life path takes you.

    Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting the contributions of Department of Commerce Hispanic employees in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15--October 15).

  3. Guest blog by Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO Laura Peter

    Can a 16-year old young woman change the world? Grant her a patent and watch her! Recently, we were privileged to hear an inspiring keynote from Kavita Shukla—an innovator, entrepreneur, and CEO—who is the force behind Freshglow Co. and inventor of FreshPaper. Her patented technology prevents food spoilage and helps avert hunger around the world. After receiving her first patent at the age of 16 and selling FreshPaper at farmers markets, she built her business from the ground up and became an award winning and successful entrepreneur. 

    Invention-Con keynote speaker Kavita Shukla describes her journey as an inventor and entrepreneur. (photo by Cynthia Blancaflor/USPTO)

    She joined other notable speakers Invention-Con 2019, hosted by the USPTO at our headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia. Invention-Con is an outstanding opportunity for inventors, makers, and entrepreneurs to meet and learn from each other, attend workshops, and hear from our officials and intellectual property (IP) experts. Agencies including the Small Business Administration and Copyright Office also presented useful educational materials during the conference.

    As it has been the last several years, the two-day event was completely sold out, with over 170 in-person attendees and over 4,000 unique online viewers. Many attendees were new to IP and wanted to learn whether it’s worth patenting their idea or registering a trademark for their product or business. IP professionals from the USPTO and other agencies were able to provide them with an introduction to IP and helped guide them to the resources they needed. Other attendees were already patented inventors who have a product ready for manufacture and wanted to know how to get it from the workshop to the marketplace. For them, we showcased entrepreneurs like Kavita to share their stories and offer hard-earned lessons.

    We were lucky to hear from many speakers who shared their stories about obtaining IP protection, developing a business, and commercializing a product. Past Invention-Con favorite, Howie Busch, an inventor and entrepreneur, hosted a panel of Shark Tank contestants. These Shark Tank speakers had great advice to share with our attendees on how to stand out, develop, fund, and market their products.

    Entrepreneur Howie Busch (right) moderates the panel “Swim with the Sharks: Learn how national exposure changes your business,” comprised of past Shark Tank contestants. (Photo by Cynthia Blancaflor/USPTO)

    It is not uncommon for inventors to return to Invention-Con, year after year. One example is Ruth Young, who after attending in 2017 and 2018 took advantage of the USPTO’s Law School Clinic Certification, Pro Bono, and Pro Se programs. This year, she joined us as a panelist and shared her inspirational invention journey.

    Prior to joining the USPTO, I worked with high-tech startups as an IP attorney in Silicon Valley.  I know that launching a business can often be an overwhelming and intimidating experience, and the patent process is one more task that is added. The USPTO issues nearly 25% of patents to small and micro-entities, and the percentage of micro-entity patents has grown every year since the USPTO introduced that category for patent applications. In fact, the USPTO issues over 300,000 patents a year, and over 7,500 of those are to micro-entities, including to independent inventors.

    It only takes one really good idea to launch a successful enterprise, and it is inspiring to see that many of them are also looking to help society. Consider, for example, the story of Alice Chun, whose company Solight Design was a winner of the 2018 Patents for Humanity award for the SolarPUFF™, a compact foldable light made of a flexible waterproof material with a solar panel on top. Alice was inspired after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti to create a product that made light after dark available for the 1.6 billion people still living without electricity. Although the SolarPUFF™ was designed with developing countries in mind, this unique light has also found a market in camping and other outdoor uses. By issuing patents to independent inventors like Alice Chun, in addition to larger entities, the USPTO is helping sow the seeds of success for many other small companies that will continue to invigorate our thriving innovation economy.

    History has shown that IP rights have been indispensable to our country’s prosperity and economic growth. In fact, our founders thought IP rights were so important, they had the foresight to enshrine them in our Constitution. In Article I, Section 8, Clause 8, they granted Congress the power “To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.”

    Since then, we have benefitted from the development of electric lighting, powered flight, DNA synthesis, the internet, and countless other transformational technologies. At the USPTO, we are seeing an increasing number of developing technologies that we will benefit from tomorrow, such as artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, and biotechnology.

    IP is of key importance to this progress. A 2016 report by the USPTO estimated that in 2014, IP-intensive industries supported 45.5 million jobs in the U.S. and contributed $6.6 trillion to the U.S. economy, equivalent to 38.2% of GDP. It is in our interest—in fact, it is our mission—to help all inventors achieve their goals by protecting the fruits of their imagination and determination. Every day, our patent examiners and trademark examiners work with inventors and businesspeople to secure and protect their IP rights for their innovations and brands.

    Innovation is the great equalizer. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you came from. It’s what you can do that gets you IP rights. And, the USPTO’s doors are open to everyone, from all walks of life. Inventors and entrepreneurs are the heart and soul of innovation in America. We at the USPTO remember that every day as we walk through these doors.

    Together with Deputy Commissioner for Patents Andrew Faile and Commissioner for Trademarks Mary Boney Denison, it was a pleasure to meet so many innovative and creative entrepreneurs. If you missed Invention-Con, you can watch recordings of the sessions in the videos section of the USPTO Facebook page. The Invention-Con 2019 booklet also provides a valuable list of services we offer to support inventors, as well as who to contact to learn more. We hope you can join us next year for another incredibly educational and useful Invention-Con!

  4. A blog about the USPTO from the Department of Commerce.

    Ed. note: This post is part of the very first Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting the contributions of Department of Commerce employees who are First Generation Professionals. First Generation Professionals are one of the first in their immediate families to enter the professional work environment. They are professionals with varying socio-economic backgrounds, life experiences, skills and talents that diversify our workforce.

    Blog post by Tariq Hafiz, Group Director, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

    Tariq Hafiz, Group Director at the USPTO

    Tariq Hafiz, Group Director, USPTO

    My name is Tariq and I am a first generation professional. I came to the United States of America at the age of 10 and immediately attended elementary school without knowing a word of English. I learned the English alphabet in the 4th grade. I was the only immigrant in the whole school.

    While growing up being an immigrant and eventually being the first in my family to attend college was not an easy road, it also was extremely fulfilling. Although my parents could not provide me with guidance on how to access and navigate college or give me career advice, they were supportive of my goals. My mother did not speak English and had not even completed grade school, while my father had only completed high school. One of the traits that I acquired from my father was an ethic for hard work. Even though he had a non-professional job, he always went to work, and I rarely saw him take a sick day. In fact, I don’t ever remember him taking a day off except for one week of vacation every August.

    When I landed my first professional job after graduation, I was extremely grateful. I knew that I had to work extra hard to show my gratitude and ensure that there was nothing that would jeopardize my job, due to a lack of effort.  After a few years with a defense contractor, I came to work at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) where I began my career as a patent examiner. As a patent examiner, my performance was based on objective goals, which was an environment in which I thrived. Thus, I moved up the ladder quickly. I worked my way up to management positions, and after successfully completing the Department of Commerce's Candidate Development Program, I became a member of the Senior Executive Service (SES).

    Throughout my career, I have mentored many employees–both professional and non-professional staff–helping them with their career development. Growing up without role models made me appreciate how important they are in a person’s career development. I hope that through mentoring employees, I can be a role model for others in their lives.

    On September 12, the Department of Commerce hosted the inaugural First Generation Professionals 2019 Summit, and Tariq participated as a guest speaker. Learn more about the First Generation Professionals Initiative.

  5. Blog by Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO Laura Peter and Director of the Rocky Mountain Regional Office Molly Kocialski

    The Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) and Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) have been making significant strides improving access to hearings, ensuring transparency in proceedings, and providing an effective alternative to district court litigation. The USPTO’s four regional offices in Dallas, San Jose, Denver, and Detroit augment these improvements by offering regional hearing facilities for PTAB and TTAB matters.

    At the USPTO, we understand that when an attorney advocates on behalf of a client, or when entrepreneurs or small businesses want to protect their investments, there are many IP-related concerns to consider, including the costs of appeals and trials and ease of access to proceedings. This is why we have worked, and will continue to work, to provide local and regional innovators with the tools, information and resources they need to succeed and ultimately, protect their innovations.

    As an example of how we are improving our services for stakeholders of PTAB and TTAB services, after a year-long renovation process recently completed in our Rocky Mountain Regional Office (RMRO), the layout now allows for better participation by stakeholders in hearings, and public viewing when available. The RMRO hearing room has been reconfigured for better space utilization, and to have increased capacity. Upgrades such as these will continue in all USPTO offices (including Alexandria Hearing Room D) to, for example, increase the occupancy size to accommodate viewers of public hearings. Along with the space renovations, the audiovisual equipment is also being updated in all of the USPTO offices, as budget allows, to ensure that each and every hearing room continues to provide the dignity the proceedings deserve. This will ensure that every regional office can reach their growing stakeholder needs for such services to the best of their ability.

    Previous configuration of the hearing room at the Rocky Mountain Regional Office

    The hearing room at the Rocky Mountain Regional U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, before construction with a capacity of 12.

    Updated hearing room in the Rocky Mountain Regional Office

    The hearing room at the Rocky Mountain Regional U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, newly redesigned, with a capacity of 70.

    TTAB allows practitioners to make use of the hearing rooms in the regional offices in their practice before the TTAB. Since time and cost constraints can frequently pose a hurdle to a client’s attendance at TTAB hearings, the regional offices can provide a more convenient and cost-effective venue, so that clients can stay attuned to and be present for proceedings that can significantly affect their trademark interests. The facilities present at the USPTO regional offices in Detroit, Denver, San Jose and Dallas now enable clients the opportunity to now be able to attend the hearings that affect the protection of their brand investments.

    With regard to PTAB, Notices of Hearing will now include a QR code printed on the notice to allow recipients to more easily access the recently published PTAB Hearings Guide. The PTAB Hearing Guide provides an easy reference guide for any hearings-related questions including scheduling for both ex parte appeals and American Invents Act (AIA) trials. The Hearings Guide also includes instructions on how to exercise the option to attend or view hearings not only at headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia, but also at any of the regional offices. This allows stakeholders across the country the ability to be more active in the protection of their intellectual property rights, and also to stay more acutely attuned to recent Board proceedings and decisions.

    Hearings in AIA trials are scheduled as set forth in an order issued by the adjudicating panel. The scheduling order generally will indicate if a panel is available to hold a final hearing in a regional office or location outside of Alexandria, Virginia, and will provide guidance on how a party may request a location preference. If a location preference is requested, the hearing date choice will take into account a judge’s schedule in the requested regional office.

    In both TTAB and PTAB hearings, including for ex parte appeals and AIA trials, the client can request to view the hearing in the regional office, regardless of whether their legal counsel is presenting arguments at USPTO headquarters or at a different regional office–meaning the client can view the hearing at the office most convenient for the client. In addition, for oral hearings open to the public, the regional offices hearings facilities allow for increased opportunity for practitioners and law students to attend and observe oral arguments to further their own education and skillsets. Patent Precedential Opinion Panel (POP) hearings will also be streamed from headquarters to the regional offices for public viewing in the hearing rooms.
    If you are interested in attending a public hearing at a regional office, the information is available in the Hearings Guide, or you may contact our regional offices directly through the information found on their respective sections of the USPTO website. For further questions about any of these improvements, please contact your local USPTO regional office.

  6. Blog by Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO Andrei Iancu, and Director of the Rocky Mountain Regional Office Molly Kocialski

    Five years ago this summer, we opened our Rocky Mountain Regional Office (RMRO) in the Byron G. Rogers Building in downtown Denver. It was a huge day for both the USPTO and the people of Denver, whose great city is home to 24 federally funded research laboratories, four major research universities, and a creative and innovative environment full of start-ups. It also helped fulfill a key promise of the America Invents Act, to better connect inventors and entrepreneurs around the country with the resources of the USPTO.

    Since that day in 2014, the RMRO has engaged with more than 90,000 regional stakeholders through over 1,260 outreach and education events in Montana, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, and Colorado.

    The Byron G. Rogers Federal Building in downtown Denver- home of the Rocky Mountain Regional U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (Photo by Jay Premack/USPTO)

    The RMRO is paving the way on regular educational programming like our quarterly Trademark Tuesday and Path-to-a-Patent programs. These are broadcast region-wide through the help of our very engaged Patent and Trademark Resource Centers. Another way we have removed obstacles and increased access to IP resources is by encouraging more personal interactions with the USPTO. Today, inventors and entrepreneurs can walk into the RMRO, use the public search facility, and easily obtain answers to their questions. Additionally, IP practitioners and their clients can conduct examiner interviews, participate in Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) hearings, or view other public hearings, all from our office.

    Recruiting and retaining local talent is a key goal for the USPTO, with the added benefit of providing jobs for the local community. The last two classes of examiner recruits had 425 applicants for 25 jobs in 2018 and 317 applicants for 17 jobs in 2019, respectively. Such demand for our available positions is impressive for a state with approximately a 2.5 percent unemployment rate in each of those years, and we hope to answer more of that demand as we grow in the years to come. In addition, there are 94 employees in the Rocky Mountain Regional Office plus 246 examiners hoteling throughout the region—quite a change from 49 hoteling examiners prior to the regional office opening in 2014.

    The RMRO is the first USPTO regional office to have representation from all technology centers, allowing for improved communication and sharing of resources between examiners and stakeholders. We also have seven classes of new patent examiners as well as 10 PTAB judges, an outreach officer, and support staff. In addition, our physical space in the Byron Rogers Federal Building has grown, with updates and improvements to a public search facility, interview room, and newly redesigned hearing room.

    People truly want to be in Denver, and if you are here for even a short time you will understand why. We are proud of the role the USPTO is playing in the “Mile High City” and the connection with the local community that we have built in such a short time. We look forward to continued growth, partnership, and innovation here and throughout the Rocky Mountain region in the next five years and beyond.

  7. Guest blog by Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Deputy Director of the USPTO Laura Peter 

    Image showing the text "Artificial intelligence: intellectual property policy considerations"

    As a former Silicon Valley intellectual property attorney for more than 20 years, the potential of disruptive technology has long been of special interest to me. Artificial intelligence (AI) promises to be one of the most important innovations that powers many disruptive ventures and brings exciting changes to our legal system. AI is already influencing the way we work, travel, shop, and play.

    From autonomous vehicles to improved medical diagnostics to voice assistants, AI is increasingly at the forefront of innovation. As a continuation of the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s (USPTO) policy leadership in the field of AI, the USPTO convened a conference on Artificial Intelligence: Intellectual Property Policy Considerations on January 31 this year. With six panels featuring IP specialists from around the world, the USPTO considered AI’s impact on our innovation ecosystem.

    The USPTO continues to promote and protect AI-technology innovations and entrepreneurship. With respect to AI inventions to date, the USPTO has issued thousands of patents on AI technologies, and the future grows more exciting every day as new AI technologies are developed. However, with excitement comes change and the potential for uncertainty. Therefore, the USPTO must continue to ensure the appropriate balance in the administration of our IP system.

    With this in mind, the USPTO looks forward to working with the AI academic and industrial community. Working together, we will continuously improve the USPTO’s efforts to foster innovation, competitiveness, and job growth.

    I am also excited to announce that we will be publishing a notice in the Federal Register that poses questions regarding the intersection of patent law with AI that the public may respond to. This first step will allow us to gather information on AI patent policy issues for purposes of evaluating whether further guidance is needed and informing the development of any such guidance. Questions the public is invited to reply to include:

    • Do current patent laws and regulations regarding inventorship need to be revised to take into account inventions where an entity or entities other than a natural person contributed to the conception of an AI invention or any other invention?
    • Are there any patent eligibility considerations unique to AI inventions?
    • Does AI impact the level of a person of ordinary skill in the art?
    • Do the disclosure rules (enablement, specification, etc.) need to be altered for AI-related patent applications?

    This is just a sample of some of the issues on which the USPTO is seeking input regarding AI patent policy.  And this is only the first step. In addition to patents, in the coming months and beyond, the USPTO will examine the full spectrum of intellectual property policy issues that have arisen, or may arise, as AI technologies become more advanced. From AI’s impact on existing intellectual property rights, including copyright and trademarks, to considering if new legal rights are needed in the wake of more advanced AI, the USPTO will continue our thought leadership on AI-related intellectual property policy issues.

  8. Guest blog by Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Deputy Director of the USPTO Laura Peter

    “Sitting back in the evening, stargazing and stroking your dog, is an infallible remedy.”
    -Ralph Waldo Emerson

    The “dog days of summer” have arrived! According to the Farmer’s Almanac, they traditionally take place from July 3rd to August 11th. You may be surprised to learn that the phrase “dog days of summer” originated with the Greeks and Romans and is derived from the “dog star” Sirius and its position in the sky during this time. These days may be the hottest days of the year, depending on your latitude on Earth.

    Intellectual property (IP) rights power the U.S. economy across many industries, including the pet sector. Patents on technical innovations and trademarks on branding are critical assets in the pet industry. In fact, legal specialization to support the pet industry has taken off: a number of law firms have now launched practices around food, beverage, and pet issues, representing a wide array of industry leaders on matters ranging from litigation, regulatory, and IP rights. Similarly, government oversight over the pet industry has grown to agencies including the Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Federal Trade Commission.

    Growth in the pet sector has soared, and shows continued economic strength, even during times of recession. Currently, sixty-eight percent of U.S. households, or about 85 million families, own a pet. Over 43 million of those households own dogs. In 2018, the pet industry in the United States was $72 billion; it is estimated to exceed $75 billion in 2019. The largest sector of this industry is pet health care, with $18 billion spent on vet care and $16 billion spent on supplies and over the counter medication. A close second is the pet food sector, which grossed $30 billion last year. Dog owners spend almost $1,300 a year on their pets.

    Underpinning the powerful growth of the pet industry economy is strong IP protection. While we may be familiar with some of the big brand names in the pet retailer space, we are also seeing record-setting growth and entrepreneurial activity and inventions by new innovators. Entrepreneurs launching start-ups and building new businesses rely on patent protection and trademark registration as a means of differentiating their products and attracting customer loyalty. Also, IP protection wards off infringers and counterfeit goods. However, even though legally empowered with intellectual property rights, sadly, the threat of counterfeiting now requires the Environmental Protection Agency and other regulators to post frequent warnings about the dangers of counterfeit pet medicines and/or pet food that can harm pets, as well as nascent businesses.

    So let’s take a closer look at some examples of innovations driving this thriving industry.

    • The Frisbee™ is still one of the most beloved dog toy inventions. Fred Morrison created and sold the first flying disc toy, named the Pluto Platter in 1955. Morrison filed a design patent (U.S. Patent No. D183,626) in 1957. He then sold the rights to Wham-O, who renamed the toy and received a trademark registration for “Frisbee” in 1959, named after the pie tin sold by the Frisbie Pie Company in the late 1800s. While working for Wham-O, Edward Headrick designed an improved “Flying Saucer,” for which he was granted a patent in 1967. 

     

    Morrison patent for flying disc toy 

    Morrison patent for "flying disc toy."

    • The automotive market has expanded to cater to our pets. For example, Tesla has created a “dog mode” so you can leave your pet in the car with the air conditioning (or heat) on while you run a quick errand. The console informs people passing by: “My owner will be back soon. Don’t worry! The A/C is on and it’s [temperature].”

     

    Tesla "dog mode" showing a cat and dog inside a car

    Tesla has created a “dog mode” where pets can be left in a car for a short time with the air conditioning (or heat) on. (Photo courtesy of Tesla)

    • In the fitness sector, you can track your pet’s activity with “smart collars,” which function similarly to the human activity tracker, FitBit. There are multiple patents directed to tracking systems for monitoring a pet’s location, activity, training, and creating virtual fences.
    • To keep our pets safe, implantable microchip devices equipped with GPS can help find the almost 10 million pets that are lost every year. Numerous patents directed to implantable microchip devices, which are generally the size of a grain of rice, can be implanted by your local veterinarian.
    • Some pets struggle with health problems, including joint ailments or even lost limbs. In the 1950s, inventor Carl Creamer received a patent for a “Mobile Sling for Crippled Animals” (U.S. Patent No. 2,546,726). These veterinary prosthetic carts are intended to help animals experiencing a range of health issues including, spinal damage, forelimb or shoulder pain or weakness, degenerative myelopathy, elbow dysplasia, and other joint and limb ailments. His patent has spawned a cottage industry of device manufacturers working on a range of new and improved designs to assist with a variety of ailments for a range of breeds.

     

    Carl Creamer patent for dog sling

    Carl Creamer patent for "mobile sling for crippled animals."

    • Taking this to another level in the health industry, prosthetic implants made by 3D printing techniques can help disabled pets attain a better quality of life. Many of these devices were inspired by similar devices designed for humans. Virginia-based Animal Ortho Care, and its founder Derrick Campana, was one of the first to use 3D-printed prosthetics for animals. He is one of only 10 people in the world to design prosthetics for animals, including elephants, cows, goats, horses, dogs, and cats.

     

    Throughout the “dog days of summer,” including National Dog Day on August 26th, follow the USPTO on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram for more examples of pet-related inventions and trademarks, as we celebrate the ways in which these inventions have made our pets and us happier, healthier, and safer.

  9. By Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Andrei Iancu

    During National Military Appreciation Month, we recognize the role that innovation has played in America’s military strength and honor the service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform.

    On May 2, we celebrated the 2019 National Inventors Hall of Fame (NIHF) inductees at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. Andrew Higgins, the inventor of the LCVP (Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel) known as the “Higgins Boat,” was among the notable inventors honored. Most people recognize the Higgins Boat as the amphibious craft used to land American troops and equipment on the beaches of Normandy and the shores of Iwo Jima. In partnership with the NIHF museum, here at the USPTO headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia, we have an actual Higgins Boat on display until the end of July. Visitors are encouraged to board the craft and learn about the “boat that won the war.” The NIHF Museum, also located at the USPTO, offers American flags for visitors to plant near the exhibit to honor the service of our nation’s veterans.

    Director Iancu and Deputy Director Peter with the Higgins boat

    Director Andrei Iancu and Deputy Director Laura Peter plant flags by the Higgins boat on display outside the USPTO headquarters (Photo by Jay Premack/USPTO)

    The USPTO is strongly committed to hiring veterans. The qualities the military teaches, in addition to the diverse experiences service members have, means that veterans have a great deal to bring to any team. That is why the USPTO has a robust veterans hiring program. Since the program’s inception in 2012, the USPTO has hired about 800 veterans or transitioning service members, which accounts for 6% of our agency’s total workforce. Our veterans tell us how proud they are that by joining the USPTO after active duty, they can continue to serve their country by protecting American assets – in this case, intellectual property. Veterans contribute to our mission in the areas of science and engineering, information technology, contracts, procurement, finance, administration, project and program management, and customer support. Each day, I see these men and women bring to their work at the USPTO the same spirit of selfless service and love of country that led them to serve in uniform.

    On May 23, I and other USPTO employees participated in our annual Memorial Day observance, organized by the USPTO Military Association, which includes the Walk of Thankful Recognition, from USPTO headquarters to the Alexandria National Cemetery. Each participant was provided a card describing the life of a veteran buried at the cemetery and encouraged to pay his or her respects at the gravesite. As always, this was an extremely meaningful and moving event.

    This Memorial Day, we join with the rest of our citizenry to honor and remember those who have served and those who have sacrificed for our nation. On behalf of the USPTO, we thank the inventors whose ideas keep our military on the cutting edge, as well as the proud men and women who served in our armed forces.

  10. A blog about the USPTO from the Department of Commerce.

    Ed. Note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting the contributions of Department of Commerce employees in honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month.

    Charles Kim

    Charles Kim, Director of the Office of Petitions. (Photo by Jay Premack/USPTO)

    As the Director of the Office of Petitions, I oversee a talented group of petitions examiners, attorneys, and paralegals that review over 45 different types of petitions and issue approximately 40,000 petition decisions per year. By issuing high quality and timely petition decisions, the Office of Petitions supports the USPTO’s strategic goal of optimizing patent timeliness and helps to promote the reliability and predictability of patent rights.

    I was born in Seoul, South Korea. My family immigrated to the U.S. when I was four years old.  Like many Asian American and Pacific Islander (and other immigrants) parents, my parents sought to provide a brighter future for their children. With limited financial means and even more limited ability to speak English, my parents understood the uncertainties and challenges that lie ahead. However, they believed that providing their children with better opportunities was worth the risk of leaving behind their families and friends, and venturing out into the unknown. 
    When we first arrived in Queens, New York, my parents only had about $500 and a Korean-English dictionary. Shortly after we arrived, my father found a job at a local grocery store and my mother started working at a clothing manufacturing company. They worked long, hard hours, but eventually saved enough money to start their own business.  We moved to New Jersey when I was about ten years old.

    After graduating from high school in New Jersey, I attended Rutgers University, where I earned a B.S. degree in electrical engineering.  During my senior year at Rutgers, I saw a newsletter on a table as I walking through the hallway in one of the engineering buildings. The front page of the newsletter had the headline, “The USPTO is Hiring Talented Engineers.” I applied, and a couple of months later, I started my first full-time job as a patent examiner examining applications relating to image analysis.

    While working as a patent examiner, I obtained my law degree from George Washington University Law School. After graduating from law school, I was selected as a Supervisory Patent Examiner in the Computer Architecture and Software Technology Center. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to serve on career development details at the Office of Patent Legal Administration and the Office of the Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO. Immediately prior to my current role, I served for two years as a Senior Advisor to the Deputy Commissioner for Patent Examination Policy.

    Charles Kim providing an overview of petitions practice to IP students vising from KAIST University.

    Charles Kim providing an overview of petitions practice to IP students visiting from KAIST University.

    One of the biggest motivating factors for me is when I look back and think about the sacrifices that my parents made so that I could have a brighter future. I am determined to succeed so that their sacrifices were not in vain.  I suspect that this is not a unique motivating factor for many 1.5 generation Asian American and Pacific Islanders (Note that the term “1.5 generation” refers to people who immigrated to the U.S. as children).  And in many ways, this is what Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month means to me. Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month is an opportunity to reflect on the perseverance, sacrifice, and hard work of the many Asian American and Pacific Islanders that came before me to help build the foundation for future Asian American and Pacific Islander generations to become successful leaders across business and government, and to continue to advance our great nation.

    One quote that has had a meaningful impact on my leadership approach is attributed to Peggy Focarino, the former Commissioner for Patents. During her retirement ceremony, Peggy stated that it is important to recognize “Mission First; People Always.” This phrase has stuck with me because it reminds me that regardless of your organization or your title, the one thing that is common (and most important) to all leaders is the people (that they lead).

    My advice for those starting their career is to motivate yourself to step outside of your comfort zone.  Picture your comfort zone as a circle. If you position yourself slightly outside the circle, your circle (i.e., comfort zone) will eventually grow. By continuing to stay slightly outside the circle, you will experience continuous growth and improvement, which is a recipe for success!