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How to Improve the Intellectual Property System


The growth of the U.S. economy relies on the protection of new ideas and investment in the creativity of inventors. The Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) plays a crucial role in setting American innovation policy. Every year, the USPTO reviews hundreds of thousands of applications for inventors, engineers, and others who seek intellectual property (IP) protection for their innovations.

On January 22, Governance Studies at Brookings hosted Michelle K. Lee, the Deputy Director of USPTO President Obama recently nominated to lead the office. Lee discussed efforts underway at the USPTO to continue building up an IP system that encourages and promotes innovation. Over the last few years, the USPTO has implemented a number of initiatives to improve the existing system like the America Invents Act, post grant proceedings, and the Patent Trial and Appeal Board. Deputy Director Lee highlighted several policies as priorities for the office.

Priorities for Improving the Quality of the IP System

  • Enhanced Patent Quality Initiative– Lee announced that Commissioner for Patents Peggy Focarino will lead a new effort to improve the rigor of US patents. She outlined three main strategies: providing excellence in prosecution services, customer service, and measurement of patent quality. Employees across the USPTO will collaborate to brainstorm improvements for all aspects of the patent system.
  • Two-day Patent Quality Summit– A meeting is in the works that will offer an open conversation with stakeholders in IP protection. The USPTO will put forth concrete proposals for the public to discuss and offer feedback or suggestions for improvements.
  • Deputy Commissioner for Patent Quality- The new position was created for the sole purpose of working on and improving the patent quality efforts of the USPTO. Valencia Martin Wallace will fill the new senior executive post.
  • Reduce Pendency and Backlog- Unexamined new patent applications that were at a record high in 2009. The USPTO has made progress in reducing these numbers, but Lee argued that eliminating the excess of applications is a priority for the agency.
  • Patent Law Harmonization– Standardized IP law is critical goal for the USPTO as more companies are entering the world market. Applying for IP rights in multiple jurisdictions can be expensive and time consuming. Lee argues that streamlining and collaborating more with foreign counterparts can help cut costs and increase efficiency.

The IP landscape is constantly changing as more patents are filed each year. With an emphasis on quality improvements, the USPTO is leading the effort to put more tools in the hands of innovators and entrepreneurs, in order to continue the growth of global innovation. 


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