Teresa Stanek Rea, deputy under secretary of commerce for intellectual property and deputy director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), was once the president of the American Intellectual Property Law Association (AIPLA), so she was the perfect speaker for the AIPLA’s recent conference in Washington, D.C.
Rea addressed an enthusiastic lunchtime crowd of IP attorneys, declaring that they were blessed – or cursed – to live in interesting times. Her speech highlighted the historic events that had impacted the agency in the past 18 months, indicating that the USPTO has had both challenges and triumphs, including sequestration, government shutdown, the America Invents Act (AIA) and more.
She highlighted the fact that intellectual property is one of the few policy areas where broad agreement can be forged across party lines. While there are fierce policy debates, she said, they are not along party lines but rather ideological and business-model lines. Rea does see a risk of paralysis in these debates and stated that the key to progress is flexibility, stating that a firm belief is admirable, but not if it leads to an inflexible negotiating position.
During the past 18 months, the USPTO has worked to enact the AIA and is now seeing it come to fruition. She cautioned that the work is never done when it comes to IP policy reform, citing concepts like creative destruction, Moore’s law and disruptive innovation as trends that shape the marketplace.
We are, Rea stated, living in both disruptive and innovative times, and intellectual property drives these forces. IP law requires fine-tuning to ensure that protection is realized. Patent assertion entities (PAEs), software-driven innovation and copyright law changes have changed the landscape considerably.
The USPTO has taken the lead in implementing the executive actions set down by President Obama on June 4. These actions focus primarily on PAEs, and the USPTO recently published a green paper on copyright law and innovation, setting up issues concerning copyright in the Internet world.
Rea turned to specific events, discussing sequestration, stating that, as a fee-funded agency, the USPTO pared back spending without damaging its core mission. During the recent government shutdown, the organization had no access to the fees that were paid in this fiscal year, but, with a reasoned approach to spending, it stayed open and kept on-mission.
To highlight the good news coming out of the USPTO, Rea cited some promising statistics. The organization continued to reduce the backlog of unexamined patent applications, hitting an 18 percent decline in the backlog since 2009, despite a 7 percent growth in filings. First-action and total pendency are down as well. Requests for continuing action skyrocketed from 2011 to February of this year, but the USPTO has reduced the backlog by 30 percent in the past seven months.
Looking forward, Rea stated that the USPTO will be focusing on improving enforcement and implementing the executive actions outlined by President Obama, all with the intent of creating higher quality patents. To do so, the organization will:
1) Require applicants and owners to update their information regularly;
2) Implement better patent examiner training;
3) Empower citizens using patented technology in consumer products; and
4) Increase stakeholder outreach.
Other topics that will be relevant in the near future are reforms to the real party and interest information that patent owners must file, potential expansion of the covered business method process, fee shifting and the concern over PAEs moving downstream.
It sounds like the interesting times are just beginning. In the meantime, read more IP stories here: