United States Patent and Trademark Office

United States Patent and Trademark Office

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (PTO or USPTO) is an agency in the United States Department of Commerce that issues patents to inventors and businesses for their inventions, and trademark registration for product and intellectual property identification.

The USPTO is currently based in Alexandria, Virginia, after a 2006 move from the Crystal City area of Arlington, Virginia. A few offices remain in the Potomac Gateway complex at the southern end of Crystal City; these offices will move to Randolph Square, a brand new building in Shirlington Village, in 2009. Since 1991, the office has been fully funded by fees charged for processing patents and trademarks. The current head of the USPTO is Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property Jon W. Dudas, who was nominated to the position by President George W. Bush in March 2004 and was then appointed on July 30, 2004.

The USPTO cooperates with the European Patent Office (EPO) and the Japan Patent Office (JPO) as one of the Trilateral Patent Offices. The USPTO is also a Receiving Office, an International Searching Authority and an International Preliminary Examination Authority for international patent applications filed in accordance with the Patent Cooperation Treaty.


The mission of the PTO is to promote "industrial and technological progress in the United States and strengthen the national economy" by:
* administering the laws relating to patents and trademarks;
* advising the Secretary of Commerce, the President of the United States, and the administration on patent, trademark, and copyright protection; and
* providing advice on the trade-related aspects of intellectual property.


As of September 30 2007, the end of the U.S. government's fiscal year, the PTO had 8,913 employees, nearly all of whom are based at its huge five-building headquarters complex in Alexandria. Of those, 5,477 were patent examiners and 404 were trademark examining attorneys; the rest are support staff. [http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/com/annual/2007/2007annualreport.pdf USPTO Performance and Accountability Report Fiscal Year 2007] ] The total employee count has risen from 8,189 at the end of fiscal year 2006; at the same time, there were 4,883 patent examiners and 413 trademark examiners. [http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/com/annual/2006/50328_table28.html USPTO Performance and Accountability Report Fiscal Year 2006] ] Patent examiners are generally scientists and engineers who do not necessarily hold law degrees, while all trademark examiners must be licensed attorneys. All examiners work under a strict quota system.

In recent years, the USPTO has seen increasing delays between when a patent application is filed and when it issues. To address its workload challenges, the USPTO has undertaken an aggressive program of hiring and recruitment. In Fiscal Year 2006 (year ending September 30, 2006), the USPTO hired 1,193 new patent examiners, [http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/com/annual/2006/3020100_patentperfrm.html USPTO Annual Report 2006, Patent Performance] ] and 1,215 new examiners were hired in fiscal 2007. The USPTO expects to continue hiring patent examiners at a rate of approximately 1,200 per year from 2008 through 2012.

In 2006, USPTO also instituted a new training program for patent examiners called the "Patent Examiner Training Academy." It is an eight-month program designed to teach new patent examiners the fundamentals of patent law, practice and examination procedure in a college-style environment. [ [http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/com/annual/2006/50200_natureoftrain.html USPTO Annual Report 2006, The Nature of the Training Provided to USPTO Examiners] ] .

Fee diversion

Each year, Congress "diverts" about 10% of the fees that the USPTO has collected into the general treasury of the United States. In effect, this takes money collected from the patent system to use for the general budget. This fee diversion is generally opposed by patent practitioners (e.g patent attorneys and patent agents), inventors, and the USPTO. [cite press release
publisher=United States Patent and Trademark Office
date=February 2, 2004 |url=http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/com/speeches/04-03.htm
title= President's proposed budget ends USPTO fee diversion in FY 2005 |accessdate=2006-11-24
] These stakeholders would rather use the funds to improve the patent office and patent system, such as by implementing the USPTO's 21st Century Strategic Plan. [cite web
url = http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/com/strat21/| title = Strategic Plan for the 21st Century
accessdate = 2006-11-24| date = February 24, 2006
publisher = United States Patent and Trademark Office


* Each year, the PTO issues over 150,000 patents to companies and individuals worldwide. As of February 2008, the PTO has granted over 7,950,000 patents.

* The X-Patents (the first 10,280 issued between 1790 and 1836) were destroyed by a fire; fewer than 3,000 of those have been recovered and re-issued with numbers that include an "X". The X generally appears at the end of the numbers hand-written on full-page patent images; however, in patent collections and for search purposes, the X is considered to be the patent type -- analogous to the "D" of design patents -- and appears at the beginning of the number. The X distinguishes the patents from those issued after the fire, which began again with patent number 1.

* On July 31, 1790, the USPTO awarded its first patent to Samuel Hopkins for an improvement "in the making of Pot ash and Pearl ash by a new Apparatus and Process." This patent was signed by then president George Washington.


The USPTO examines applications for trademark registration. If approved, the trademarks are registered on either the Principal Register or the Supplemental Register, depending upon whether the mark meets the appropriate distinctiveness criteria. However, this function is declining in popularity as trademark applicants move to cheaper, more straightforward state-by-state registrations. [cite web
url = http://smallbusiness.findlaw.com/trademark/trademark-registration/state-trademark-info-links.html
title = State Trademark Information
accessdate = 2008-02-11| date = February 11, 2008| publisher = FindLaw For Small Business
] [cite web
url = http://www.uspto.gov | title = Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS)
accessdate = 2008-02-11| date = February 11, 2008| publisher = United States Patent and Trademark Office
"Note: click on "Trademarks" then click on "TESS" tab."


The PTO only allows certain qualified persons to practice before the PTO. "Practice" includes filing of patent applications on behalf of inventors, prosecuting patent applications on behalf of inventors, and participating in administrative appeals and other proceedings before the PTO examiners and boards. The PTO sets its own standards for who may practice and requires that any person who practices become registered. A USPTO-registered non-attorney professional is called a patent agent and a USPTO-registered attorney is called a patent attorney.

In order to become registered to practice before the USPTO, an applicant must demonstrate to the USPTO's satisfaction certain scientific and technical competencies (such as having a science or engineering degree) and then pass a difficult USPTO-administered patent bar exam called the USPTO registration examination. This bar exam covers the voluminous regulations and procedures that govern USPTO practice. The registration process is managed by the USPTO's Office of Enrollment & Discipline (OED). [cite web
url = http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/dcom/olia/oed/mission.htm| title = OED Mission
accessdate = 2006-11-24| date = June 21, 2006| publisher = United States Patent and Trademark Office
"Note: the [http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/dcom/olia/oed/roster/index.html original link location] appears to no longer be available."
] The United States allows any citizen from any country to sit for the patent bar (if he/she has the requisite technical background). [37 C.F.R. 11.7] None of the world's countries reciprocates to U.S. citizens the right which the U.S. grants to their citizens; Canada is the only exception to this. [http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/com/sol/foia/oed/legal/legal11.pdf]

Individual inventors may file and prosecute patent applications by themselves by a process of "pro se" patent filing. The inventor is not required to be represented by a registered patent attorney or patent agent. If it appears to a patent examiner that an inventor filing a pro se application is not familiar with the proper procedures of the patent office, the examiner may suggest that it would be desirable for the inventor to obtain representation by a licensed patent attorney or agent. [ "Manual of Patent Examining Procedure", [http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/pac/mpep/mpep_e8r3_0400.pdf Chapter 400] ] The patent examiner cannot recommend a patent attorney or agent, but the patent office does post a list of registered attorneys or agents. [ [http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/dcom/olia/oed/roster/index.html#attorney_agent_search List of registered attorneys or agents] . ]

It is not uncommon for individual inventors to file their own patents to potentially save thousands of dollars in agent/attorneys fees, since legal fees for the preparation and filing of a US patent application can total many thousands of dollars. While an inventor of a relatively simple-to-describe invention may well be able to produce an adequate specification and accompanying drawings for a utility application, the complexity lies in what is claimed, either in the particular claim language of a utility application, or in the manner in which drawings are presented in a design application. Moreover, failure to adequately respond to an office action from the USPTO can endanger the inventor's rights, and may lead to abandonment of the application.

Patent agents can only act in a representative capacity in patent matters at the USPTO, and cannot represent an applicant for a trademark. Trademark applicants may be represented by any state bar licensed attorney sufficiently capable of handling trademark matters, governed by the rules of professional responsibility. There is no analogous "trademark agent" exam.

Electronic filing system

The USPTO will accept patent applications filed in electronic form. As of March 2006, inventors or their patent agents/attorneys can file applications as Adobe PDF documents. The web page for submitting applications is [https://sportal.uspto.gov/secure/portal/efs-unregistered https://sportal.uspto.gov/secure/portal/efs-unregistered] . Filing fees can be paid by credit card or by a USPTO “deposit account”.

Electronic retrieval system

The [http://www.uspto.gov/patft/index.html USPTO Web site] provides free electronic copies of issued patents and patent applications as single-page TIFF documents. The site also provides Boolean search and analysis tools.

The USPTO's free distribution service only distributes the patent documents as a set of single page files (see http://www.uspto.gov/patft/help/images.htm). Numerous free and commercial services provide patent documents in other formats, such as Adobe PDF and CPC.


The USPTO been criticized for granting patents for impossible or absurd, already known, or arguably obvious inventions. Philip E. Ross, [http://www.forbes.com/global/2000/0529/0311090a.html "Patently Absurd"] , Forbes.com, May 29, 2000.]

Controversial patents

*US patent|5,443,036, "Method of exercising a cat", covers having a cat chase the beam from a laser pointer. The patent has been criticised as being obvious.cite web|url=http://www.nytimes.com/2004/10/21/business/21scene.html|author=Hal H. Varian|title=Patent Protection Gone Awry|date=2004-10-21|publisher=New York Times] [cite web|url=http://www.wired.com/politics/law/news/2002/10/55831|title=Stop the Patent Process Madness|date=2002-10-21|author=Laura Weinstein|publisher=Wired Magazine]
*US patent|6,004,596, "Sealed crustless sandwich", issued in 1999, covers the design of a sandwich with crimped edges. [cite web|author=Sara Schaefer Muñoz|date=2005-04-05|publisher=Wall Street Journal|url=http://online.wsj.com/article/SB111266108673297874.html|title=Patent No. 6,004,596: Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich]
*US patent|6,025,810, "Hyper-light-speed antenna", an antenna that sends signals faster than the speed of light. According to the description in the patent, "The present invention takes a transmission of energy, and instead of sending it through normal time and space, it pokes a small hole into another dimension, thus, sending the energy through a place which allows transmission of energy to exceed the speed of light." [ US patent|6,025,810, col. 1, lines 30-34.]
*US patent|6,368,227, "Method of swinging on a swing", issued April 9, 2002 cite web|url=http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn2178-boy-takes-swing-at-us-patents.html|publisher=New Scientist|date=2002-04-17|author=Jeff Hecht|title=Boy takes swing at US patents] by patent examiner Kien T. Nguyen,cite web|url=http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C03E7DB1739F930A25756C0A9649C8B63|publisher=New York Times|title=Patents; The Patent Office faces huge backlogs, extremely technical inventions, and absurd ones.|author=Teresa Riordan|date=2002-05-13] was granted to a seven-year old boy, whose father, a patent attorney, wanted to demonstrate how the patent system worked to his son (aged 5 at the time of the application). The PTO initially rejected it due to prior art, but eventually issued the patent. However, all claims of the patent were subsequently canceled by the PTO upon reexamination. [Reexamination certificate no. US 6,368,227 C1, July 1, 2003, retrieved from USPTO [http://portal.uspto.gov/external/portal/pair Public Patent Application Information Retrieval (PAIR)] , August 22, 2008]
*US patent|6,960,975, "Space vehicle propelled by the pressure of inflationary vacuum state", describes an anti-gravity device. In November 2005, the USPTO was criticized by physicists for granting it. The journal "Nature" first highlighted this patent issued for a device that presumably amounts to a perpetual motion machine, defying the laws of physics. [cite journal
last = Ball | first = Philip | date = November 10, 2005
title = Antigravity craft slips past patent officers | journal = Nature | volume = 438 | issue = 7065 | pages = 139
pmid = 16280998 | doi = 10.1038/438139a
] [cite news
author = United Press International
title = Patent issued for anti-gravity device | url = http://www.physorg.com/news8042.html
publisher = Phyorg.com | year = 2005 | accessdate = 2006-11-24
] [cite news
author = Brian Handwerk | title = Antigravity Machine Patent Draws Physicists' Ire
url = http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/11/1111_051111_junk_patent.html
publisher = National Geographic News | date = November 11, 2005 | accessdate = 2006-11-24
] [An [http://www.sciencedaily.com/upi/index.php?feed=Science&article=UPI-1-20051109-13140400-bc-us-antigravity.xml untraceable link] was also included here as an additional reference.] The device comprises a particular electrically superconducting shield and elecromagnetic generating device. The examiner allowed the claims because the design of the shield and device was novel and not obvious. [cite web
url = http://portal.uspto.gov/external/portal/!ut/p/_s.7_0_A/7_0_CH/.cmd/ad/.ar/sa.getBib/.ps/N/.c/6_0_69/.ce/7_0_3AB/.p/5_0_341/.d/2?selectedTab=ifwtab&isSubmitted=isSubmitted&dosnum=11079670#7_0_3AB
title = Notice of Allowance and Fees Due (PTOL-85)
accessdate = 2006-11-24| author = Ramon M Barrera (examiner)
date = June 7, 2005| format = PDF
work = 11/079,670 Space Vehicle Propelled by the Pressure of Inflationary Vacuum State
publisher = United States Patent and Trademark Office| pages = 2
"Note: Navigate to the 'Image File Wrapper' to find the file; download and open with a PDF reader." The specific passage from the document follows: "The following is an examiner's statement of reasons for allowance: None of the prior art of record taught or disclosed the claimed superconducting shield and electromagnetic field generating means structure."
] In situations such as this where a substantial question of patentability is raised after a patent issues, the Commissioner of the Patent Office can order a reexamination of the patent.

Controversial trademarks

*, "Cloud Computing" for Dell, covering "custom manufacture of computer hardware for use in data centers and mega-scale computing environments for others", was allowed by a trademark attorney on July 8, 2008. Cloud computing is a generic term that could define technology infrastructure for years to come, which had been in general use at the time of the application. [ [http://www.cio.com/article/440863/Dell_Tries_to_Trademark_cloud_Computing_ Dell Tries to Trademark 'cloud Computing'] ] The application was rejected on 12 August 2008 as descriptive and generic.Fact|date=August 2008

low patent examination

The USPTO has been criticized for taking an inordinate amount of time in examining patent applications. This is particularly true in the fast growing area of business method patents. As of 2005, patent examiners in the business method area were still examining patent applications filed in 2001.

The delay has been attributed by spokesmen for the Patent Office to a combination of a sudden increase in business method patent filings after the 1998 "State Street Bank" decision, the unfamiliarity of patent examiners with the business and financial arts (e.g. banking, insurance, stock trading etc.), and the issuance of a number of controversial patents (e.g. US patent|5,960,411 "Amazon one click patent") in the business method area.

Effective in August 2006, the USPTO introduced an accelerated patent examination procedure in an effort to allow inventors a speedy evaluation of an application with a final disposition within 12 months. The procedure requires additional information to be submitted with the application and also includes an interview with the examiner. [ [http://www.uspto.gov/web/patents/accelerated/ USPTO Accelerated Patent Examination] ] The first accelerated patent was granted on March 15, 2007 with a 6 month issuance time. [ [http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/com/speeches/07-13.htm Press Release:] USPTO GRANTS FIRST PATENT UNDER NEW ACCELERATED REVIEW OPTION]

ee also

*United States patent law
*History of United States patent law
*Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences (BPAI)
*Confederate Patent Office
*"Ex Parte Quayle"
*Invention Secrecy Act
*John Ruggles
*Old Patent Office Building
*Patent office
*Patent Office Professional Association (POPA)
*Term of patent in the United States
*Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB)
*Trilateral Patent Offices

References and notes

External links

** [http://www.uspto.gov/ Main page]
** [http://www.uspto.gov/main/search.html Searches]
** [http://tarr.uspto.gov/ Trademark Applications and Registrations Retrieval (TARR)] search by trademark serial number or registration number
** [http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/dcom/gcounsel/oed.htm Office of Enrollment & Discipline (OED)]
** [http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/ac/ido/ptdl/ Patent and Trademark Depository Library Program]
** [http://www.uspto.gov/smallbusiness/ Stopfakes.gov Small Business Resources]

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