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Programs and Policies for Independent Inventors and Small Businesses

Inventors who qualify as a small entity (e.g., independent inventor, a small business, or a nonprofit organization) are eligible for a 50 percent reduction in the USPTO’s filing, issue and maintenance fees. That translates into a savings of thousands of dollars when compared to what large corporations pay.

The USPTO Inventors Assistance Program that is specifically geared to small inventors and entrepreneurs by:

  • Creating and posting computer training modules on the USPTO Web site.
  • Posting podcasts on the iTunes system.  The computer-based training module, “Concept to Protection,” has proven to be very popular.
  • Webcasting presentations to university business and entrepreneurship classes
  • Receiving and responding to inventor questions via a dedicated mailbox:
  • Staffing a dedicated toll-free number for independent inventor inquiries (1-800-786-9199)
  • Maintaining an Inventors Resource page within the USPTO Web site
  • Hosting education conferences. For example, the 14th Annual Independent Inventors conference will be held at the USPTO campus in the Fall of 2010, and will bring hundreds of inventors together with private- and public-sector experts in intellectual property and entrepreneurship.

The USPTO publishes a notice in its Official Gazette that a patent is available for licensing or sale.  There is a modest fee (currently $25) for this service, which provides great visibility for independent inventors.

The USPTO also maintains a Trademark Assistance Center (1-800-786-9199) for help on trademark matters and, in particular, in understanding the trademark searching, prosecution and maintenance processes.  This information is also available on our website and the Trademark database through which small and medium sized enterprises (SME’s) can search for potentially conflicting federally-registered marks and pending applications.

The USPTO manages a hotline (1-866-999-HALT) under the Strategy for Targeting Organized Piracy (STOP) initiative to protect their intellectual property rights in the US and abroad.  This hotline is managed by attorneys with in-depth expertise in the protection and enforcement of the full range of IPR within the US and throughout the world. .

The USPTO also offers the following free programs to independent inventors:

o     Intellectual Property Awareness Campaign (IPAC) “IP Basics” programs, offered nationwide since 2005 to more than 1,000 SME’s.  These events include presentations on how to protect and enforce patents, trade secrets, trademarks, domain names, and copyrights domestically and internationally.

o    USPTO China “Roadshows” offered to businesses throughout the US, most of which are SME’s that lack resources and expertise available to larger corporations.

o    Web-based seminars on a full range of intellectual property topics that are tailored to the IP issues most critical to small businesses and independent inventors.

The USPTO, in cooperation with the Small Business Administration, provides a 1-1/2 hour Web-based “SME IP Training Tutorial” through the Website.  This provides a comprehensive overview of intellectual property including patents, trade secrets, trademarks, domain names and copyrights.

The USPTO has a network of Patent Trademark Depository Libraries (PTDL), which are a rich local resource for small businesses, research and development firms, university and governmental laboratories, and independent inventors and entrepreneurs.  Services at the libraries are free, and include assistance in accessing and using patent and trademark documents, training on USPTO databases, obtaining access to the USPTO Web site, and hosting public seminars on intellectual property topics for novice and experienced innovators.  There are 82 PTDL libraries in 45 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

The Obama Administration recently announced a “one-stop shop” initiative to streamline government bureaucracy and bring services directly to the businesses and entrepreneurs.  The new initiative, announced by Secretary Locke in June, integrates departmental programs that can assist businesses at nearly every point of their life cycle.  Commerce’s varied agencies–including USPTO–support this initiative.

On October 22, Director Kappos held the first in a series of roundtable discussions with independent inventors to hear their thoughts and concerns and discuss how the USPTO can be helpful to them.

Other USPTO Programs with Benefits for Inventors and Small Businesses

The USPTO has several patent programs that hold benefits for inventors and small business.  These programs help accelerate patent prosecution so that the applicant finds out more quickly whether a patent will be granted, thus speeding opportunities for potential investment and/or bringing products to market.

o      Accelerated Examination:  Guarantees a final action within one year.  The Accelerated Examination procedure is designed to give applicants quality patents in less time. In exchange for quick examination, patent examiners will receive more focused and detailed information about the invention and the closest prior art from the applicants. This increased disclosure upfront by applicants will help examiners more quickly make the correct decision about whether a claimed invention deserves a patent.

o     First Action Interview Pilot:  An applicant is entitled to an interview with the patent examiner prior to the first office action on the merits in a new utility application.  The program has shown that the patent process benefits when interaction between the applicant and the examiner is enhanced at the beginning of examination because patentability issues can be resolved early when the applicant and the examiner discuss them one-on-one. For the applications involved in the initial pilot, the First-Action Allowance rate increased six-fold when compared to applications from the same technology area not involved in the pilot.

o     Pilot Program to Accelerate the Patent Process for Small Entity Inventors: A pilot program by which an applicant may have an application accorded special status for examination: namely, if the applicant expressly abandons another co-pending unexamined application. This program will allow applicants having multiple applications currently pending before the USPTO to have greater control over the priority with which their applications are examined while also stimulating a reduction of the backlog of unexamined patent applications pending before the USPTO.  The pilot will begin as a program for small entities, with expansion to other planned for a future date.

o      EFS Legal Notice: This change in procedure allows contractors rather than employees to submit the patent application documents via the EFS-Web electronic system.  Since small entities are more likely to benefit from contract support (as they can’t dedicate a staff resource to it), this will be particularly helpful to inventors and small entities.

Last Modified: March 27th, 2010