The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office recently released its 2018-2022 Strategic Plan, setting various goals to ensure high quality services for the agency’s customers and stakeholders aligned with the Department of Commerce’s strategic objective to strengthen intellectual property protection. The USPTO’s strategic plan is primarily focused on optimizing the quality and timeliness of patents issued and trademarks registered by the agency as well as the provision of leadership, both domestically and globally, to improve IP policy and enforcement across the world.
“We are confident in attaining the goals set out in this plan and look forward to the continued engagement and feedback from our stakeholders and employees,” Director Andrei Iancu is quoted as saying in a press release issued by the USPTO upon the release of the new strategic plan. “Together we celebrate innovation and entrepreneurship—we are very proud of the men and women who stand behind a well-balanced American intellectual property system.”
The first goal of the USPTO’s strategic plan is to optimize patent quality and timeliness by optimizing patent application pendency; issuing highly reliable patents; fostering innovation through business effectiveness; and enhancing the operation of the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB). Optimizing patent examination timeframes will require the agency to engage with customers to identify optimal pendency timeframes and the use of international work products such as Global Dossier and Patent Cooperation Treaty searches. Improvements to searchable access of patent applications and prior art, as well as enhancements to the ongoing technical and legal training offered to examiners, are part of the agency’s plan to issue patents which are highly reliable.
The objective to foster innovation through business effectiveness features a multi-faceted approach involving collaboration with the Office of the Chief Information Officer to provide agency employees with the necessary tools to perform their work as well as enhancements to the IT interfaces enabling communication between patent customers and the USPTO. The agency is also making the improvement of text search access to domestic and international patent applications as well as non-patent literature and prior art a key initiative for this objective. The agency’s objective to enhance PTAB operations requires the USPTO to address challenges of increased workloads in light of the statutory timelines required of validity trials under the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (AIA). Given the reality that the PTAB has been very detrimental to patent owners since its establishment through the enactment of the AIA, it’s encouraging to see that the agency repeat the need to establish the reliability of patent grants in this section of the plan.
The objectives behind the USPTO’s goal to optimize trademark quality and effectiveness by and large reflect those mentioned in the agency’s goals regarding patent grants. The USPTO’s strategic plan notes that trademark application filings are expected to increase by 6 to 8 percent over the next five years with 30 percent of all filings expected to come from foreign applicants. Over the past 10 years, the USPTO has been able to register trademarks within 12 months on average with more than 87 percent of trademark applications being processed electronically.
The volatility of trademark filing volume will require the agency to make use of forecasting and analytics to align staffing with the agency’s goals on trademark pendency. Improving the accuracy and integrity of the Trademark Register by means such as auditing trademark maintenance affidavits to ensure proof of use of marks on the claimed goods and services is expected to help the agency “declutter” the Register. Development of a succession plan for trademark leadership, the creation of innovative recruitment strategies and partnerships with both professional organizations and bar groups to improve trademark customers’ access to legal resources are discussed under the fostering business effectiveness objective. The agency will also look into ways of enhancing the operations of the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) by emphasizing written quality and well-supported reasoning in TTAB decisions and streamlining procedures where appropriate to meet statutory timelines without sacrificing procedural predictability.
The foundation for meeting the three main goals of the USPTO’s 2018-22 Strategic Plan is a mission support goal that is focused on enhancing human capital management and fostering employee engagement; optimizing speed, quality and effectiveness of IT delivery to achieve business value; ensuring financial sustainability to facilitate effective agency operations; and enhancing agency interactions with internal and external stakeholders as well as the public at large. The plan notes that nearly 11,000 employees of the USPTO, including those working in regional offices, participate in some fashion in the agency’s telework program and the agency is committed to continuous improvements in that program. Regarding the agency’s IT systems, the USPTO is planning to retire its legacy IT systems as quickly as practicable and to create “sandbox” environments for experimentation with new technologies. The agency’s financial sustainability was recently given a boost through passage of the Study of Underrepresented Classes Chasing Engineering and Science Success (SUCCESS) Act, which extended the agency’s fee setting authority under the AIA to September 2026, and the agency committed to reevaluating its fee structure and how fees are collected to ensure revenue sustainability.
In an appendix to the strategic plan, the agency discussed external factors which could affect its goals and it seems as though the USPTO has done a good job of being soberly mindful of major issues currently affecting the United States’ IP system. First, the agency identified unintended consequences from recent major changes to the nation’s patent system of which the “cumulative result is a system in which the patent grant is less reliable today than it should be.” The USPTO then noted that court decisions are able to significantly affect the agency’s activities and procedures although the only example provided is Matal v. Tam, a trademark case involving the disparagement provision of the Lanham Act. The agency also noted that, over the past two decades, the protection of IP rights has gone “from an obscure national regulation issue to a hotly debated global issue” and the agency found that it faced a challenge in helping to guide international IP policy while recognizing the interests of international partners including foreign patent offices and the World Intellectual Property Organization. Finally, the USPTO identified IP backlash as a significant external factor and the need to achieve consensus among countries who advocated for effective IP protections is critical in order to counteract those countries which are concerned about efforts to improve IP rights and standards.
Image Source: Gene Quinn