From Joe Matal: The Importance of Independent Inventors to America – and America’s Economy

Blog by Joe Matal, Performing the Duties and Functions of the Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO (Originally Posted at the USPTO Director’s Blog)

Throughout history, independent inventors have transformed our lives with their innovative ideas and played a key role in the growth of the U.S. economy. Regardless of whether these ideas spawned small family businesses or large corporations, the work of small inventors is part of the fabric of American innovation. Think of names like Dupont, Ford, Kellogg, and Wright; and technology such as the telephone, the electric lightbulb, the steam engine, and the airplane. A disproportionate number of the most important technological advances started in the minds of small-scale, independent inventors, and their ideas have helped create new jobs, businesses, and even entire global industries. Today, the importance of small inventors and small business endures. According to the Small Business Administration (SBA), two out of three net new jobs in the U.S. are created by small businesses.

Our policies and processes throughout the USPTO are intended to drive entrepreneurship and innovation, and create a fair, accessible, and easy-to-use system for all inventors. As I explained in Tampa, there’s always room for improvement at the USPTO. Every aspect of our agency is continually being refined to better serve the patent and trademark owner community. Hearing from them helps us identify ways we can make that happen.

To that end, the USPTO has a wide variety of resources designed to help independent inventors. They can take advantage of our Patent Pro Bono Program and Pro Se Assistance Program, which help applicants who seek patents without the assistance of a lawyer.  Historically, USPTO has found that pro se applicants have substantially higher abandonment rates than do other applicants.  The agency has recently begun expanding its pro se assistance program in order to ensure that every pro se inventor who wants to can be assisted by this art unit, in which examiners play an active role in guiding the inventor through the prosecution process. The USPTO also offers its Track One program, which provides expedited patent prosecution, and does so with significant discounts for small, independent inventors. Our Inventors Assistance Center, which is staffed by former patent examiners, intellectual property specialists, and attorneys, can answer general questions concerning patent examining policy and procedure.

In addition, our four regional offices, located in each of the U.S. time zones, serve to make our services more readily available to local communities, and their unique industry and innovation needs, whether it be an event on the basics of patents and trademarks, or meeting directly with an examiner to discuss an application. Representatives from across the USPTO regularly meet with groups of inventors, startups, and businesses. I encourage you to browse our list of all upcoming events to find one that interests you.

I look forward to continuing the discussion with inventors to learn what we’re doing well, what we can do better, and how best to serve their needs. Only by working together will we achieve the best outcomes for our nation’s inventors and entrepreneurs, and help grow our economy, create new jobs, and build new industries.

30 thoughts on “From Joe Matal: The Importance of Independent Inventors to America – and America’s Economy

  1. “our four regional offices, located in each of the U.S. time zones”

    Alaska and Hawaii are probably feeling rather neglected right now, not to mention Puerto Rico.

  2. What people don’t get is how the real world works. You know there are people that work for large corporations where all they do is look for stuff to copy (for inspiration for new products.) The way it works is if you don’t have IP, then we take. We may buy, but not at a premium. You will only get a bit more than it would take us to make it.

    There are many people that do this.

    1. Actually, the primary purpose of the patent system is to enable copying.

      Granted, that enabled copying is supposed to be after the Quid Pro Quo of period of time of exclusivity, but hey, that period of exclusivity sounds just too darn much like the harshest of all equitable resolutions, and we would rather have patent infringement be some type of efficient infringement mechanism rather than something that accords with what the patent right is supposed to be (as directed by the Constitution, no less).

      (I guess this is the icon closest to sarcasm)

  3. Hey, Matal, you really want to help the small inventor? Warrant your product and indemnify the small inventor against post grant revocation procedures.

  4. Might it not have been a bit more persuasive, Joe, if you had cited up to date examples of inventive contributions to the state of the art, rather than inventions nearly as old as the wheel, namely (and I quote) “the telephone, the electric lightbulb, the steam engine, and the airplane”.

    More recent examples that come to my mind are the Dyson bag-less vacuum cleaner and the Haberman toddler drinking ANWAYUP cup. Hardly blue sky, ground-breaking, the foundation of American dominance of the 21st century, are they?

    Stop dreaming Joe, and come down into the real world of the 21st century.

  5. I appreciate that the PTO does make efforts to help small inventors above and beyond the two levels of fee breaks. But as others here have noted before, one thing is not that helpful: letting patent examiners draft suggested new claims for pro se applicants. That is a good way for them to get a possibly valid but extremely narrow claims of little value.

    1. That is a good way for them to get a possibly valid but extremely narrow claims of little value.

      Right — the claims which are in 99% of the cases exactly what is deserved.

      If you invent something specific that actually works, it will have some value. But it might not be the equivalent of winning the lottery so you and your kids grandkids never have to work again. And I suppose that makes the whole endeavor utterly meaningless for The Most Important People Ever.

      1. Your cognitive dissonance is showing again.

  6. When I think of technological innovations such as the steam engine, as Joe suggests, I always think of names like Savery, Newcomen, Watt and Trevithick. Funny, I never knew they were American.

  7. Dear Joe,

    Have you begun working on a workable searchable database for “new” algorithms categorized according to their “algorithmic structure”, and simultaneously developing a coherent consistent framework for applicants in the logic arts to submit their “logic structures” (analogous to sequence listings for chem/bio applicants)?

    Of course you haven’t. The farce has been going on for a quarter century. What are you waiting for? I can imagine one reasonable answer to that question. Maybe it’s time to just spit it out.

  8. Only by working together will we achieve the best outcomes for our nation’s inventors and entrepreneurs, and help grow our economy, create new jobs, and build new industries.

    Dear Joe,

    The goal here is best outcomes for everybody not just for your paying “customers.” Everyone’s interests aren’t aligned and what lobbyists for “inventors and entrepeneurs” want isn’t necessarily helpful for “growing the economy” or “creating new jobs” or (LOL) “building new industries.” With respect to the latter, if the PTO wanted to help “build new industries” maybe it should think a lot harder about continuing to dedicate resources to promoting the “art” of writing logic instructions for computers which (1) isn’t an industry, and (2) which isn’t new, and (3) which doesn’t belong in the patent system now or ever.

    Thanks.

    1. MM: “which (1) isn’t an industry”

      Really? Whatever you want to call it, the software sector of the economy accounts for literally hundreds of billions of dollars and tens of millions of jobs in the US.

      Whether software should be protected under US patent laws is debatable. The fact that it is an important industry in the US is not.

      1. the software sector of the economy accounts for literally hundreds of billions of dollars and tens of millions of jobs in the US.

        That’s nice. It doesn’t mean that writing instructions for computers is an “industrial process”, nor does it mean that writing instructions for computers is “technology.”

        Writing out logic instructions for logic-executing machines is … writing.

        Yes, there’s a romance novel “industry” out there too. Billions of pages! Super impressive stuff.

        1. Did I say it was an “industrial process”? You were the one who used the term “industry”, which afaik is not a term of art meaning something different in the patent law than it does in ordinary usage. Dictionary.com gives as the second definition for “industry”: “any general business activity; commercial enterprise”. I’d say that fits software. FWIW people also refer to entertainment as an “industry”.

          The SC had had ample opportunity to declare all software ineligible and has thus far declined to do so. Until it does, the issue is debateable. I don’t know why you keep declaring otherwise.

          Also I don’t know if you’re insinuating that I favor mistreatment of women or minorities, but you’re pretty far off base if you are.

        2. Writing which happens to precisely fit into the exceptions to the judicial doctrine of printed matter.

          Writing which happens to be a “ware” every bit as patent equivalent to other design choice “wares” for improvements to a computer.

          I have provided a Set Theory explication that even you should be able to follow, Malcolm. I (even politely) invited you to discuss the same, and chased you when you ran away.

          And yet, here you go again with the sAme tired and trite script that avoids the heart of the issue.

      2. Whether software should be protected under US patent laws is debatable. The fact that it is an important industry in the US is not.

        It’s an important part of the economy.

        So is the legal “industry.” Also not really an industry.

        It’s also about writing and logic. Also not eligible for patenting. And it’s not really debatable.

        But we live in a strange time where a lot of the same people who think that the patentability of software is “debatable” also think that the inferiority of women and dark-skinned people is “debatable.” Coincidence? It isn’t. And yes that should concern you.

    2. Your feelings (as distant from real world innovation as they are) are noted.

  9. Dear Joe,

    Nice gesture, but ultimately meaningless in the grand scheme of things.

  10. While there is indeed always room for improvement, the USPTO is now a more hostile place for independent inventors than perhaps it has ever been. Courts and legislature alike have created the framework for some of the most insurmountable requirements to not only obtain but also defend the validity of their patents. Uncertainty is exceedingly high in the U.S. patent system. First to-file is a boon to corporate interests with pre-established pipelines. Sect. 101 is unknowable – just read the myriad of USPTO guidelines and opinions. Sect. 103 now relies on the PHOSITA not only having super human knowledge and recall, but additionally ordinary creativity, which allows the Examiner to reject virtually any claim as obvious. Sect. 112 has seen considerable movement away from common sense disclosure requirements. Patent valuations have fallen considerably as a result, and the patent market has been decimated. Willful or reckless infringement is the norm. U.S. small business starts are at a 30 year low. This is my perspective as an inventor that has successfully developed and monetized inventions that are now present in actual products.

    1. the USPTO is now a more hostile place for independent inventors than perhaps it has ever been

      Oh, how difficult your life must be.

    2. the patent market has been decimated

      And yet I have work coming out of my ears.

      1. as you claim…

        (as low of a standard of credibleness as that may be)

  11. Since the institution of reexaminations, the number of patents issuing to independent inventors has declined even while the number of patents issuing to everyone else has tripled. IPR only worsened the situation.

    Imagine that you sink millions into a lawsuit only to have the PTO revoke your patent. They say your patent remains enforceable, but is it really? Look what happened to Versata.

    Matel, you the greatest advocate of IPR in Congress, its shepard, you are a phony.

    1. This is beltway speak for:

      SCOTUS please don’t find IPR unconstitutional. We are nice guys. We promise!

      Keep groveling Joe.

    2. They say your patent remains enforceable

      WHO says that?

      1. See, e.g., Lemley’s amicus in Oil States.

        1. You are seriously referring us to Lemley? You yourself have many times said that Lemley misrepresents issues.

          1. LOL – “Lemley says” pretty much ensures the opposite.

            1. Absolutely correct anon. When Lemley says something is true, most likely, it is not true.

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