Guest post by Kathy Matecki, Director of USPTO’s Technical Center 3600
Independent inventors and small business owners have a long tradition of creating innovative products and opening up new sectors of the American marketplace. Some of today’s most well-known companies and innovators started small in someone’s garage or basement. Many patent applicants enlist the help of a registered patent attorney or agent. Some inventors, however, choose to file an application for a patent on their own, a process known as “pro se” filing.
The United States Patent and Trademark Office’s (USPTO) Pro Se Assistance Program provides dedicated educational and practical resources to pro se applicants, including walk-in assistance at USPTO’s headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia, pro se-specific educational resources on patents and electronic filing, dedicated customer service and assistance, and increased examiner-applicant interaction.
Established in October 2014, the USPTO’s Pro Se Art Unit is a group of experienced patent examiners from all engineering disciplines. The examiners in the art unit communicate frequently with their inventors, get to know them, and are dedicated to simplifying the patenting process and providing the best possible experience for each one, even when the inventor is unsuccessful in obtaining a patent. The program has helped identify the most common problems encountered by these applicants, so that the USPTO can simplify the process if possible, or establish best practices to assist pro se applicants.
The Pro Se Assistance Program has received positive reviews since its inception. One pro se applicant stated, “Had my examiner not been so understanding and helpful in every regard, I would have given up. She was patient, and I feel incredibly lucky to have worked with her… I would not be able to afford the legal fees associated with a patent, so that would have been the end for me.” The examiners have also felt the impact of the program; one stating: “We provide an important service (with a smile) to a not previously addressed cross section of applicants at the office, while still producing a quality examination. The impact of this service may or may not be captured by data crunching, but it is without a doubt felt by the community of pro se applicants that we have encountered in our year and a half of operation.”
The USPTO’s Pro Se Assistance Program is just one of many programs the USPTO offers that benefit independent and under resourced inventors. Another popular program is the Patent Pro Bono program, which provides legal assistance to under-resourced inventors. For more information on the Pro Se Assistance Program, visit the website, call 1-866-767-3848, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.