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Information About the Patent Office

Mar 22, 2008
The United States Patent and Trademark Office is the governmental agency in charge of granting patents to inventors. As USPTO.gov states,

For over 200 years, the basic role of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has remained the same: to promote the progress of science and the useful arts by securing for limited times to inventors the exclusive right to their respective discoveries (Article 1, Section 8 of the United States Constitution).

The major function of the patents office is to examine patent applications and determine whether or not the invention in question is worthy of a patent. They also examine trademark applications in the same way. Unlike many other government agencies, the patents office is self-funded, that is, supported solely by the fees it collects from inventors for patent and trademark applications.

The patents office has three essential responsibilities as an agency:

1) It administers the laws pertaining to patents and trademarks
2) It advises the Secretary of Commerce, the President, and his entire administration on the protection of patents, trademarks, and copyrights
3) It provides general advice to the public on the trade aspects of intellectual property.

In total, the United States Patent and Trademark Office employs 8,189 people. Most of them work in the patent office's five-building headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia. Of that number, 4,883 employees are patent examiners. These are the people who physically evaluate your patent application for the various criterions and decide whether or not to grant a patent. Another 413 employees are trademark examination attorneys. These are people qualified to act in matters involving trademark law, and accordingly, they have the task of evaluating trademark applications.

There is one key difference between these two groups. Patent examiners are scientists or engineers, but they are not required to have law degrees and so not all of them do. Trademark examiners, on the other hand, are required to be licensed attorneys. Both groups of examiners work under a quota system that dictates how many patents and trademarks they are authorized to grant in a given timeframe.

The remaining employees are all support staff to one or both of these two groups.

The patents office grants literally thousands of patents to corporations and inventors every year. To date, over seven million patents have been issued and recognized by the agency.

With the advent of Internet technology and the World Wide Web, the patents office has begun accepting patent applications filed electronically. Inventors or their patent attorneys have been able to file patent applications as Adobe PDF documents since March of 2006. The process is relatively straightforward and can be accomplished at the following web URL. Filing fees are paid via credit card or a USPTO "deposit account", which is explained in greater detail on the website.

The ability to search for existing patents via the USPTO website has also improved in recent years. The website provides free electronic copies of existing patents with using TIFF, a container format for storing images. However, several commercial services exist to provide patent documents in other, more convenient formats such as CPC and Adobe PDF.

It is also possible for inventors to file their own patent applications without the help of a patent lawyer. This is known as pro se patent filing, and is actually quite common as a means of saving thousands of dollars is legal fees. The general rule is that the less complex an invention is, the more sense it makes for the inventor to do some homework and attempt to file the application himself. If an invention is significantly complex, however, it is probably a better idea to seek the aid of a patent attorney.

While the patents office cannot recommend specific attorneys to you, they do post a list of registered attorneys. If you are new to inventing and unsure of where to find a good attorney, use this list as a starting point. Copy down the names of some attorneys in your area and investigate them further before deciding on one.

In closing, the United States Patent and Trademark Office is the agency you must deal with in your quest for patent protection. By educating yourself about the nature and expectations of this agency, you will be better prepared to get your patent approved.
About the Author
Eric Corl is the President of Idea Buyer LLC, a marketplace for new technology and products that gives inventors the opportunity to showcase their intellectual property to consumer product companies, entrepreneurs, retailers, and manufacturers. You can email him at EricCorl@IdeaBuyer.com. You can visit the site by visiting this address;
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