University of Texas at Austin

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Protecting ideas with patents

Top patent officials from around the world gave an Austin audience insight into current intellectual property issues. They were James Pooley, deputy director of the World Intellectual Property Organization; Jerry Kappos, director of the United States Patent Office; and Lee Soowon, director of the Korean Intellectual Property Office. They talked with Richard Miller, chief commercialization officer of The University of Texas at Austin. Photo by Marsha Miller.

Top patent officials from around the world gave an Austin audience insight into current intellectual property issues. They were James Pooley, deputy director of the World Intellectual Property Organization; Jerry Kappos, director of the United States Patent Office; and Lee Soowon, director of the Korean Intellectual Property Office. They talked with Richard Miller, chief commercialization officer of The University of Texas at Austin. Photo by Marsha Miller.


Patent protection has gone global, according to David Kappos, the director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

Researchers who want to protect their discoveries should extend the protection of their ideas as widely as they can, he said.

“You need to be thinking globally,” he said.

Kappos was in Austin on Nov. 22 to talk about intellectual property issues. He was joined by James Pooley, deputy director of the World Intellectual Property Organization, and Lee Soowon, director of the Korean Intellectual Property Office.

They spoke to intellectual property professionals associated with Texas universities in a session sponsored by the Office of Technology Commercialization of The University of Texas at Austin. Richard Miller, the university’s chief commercialization officer, moderated the discussion.

The patent officials also spoke to a wider audience of the Central Texas business community in a session sponsored by the Austin Chamber of Commerce. On Nov. 21, Kappos met with independent inventors at the university’s IC2 Institute.

U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-San Antonio) spoke in the afternoon. In the new Congress, he will be the chairman of the House judiciary committee, which oversees patent issues.

The University of Texas at Austin is an active user of the patent system. In 2009-2010, it was granted 49 patents, it filed for 318 patents and had 179 disclosures of intellectual property. More than 100 foreign patents have been issued to the university in the past five years.

The speakers emphasized the benefits of the Patent Cooperation Treaty and its impact on streamlining patent protection throughout the world.

Kappos’ point about seeking a broad patent protection shield had to do with the Patent Prosecution Highway (PPH). That’s a process in which 14 national patent offices throughout the world can share information about a patent application. The purpose is to reduce the time and expense of seeking patent protection in a global context.

Kappos made what he called a sales pitch for researchers and inventors to use the PPH.

He said the USPTO is handling a relatively small number of cases through the PPH, but that its use of the PPH is delivering outsized benefits in reduced cost and time for the patent seekers and the agency.

Kappos said that the PPH process that goes through Canada is called the “Toronto Pronto.” He added, with a laugh, that he hopes someone in Texas develops a similar process that could be called the “Texas Two Step.”

In his remarks, Smith said he will schedule hearings as soon as February on reforming the patent process in the United States. He said he wants to provide the office with the resources it needs to reduce the backlog of cases and update patent laws.

“Patent laws have not been updated to account for the Internet or the digital age,” Smith said. “And too many frivolous [cases] are still brought against successful companies.”

Kappos said he welcomes Smith’s help in patent law reform and said he would work with him on the issue.

The USPTO received about 485,000 patent applications last year, Kappos said. The backlog of cases is about 750,000.

Kappos said his agency is working to make the patent process faster and more efficient. It has not met goals he set for the agency, but the indicators signal it is making progress.

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