A Day at the USPTO

By: Diana Gonzalez and Vinam Puri

The Fundamentals of Intellectual Property class, a course offered by the Masters of Business and Science (MBS) program at Rutgers University, entails a day at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in Alexandria, VA. In this once in a lifetime opportunity (not many programs offer this exclusive opportunity), MBS students interact and learn with USPTO staff. This blog post tells the story of the day that the class of Summer 2019 spent at the USPTO.

The Fundamentals of Intellectual Property Class of Summer 2019 at the USPTO

A Day of Learning…
The day started (at 3:30 AM!) with the majority of the class boarding the bus from Livingston Campus of the University in Piscataway, NJ. That was the first achievement of the day for most of us. We had a rainy stormy ride to Alexandria, after which we arrived at the USPTO at 8:00 AM for what would be a day to remember.

The experience at the USPTO started with a warm welcome from Dennis Forbes and NaThanya Ferguson from the Office of Innovation Development as they laid out the agenda for the day. The first presenter, Elizabeth Dougherty, covered the History of the USPTO. We learned many astounding facts that made us more appreciative of the USPTO. Did you know that the first patent board of the nation consisted of Thomas Jefferson (Secretary of State), Henry Knox (Secretary of War) and Edmund Randolph (Attorney General)? Could you imagine people in these positions in today’s time being on the patent board?

Top – Elizabeth Dougherty talking about the history of the USPTO. Bottom - Amanda Myers explaining the various statistics about Women in the IP world

We also had an opportunity to hear Amanda Myers, Deputy Chief Economist, discuss the Progress and Potential: Gender Report on the involvement of women in the world of intellectual property (you can access more information here: https://www.uspto.gov/learning-and-resources/ip-policy/economic-research/progress-potential. This interesting session described the ways in which the office conducted research to identify female inventors, which was an obstacle because it is not a requirement to disclose gender when filing for a patent. The purpose of this research was to give the USPTO a better idea as to how many women inventors there are in the United States. They determined that, although women have a greater presence in the science and engineering fields and entrepreneurship, there is still not a substantial increase in number of female patent inventors. This in turn gave the USPTO initiative to create better outreach to encourage more women to become inventors.

The other sessions we had were:

  • Trademarks by Craig Morris (Managing Attorney for Trademark Outreach) that taught us about Trademarks (Ô) and Service Marks (SM), that can be used just as a notice of claimed rights, and the benefits of getting a federal registration for a mark, which grants on the permission to use the â symbol.
  • Patent 10M and Beyond by Derris Banks (Technology Center Director) and A Day in the Life of a Patent Examiner by Chris Babic (Supervisory Patent Examiner) were interactive sessions that allowed attendees to learn about the career paths of both speakers at the patent office. The journey to their current positions motivated many students to consider similar paths and that motivation brought a lot of questions with it.
  • USPTO Resources Panel which included Robin Jackson, Dennis Forbes, Robert Berry, and Sara Sass. In this session, we were provided information about the different resources the USPTO offers to the public. The Public Search Facility is open to the public at the USPTO to search for IP. The Office of Innovation Development does a lot of outreach programs to promote inventors to pursue IP protection. The Patent and Trademark Resource Centers were created to give complete access to patents to libraries, so people don’t have to travel all the way to Alexandria – there is actually one on our own campus at the Library of Science and Medicine! The last resource we learned about was the Patent Pro Bono Program where the USPTO partners with regional organizations to aid inventors that are under the poverty line to access the patent system.
  • Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) by Alyssa Finamore (Administrative Patent Judge). We learned about trial proceedings on patents and how the judges treat the patent in question as a patent application to determine the validity or invalidity of a patent.

Images of the sessions by Craig Morris, Derris Banks, Chris Babic, USPTO Resource Panel, and Alyssa Finamore (in order of pictures).

…With Fun
During the lunch hour, we had the opportunity to explore the premises of the USPTO building and the USPTO Museum that displays important moments of the IP world. In the museum we saw different aspects of IP, and even things we didn’t know were protected – like the yellow first down line that football fans see on TV. The USPTO building includes a physical Trademark library that is open to public. We were able to browse through some of the oldest trademarks existing, and it was very interesting to find some familiar trademarks from today in some of the oldest trademark archives.

Students doing a trademark search at the USPTO Trademark Library

Co-instructor, Narayan Escolin, along with students at the USPTO Museum.

What About Out-of-State Students?
One would think this opportunity would only be for those that live close to Rutgers to take this trip. This was not the case for Conley Allen, an online student who lives in North Texas. Conley has never actually been to New Jersey, but was attracted to the Rutgers MBS program because of her desire to pursue the studies in Personal Care Sciences. This summer is Conley’s first semester and the Fundamentals of Intellectual Property course is her first class in the program. When she saw in the syllabus that there was a mandatory trip to the USPTO, she thought this would be the perfect opportunity to meet her classmates and make a weekend trip out of it. She was nervous about attending since she didn’t know anyone and didn’t have much interaction with students in the class since she was taking it online. It turned out to be one of best experiences she has had, in part because she was able to meet two of her group members in person. But most importantly, she learned so much from the people we heard from at the USPTO. As an out-of-state student, she highly recommends future out-of-state students to attend the trip. She said, “The trip was beneficial as it gave more clarity from what we learned in class and it was fun getting to meet classmates.”

Conclusion
Some of the most important sessions of the day were more conversational in nature. If you haven’t, you should consider taking the Intellectual Property course with the Rutgers MBS program for the opportunity to experience the USPTO in person. No written description can do justice to the interactions experienced attending these sessions in person. For people curious to explore career options at the USPTO, which we learned is a great place to work, this was the best resource that could be made available.