Commissioner Focarino Retires from USPTO

Effective July 1, 2015, Margaret “Peggy” Focarino has retired from the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Focarino started with the Office as a patent examiner in 1977 and rose to the level of Commissioner for Patents, a job she has held for the past three-plus years. The retirement of Focarino truly is the end of an era. While the rest of the senior management team at the USPTO is highly qualified for the positions they hold, none come close to having the same longevity of service as Focarino.

Focarino first starting with the USPTO in 1977 as a Patent Examiner.  In several interviews, including her final interview with me (which took place on June 9, 2015), she explained that it was not always easy to fit in initially because she was the only woman in her Art Unit. She explained to me that one of the things she is most proud of is how the Office has changed over the past four decades and now embraces diversity of all kinds.

Focarino became a Supervisory Patent Examiner in 1989 and was promoted to the Senior Executive Service in 1997.  In January 2005, Focarino was promoted to Deputy Commissioner for Patent Operations, a role that made her responsible for all patent-examining functions in the eight Patent Technology Centers and all operational aspects of patent application initial examination, patent publications, and international Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) applications processing. Upon the resignation of Jon Dudas from the USPTO in January 2009, then-Commissioner for Patents John Doll rose from that post to become the Acting Director of the Patent Office.  At that time Focarino was promoted to Acting Commissioner for Patents. Upon Director Kappos assuming control of the Patent Office, Focarino was retained on the senior management team, with the creation of a new position — Deputy Commissioner for Patents. Subsequently, after Commissioner Bob Stoll retired, Focarino was promoted, this time being appointed Commissioner for Patents.

When I interviewed USPTO Director David Kappos in December 2011, I asked him about Focarino and the first words out of his mouth were: “What a wonderful leader.”  Kappos went on to tell me:

Peggy’s the perfect next Commissioner for Patents. She’s got deep knowledge of the agency, extremely well respected in the IP community, rose up through the ranks, knows everything about patents and patent law and patent examination and works extraordinarily well with employees. She’s loved and she’s revered by the employees, not just respected. And if that weren’t enough, works terrifically well with the union. So Peggy’s the perfect package. She’s got tremendous judgment. She knows how to deal with people, she knows how to deal with issues, she’s very diplomatic and just a wonderful leader. I’ve been doing leadership for a long time. I’ve worked with and studied under some of the best leaders in the world and I know a good leader when I see one and Peggy is certainly one.

While that may seem to be unbelievable, lofty praise, it is consistent with what I have heard many times over the years.

In late April 2015, Focarino announced internally that she would retire. In reaching out to the USPTO to confirm this rumor, I was provided the following statement from USPTO Director Michelle Lee:

Peggy has been an inspiration to so many individuals who have aspired to further American innovation through public service. Since 1977, when she began her career as a patent examiner, she has proven to be a role model of professionalism and dedication. Her tenure as Commissioner for Patents occurred at a historic moment in the patent system’s 225-year history, during the enactment of the transformative America Invents Act. I am grateful for the opportunity to have worked with her over the last several years, and congratulate her on an extremely successful career.

There is no doubt that she will be missed, but as she said in our final interview, she is leaving the Office but not planning on retiring. She will take the rest of the summer off for a well-deserved vacation, but I expect that in September she will surface somewhere within the industry.


USPTO Still Accepting Applications into Glossary Pilot

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) recently announced that it is continuing to accept applications into the Glossary Pilot. The Glossary Pilot will run until June 2, 2015, or until the USPTO accepts 200 grantable petitions, whichever occurs first. To date, the USPTO has granted more than 100 petitions and has more than 50 others pending.

Beginning on January 2, 2014, the Patent Office initiated the so-called “Glossary Pilot Program” to study how the inclusion of a glossary section in the specification of a patent application at the time of filing the application would improve the clarity of the patent claims and facilitate examination of patent applications by the USPTO. There is no requirement that a glossary section be provided by an applicant as part of the patent application specification, and terms that are not defined are given their ordinary plain meaning as would be understood by one of skill in the art. In order to participate in the Glossary Pilot Program, an applicant is required to include a glossary section in the patent application specification to define terms used in the patent application. Applications accepted receive expedited processing by placing them on an examiner’s special docket prior to the first Office action, and will have special status up to issuance of a first Office action.


Making the Decision to Appeal vs. Another RCE

Knowing when to give up on a patent application is particularly important for any patent applicant, but when is enough really enough? When should a patent practitioners advise the client to either walk away or file an appeal? Financial resources are limited even for the largest corporations, and throwing good money after bad is not a strategy for success, or a recipe for keeping your clients happy.

When you do not want to give up on a patent application, filing a request for continued examination (RCE) pursuant to 37 CFR 1.114 can be an attractive option compared with the cost and delay associated with filing an appeal to the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB). The filing of the first RCE for a small entity costs $600, and the cost of filing a second or subsequent RCE for a small entity costs $850. Those amounts are doubled for large entities. But filing an RCE also gives the applicant two more bites at the apple in order to try and convince the patent examiner to allow at least some claims. That is, of course, provided that the same rejection cannot be made in the RCE. If the same rejection could be made in the RCE, then the first action could be made final. Assuming you make a proper submission, which  includes, but is not limited to, an information disclosure statement; an amendment to the written description, claims, or drawings; new arguments; or new evidence in support of patentability, you should get at least two additional office actions.


USPTO embarks on patent quality initiative

“The innovation that is fostered by a strong patent system is a key driver of economic growth and job creation.” That is how the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) began the Federal Register Notice announcing the patent quality initiative back in early February 2015. While it may seem like the drive for patent quality is a brand new initiative at the USPTO, the truth is that Director Michelle Lee (pictured, left) has been talking about patent quality ever since she assumed the role of Deputy Director and de facto head of the Patent Office nearly 18 months ago.

On Wednesday and Thursday, March 25 and 26, the USPTO took the first public steps on the road to enhancing patent quality by hosting a Patent Quality Summit at the Office’s main campus in Alexandria, Virginia.

Leading up to the event, I spoke with Valencia Martin-Wallace, who was recently named to the newly created position of Deputy Commissioner for Patent Quality. I asked her about what the Office hoped to accomplish with the Summit.


USPTO Releases 101 Guidance and Illustrative Examples

Recently, the United States Patent and Trademark Office released several patent eligible subject matter examples, which together with the recently released patent eligibility guidance will give applicants, patent prosecutors and patent examiners more information about how the USPTO interprets the state of the law in this all-important area.

To recap, in December 2014, the USPTO released Interim Eligibility Guidance, which provided information about how the Office interprets 35 U.S.C. 101 in light of recent Supreme Court decisions.  This latest interim guidance supplements the guidance given by the office in June 2014 relative to the Supreme Court’s decision in Alice Corp. Pty. Ltd. v. CLS Bank Int’l, 573 U.S. __, 134 S. Ct. 2347 (2014). This guidance supersedes the March 4, 2014, eligibility guidance for claims involving laws of nature, natural phenomena and natural products, which was issued relative to the Supreme Court’s decisions in Mayo Collaborative Serv. v. Prometheus Labs., Inc., 566 U.S. __, 132 S. Ct. 1289 (2012) and Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc., 569 U.S. __, 133 S. Ct. 2107 (2013).