This month, I had the opportunity to attend the International Trademark Association annual conference in Hong Kong. For those of you not familiar with the annual INTA conference, it's a five-day event with over 8,000 international IP professionals, complete with educational sessions, networking events, and exhibitors. Perhaps most interesting for the team at Plainlegal was the USPTO's User Meeting with Deborah Cohn (the USPTO Commissioner for Trademarks), Sharon Marsh (the USPTO Deputy Commissioner for Trademark Examination), and Mary Denison (the USPTO Deputy Commissioner for Trademark Operations). Here are the highlights from the talk:
Trademark applications are on the rise
The USPTO is bustling with applications: In 2013, the office received nearly 450,000 new applications, an 5% increase from the prior year. Since 2009, the office has seen an average increase of 4-5% annually. There are currently 420 examining attorneys for these applications, and the USPTO has plans to hire more as applications increase.
The USPTO is increasing its outreach for non-lawyers
In the past, most of the outreach from the USPTO was towards lawyers. Mary Denison, however, noted that the USPTO has now further focused on delivering content to to business groups and entrepreneur groups. For example, the USPTO has created an overview on trademark basics here. In addition, you can find 13 other videos on the USPTO Youtube channel. Some of these videos are now being used by law firms to train paralegals and junior associates. Lastly, for lawyers, the USPTO is continuing hosting INTA roundtables around the country.
A better technological future for trademark lawyers
We all know that TEAS isn't the most user-friendly platform. The USPTO is well-aware of some of the tech shortcomings of the current interface and platform as Mary Denison talked about electronic improvements to TEAS (including the "Trademark Next Generation System"). Here are some of the specifics:
- Improved character scanning
- A notification text box on the first page of each TEAS form that will notify you of errors
- Enhanced form to register sound marks
- Enhanced owner address form to allow for removal of e-mails
- Ability to request removal of application from examination
The Trademark Next Generation System (TNGS) represents a complete overhaul of the internal and external systems. In fact, the new official gazette has already been launched, which is much better than the PDF version and will ultimately be phased out. You can now easily scroll through USPTO decisions on marks.
Greater international collaboration
The five largest trademark offices, China, USA, Korea, Japan, and the European Union (OHIM) have been in collaboration to increase usability and transparency for stakeholders around the world. Indeed, they have launched a new website that will include all their initiatives.
To a layperson, this may not be exciting news, but to us trademark geeks, it is great to see that the USPTO is continuously striving to improve the lives of trademark applicants and registrants as well as lawyers.