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The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

Following is a brief history and description of the role of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), a federal agency in the U.S. Department of Commerce.

History and Development

Congress established the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to issue patents on behalf of the government. The Patent Office as a distinct bureau dates from the year 1802, when a separate official in the Department of State who became known as "Superintendent of Patents" was placed in charge of patents. The revision of the patent laws, enacted in 1836, reorganized the Patent Office and designated the official in charge as Commissioner of Patents. The Patent Office remained in the Department of State until 1849 when it was transferred to the Department of Interior. In 1925 it was transferred to the Department of Commerce where it is today. The name of the Patent Office was changed to the Patent and Trademark Office in 1975 and changed to the United States Patent and Trademark Office in 2000.

Role of the USPTO

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 to inventors the exclusive right to their respective discoveries.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office administers the patent laws as they relate to the granting of patents for inventions, and performs other duties relating to patents. The USPTO:

  • Examines applications for patents to determine if the applicants are entitled to patents under the law
  • Grants the patents when they are so entitled
  • Publishes issued patents, most patent applications filed on or after November 29, 2000, at 18 months from the earliest filing date, and various publications concerning patents;
  • Records assignments of patents;
  • Maintains a search room for the use of the public to examine issued patents and records; and
  • Supplies copies of records and other papers.

Note: The USPTO has no jurisdiction over questions of infringement and the enforcement of patents.

The work of examining applications for patents is divided among a number of examining technology centers (TC), each TC having jurisdiction over certain assigned fields of technology. Each TC is headed by group directors and staffed by examiners and support staff. The examiners review applications for patents and determine whether patents can be granted. An appeal can be taken to the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences from their decisions refusing to grant a patent, and a review by the Director of the USPTO may be had on other matters by petition. The examiners also identify applications that claim the same invention and may initiate proceedings, known as interferences, to determine who was the first inventor.

In addition to the examining TCs, other offices perform various services, such as receiving and distributing mail, receiving new applications, handling sales of printed copies of patents, making copies of records, inspecting drawings, and recording assignments. At present, the USPTO has over 6,500 employees, of whom about half are examiners and others with technical and legal training. Patent applications are received at the rate of over 350,000 per year. The Office receives over five million pieces of mail each year.

Protecting New Ideas and Encouraging Innovation

The strength and vitality of the U.S. economy depends directly on effective mechanisms that protect new ideas and investments in innovation and creativity. The continued demand for patents and trademarks underscores the ingenuity of American inventors and entrepreneurs. The USPTO is at the cutting edge of the Nation's technological progress and achievement.

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