Wednesday, January 25, 2023

United States Patent and Trademark Office Unveils New IP Identifier Tool to Assist Entrepreneurs

Last week, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) unveiled its new Intellectual Property (IP) Identifier Tool to assist inventors, entrepreneurs, and small businesses in identifying inventions, brands, and other business assets that can be protected by intellectual property rights.

The IP Identifier Tool is a user-friendly, virtual resource specifically designed by the USPTO for those who may be less familiar with intellectual property rights—patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets. The IP Identifier Tool enables users to first identify whether they have any intellectual property that can be protected, and then helps them to identify specific protections that would help them secure and further develop their business assets. The IP Identifier Tool also provides easily digestible information on intellectual property basics, including guidance to help a user navigate the application process for a patent, trademark or copyright.

When announcing the launch of the IP Identifier Tool, the USPTO emphasized how essential IP rights are to the success and growth of a business. For example, the USPTO noted that when used as collateral, a company’s first patent increases venture capital funding by 76 percent over three years. Similarly, such patent rights can increase funding from an initial public offering by 128 percent. And, per the USPTO, a new company with a patent increases its sales by a cumulative 80 percent more than a company that does not have a patent.

The IP Identifier Tool currently comprises two modules: the Basic IP Identifier Module and the Advanced IP Identifier Module. Each of these Modules is quite simple to navigate and does not take much of the user’s time to compete. A third module that would assist with managing IP assets is currently under development.

The Basic IP Identifier Module asks users six basic questions about their business designed to assess the types of IP they should consider protecting with IP rights. For example, users are asked if they use a brand name, slogan, or logo to distinguish their business from a competitor; or whether they invented or designed something like a machine, tool, or medicine; or whether they have created an artistic or literary work. Each question is accompanied by an illustrative example intended to provide helpful guidance for the user’s assessment.

Let’s look at an example. In determining if the user has invented or designed something that could be patentable, the Module provides the following illustration:

For example, let’s say your dog always wants to play fetch, but you’re tired of picking up a ball covered in dog drool. So you invent a new device that allows you to pick up and throw the ball without ever touching it.

The Advanced IP Identifier Module helps users learn about specific types of IP rights and provides links to additional resources for further assistance, such as instructions for electronically filing an application. The Module includes an Advanced IP Questionnaire that contains information on various types of IP, including utility patents, design patents, plant patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets. The user can select particular IP topics to include in a customized Module review. Based on the topic(s) selected, as well as the user’s answers to topic-specific questions, the user will receive a customized report containing detailed resources tailored to their specific IP circumstances and needs. In addition, based on the user’s specific answers to each question, the Module provides real-time general information to educate the user on the particular IP rights of interest, such as what may be needed for an application, what rights they may already have through common law protection, the term of protection for IP rights, the territorial effect of U.S. IP rights, or how to protect assets in foreign jurisdictions.

The IP Identifier Tool is one of many innovation resources recently introduced under new USPTO Director Kathi Vidal to assist entrepreneurs and inventors. The IP Identifier Tool was announced in connection with the USPTO’s recently launched Women’s Entrepreneurship (WE) Initiative, a collaboration with the Department of Commerce designed to expand opportunities for women entrepreneurs by connecting women with other entrepreneurs, relevant support networks, and useful funding sources. The WE Initiative includes a new online hub with important information and resources tailored to assist women entrepreneurs. The USPTO also recently launched its Virtual Assistant to enhance customer service, and has expanded its Pro Bono outreach to provide guidance and assistance for individual inventors needing assistance with the patent process.

Along with the IP Identifier Tool, each of these new efforts reveals that the USPTO is making a concerted effort to consider the needs of innovators of all sizes and means.

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