The first week in December, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) held Tech Week, an opportunity for representatives from corporations, universities, and other organizations to showcase innovations in their field for its patent examiners. Such training, part of its Patent Examiner Technical Training Program, (PETTP) helps ensure patent examiners truly understand the state of the art in the technologies and disciplines in which they consider granting patents. The technologists, scientists, engineers, and other experts in the PETTP volunteer their assistance.
PETTP responds to one of several executive actions issued by the White House earlier this year aimed, in part, at strengthening the quality and accessibility of our patent system. One of these initiatives focused on the critical need for examiners to stay up-to-date in their technical fields of expertise through more robust technical training, enabling them to perform the best examination possible. PETTP improves the patent process by ensuring patent examiners are aware of emerging trends, maturing technologies, and recent innovation.
Topics during USPTO Tech Week included technology advancements and trends in the areas of stem cells, petroleum, regenerative medicine, pharmaceuticals, robotics, financial trading, wireless communication technology, and more. Among the many presenters were representatives from Qualcomm, Novartis Pharmaceuticals, iRobot, Google, Seiko Epson, Sun Chemical, Verizon, and NASA.
Program Manager Ray Taylor of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) discussed the innovative technologies developed for this large, infrared telescope slated for launch in 2018. JWST will observe some of the most distant objects in the universe, the formation of stars and planets, and give insight into the Big Bang, the formation of solar systems capable of supporting life on planets like Earth, and the evolution of our own solar system. Taylor explained the unique challenges JWST faces, such as developing a strong yet lightweight primary mirror 100 times more powerful than the Hubble Telescope. This was accomplished by building mirror segments out of ultra-lightweight beryllium, in a way that folds up to fit into a spacecraft and adjusts to shape after launch. Overcoming operational challenges related to temperature, such as mirror deformation and alignment, were also outlined for patent examiners. Taylor received a multitude of questions, leading to a robust discussion on the telescope’s development.
Patent examiners also learned more in a session by iRobot ® that explained how the company uses robotics technology for object recognition, 3D mapping, and navigation. The company’s products include the Roomba® floor vacuuming robot, which received its initial funding through the Small Business Innovation Research program. Another of its innovative robotics, Ava® 500, is a virtual communications robot which can be used for collaboration in office environments. For example, your colleague may be working from an office across the country but can still stop by your desk and speak with you or attend a meeting virtually. iRobot® also uses robotics in defense and security applications such as search, reconnaissance and bomb-disposal missions.
In a session by Acushnet, the parent company of Titleist®, company representatives explained for patent examiners emerging trends in golf ball technology, including the intricacies of core construction and materials, and how very subtle changes such as dimple structure on a golf ball can affect aerodynamics. The company explained how patents play an integral part in golf ball and golf club technology in a competitive marketplace, and how all its products are driven by technology and intellectual property.
The USPTO thanks the presenters who volunteered their time and expertise during Tech Week 2014 (See the full list of all 2014 PETTP presenters) and encourages others to volunteer to present future training sessions as a part of the Patent Examiner Technical Training Program. Volunteering your time as a guest lecturer in your area of expertise ensures patent examiners keep pace with state of the art developments and in turn helps strengthen the patent system.