Patent and Trademark Office (PTO)

views updated May 18 2018

Patent and Trademark Office (PTO)

The Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) is responsible for administering all laws relating to trademarks and patents in the United States. It has thus been an important agency for several generations of entrepreneurs and small business owners, as well as for larger corporations and universities. The PTO describes itself as follows: "Through the issuance of patents, we encourage technological advancement by providing incentives to invent, invest in, and disclose new technology worldwide. Through the registration of trademarks, we assist businesses in protecting their investments, promoting goods and services and safeguarding consumers against confusion and deception in the marketplace. By disseminating both patent and trademark information, we promote an understanding of intellectual property protection and facilitate the developments and sharing of new technologies world wide."

In addition to handling the nation's patents and trademarks, the PTO also has a notable advisory function. It serves as both a developer of intellectual property policy and an advisor to the White House on patent/trademark/copyright policies. In addition, the PTO provides information and guidance on intellectual property issues to international commerce offices such as the International Trade Commission and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. In 1999 the PTO was established as an agency within the Department of Commerce.

By nearly all accounts, the PTO has historically done a laudable job of protecting the intellectual property rights of businesses and individuals while simultaneously encouraging the growth of business. "Since its inception, the patent system has encouraged the genius of millions of inventors," wrote Inventor's Desktop Companion author Richard C. Levy. "It has protected these creative individuals by allowing them an opportunity to profit from their labors, and has benefited society by systematically recording new inventions and releasing them to the public once the inventors' limited rights have expired. Under the patent system, American industry has flourished. New products have been invented, new uses for old ones discovered, and employment given to millions."


The fundamental principles of the modern American patent system were first codified into law in 1790. Guided by Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson in its early years, the patent office grew quickly, and in 1849 the Department of the Interior was given responsibility for maintaining it. In 1870 the powers of the patent office were expanded dramatically; the commissioner of patents was given jurisdiction to register and regulate trademarks. The office thus came to be responsible for all American trademarks, even though the word "trademark" would not appear in its name for another 105 years (the Patent Office became the Patent and Trademark Office on January 2, 1975). In 1926 responsibility for the Patent Office was handed over to the Department of Commerce, where it remains today.

The PTO currently touts the following laws as the primary statutory authorities guiding its programs:

  • 15 U.S.C. 10511127Contains provisions of the Trademark Act of 1946, a law that governs the office's trademark administration
  • 15 U.S.C. 1511Establishes the PTO as a subordinate agency of the Department of Commerce
  • 35 U.S.C.Provides the PTO with its basic authority to administer patent laws
  • 44 U.S.C. 13371338Gives the PTO authority to print trademarks, patents, and other material relevant to the business of the Office

In 1991 the PTO underwent a significant change in operation. The Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (OBRA) of 1990 included provisions to make the Office a self-supporting government agency that would not receive federal funding. In order to provide the PTO with needed operating funds, Congress raised the PTO's patent application fees to cover operating costs and maintain services for inventors. The PTO has been funded solely by fees since 1993. In 1999 it was formally established as an agency within the Department of Commerce.

As part of its efforts to process its patent applications in a timely manner, the Patent and Trademark Office established and opened an electronic patent application filing system open to all inventors in October 2000. The PTO's web site ( now allows inventors to assemble all components of a patent application online, including calculating fees, validating content, and encrypting and transmitting the filing. At the same time, the PTO raised its patent fees to match current rates of inflation. This increase, the first since 1997, was needed to pay for the electronic system and other expenses associated with processing the huge volume of patent and trademark applications that pass through the PTO's doors every year (the Office experienced an annual 10 percent growth in patent applications during the 1990s, and in Calendar Year 2004, the PTO issued more than 181,000 patents; in Fiscal Year 2005, it registered more than 92,500 trademarks.

see also Inventions and Patents


Hoover, Kent. "Patent Office Opens Electronic Filing to All." Sacramento Business Journal. 3 November 2000.

Levy, Richard C. "The Patent and Trademark Office." The Inventor's Desktop Companion. Visible Ink, 1995.

United States Patent and Trademark Office. Available from Retrieved on 28 April 2006.

                                Hillstrom, Northern Lights

                                  updated by Magee, ECDI

Patent and Trademark Office

views updated May 23 2018


The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) is a federal agency that grants patents and registers trademarks to qualified applicants. A division of the commerce department, the PTO was named the Patent Office when it was established by Congress in 1836. In 1975 it was renamed the Patent and Trademark Office to reflect its dual function. The PTO is now organized pursuant to 35 U.S.C.A. § 1 et seq.

Under the direction of the secretary of commerce, the PTO is run by the commissioner of patents and trademarks, a deputy commissioner, several assistant commissioners, and a support staff of more than 1,000 employees. The primary job of the commissioners is to review the merits of patent and trademark applications. Patents are typically issued upon a showing that a particular applicant has discovered or developed a new and useful process, machine, article of manufacture, chemical composition, or other invention. Trademark protection is typically afforded to applicants who are seeking to identify their commercial goods by means of a distinctive word, name, symbol, or other device.

Trademark applications must be submitted with a drawing of the proposed mark; patent applications must be accompanied by a detailed description of the invention. A filing fee is also required for both patent and trademark applications. Applications are reviewed at the PTO by persons of competent legal knowledge and scientific ability, though such persons need not be scientists or lawyers to qualify for the job. Because the application process often requires a significant amount of technical expertise and legal acumen, many applicants hire intellectual property attorneys to represent them. The commissioner of patents and trademarks maintains a roster of attorneys and other agents who are eligible to represent applicants in proceedings before the PTO. Each year the PTO receives hundreds of thousands of patent and trademark applications. However, only a fraction of the applications are approved. During the fiscal year of 2000 the PTO issued 176,087 patents and registered approximately 106,383 trademarks.

When the application process is completed, the PTO attaches its seal of authenticity to all patents and trademarks that have been approved. Additionally, the PTO publishes the Official Gazette, a weekly notice of all successful patent and trademark applications. Old editions of the Gazette dating back to 1872 are kept at a library in the PTO. The library contains more than 30 million documents, including ownership records for both U.S. and foreign patents and trademarks. The library is open to the public, and the PTO will furnish certified copies of patents, trademarks, and other library records to any interested person.

Patent applicants who are dissatisfied with a decision made by the PTO may appeal to the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences. The board consists of the commissioner of patents and trademarks, the deputy commissioner, an assistant commissioner for patents, an assistant commissioner for trademarks, and individuals known as examiners-in-chief. Trademark applicants can appeal adverse decisions to the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, which has a similar composition. Applicants who lose before either the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences or the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board may appeal directly to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which is vested with jurisdiction over most intellectual property matters.

In addition to examining the merits of patent and trademark applications, the PTO performs studies regarding the development of intellectual property law at the domestic and international levels. These studies have allowed the PTO to establish a number of programs to recognize, identify, assess, and forecast technological trends and their utility to industry. The PTO has relied on these programs in its efforts to strengthen patent and trademark protection around the world.

The PTO, located in Arlington, Virginia, employs over 5,000 staff members to support its major functions of examining and issuing patents and examining and registering trademarks. Since 1991, the PTO has operated similarly to a private business, providing products and services in return for fees that pay for PTO

operations, although increased filings for patents and trademarks have caused fiscal strain. The PTO has responded by a variety of methods including electronic filing. The PTO features a user-friendly Web site that permits users to apply for a patent or file a trademark online as well as checking the status of patents and trademarks as they move through the application or filing process.

further readings

Patent and Trademark Office. Available online at <> (accessed August 1, 2003).

U.S. Government Manual Website. Available online at <> (accessed November 10, 2003).


Commerce Department; Intellectual Property; Jurisdiction.