United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)

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The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is the federal agency responsible for granting U.S. patents and registering U.S. trademarks. The USPTO is the sole entity capable of granting patents and trademarks legally recognized in the United States. 

The USPTO is an agency within the U.S. Department of Commerce in the executive branch of the U.S. government. Congress established the USPTO by exercising its Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8 and commerce clause authority to pass 35 U.S.C. § 1. The USPTO operates pursuant to statutes passed by Congress and rules governing USPTO proceedings established by the USPTO that are consistent with law.

The USPTO is headquartered within the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area in Alexandria, Virginia and currently has satellite offices in Dallas, Texas; Denver, Colorado; Detroit, Michigan; and San Jose, California. The USPTO Director is appointed by the U.S. president and subject to Senate approval. Currently, Andrei Iancu is the acting USPTO Director and Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property as of August 2017.

The USPTO employs patent examiners to review applications submitted by individuals seeking patent protection by assessing patentability of the invention based on the statutory requirements of subject matter eligibility (35 U.S.C. § 101), novelty (35 U.S.C. § 102), non-obviousness (35 U.S.C. §103), and disclosure of invention (35 U.S.C. § 112). Patent examiners are responsible for granting patents for applications which successfully meet all statutory requirements of invention. For trademarks, trademark examiners are employed to similarly assess applications for trademark protection and grant trademark registration for applications meeting all legal requirements for trademarks.

The USPTO includes two administrative law bodies for hearing appeals of patent examiner and trademark examiner decisions: the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) and the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB). Subsequent appeals are directed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

The USPTO’s power to grant patents and trademarks is territorially limited to the United States. Individuals and entities seeking patent protection recognized by other countries must reapply for a patent in each country in which they seek protection. Each country or union individually reviews and grants patents based on the country’s own laws and requirements in agencies similar to the USPTO, such as the European Patent Office (EPO) and the Korean Intellectual Property Office (KIPO). The USPTO works with the EPO and the Japanese Patent Office (JPO) (collectively referred to as the “Trilateral Offices”) to exchange information and prior art to improve patent examination efficiency in all three offices. The USPTO additionally participates in the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) which makes it easier for applicants to file patent applications for an invention in multiple countries.

The USPTO is additionally responsible for advising other government agencies and officials (including the United States president) on intellectual property matters. 

[Last updated in July of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]