PPAC’s Bold Strategy to Transform Patent Inclusion

By: Lolita Darden, Chair, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Patent Public Advisory Committee; Managing Partner, Darden Betts Strategic Intellectual Property Counselors; Visiting Associate Professor, George Washington University Law School

(This post is part of a series. The first blog in the series is here, and resources from the initiative’s first conference are available here. The Initiative will host its second conference at Emory University Law School in Atlanta on Friday, September 20, 2024. Please indicate your interest by signing up here.)

This year, the Patent Public Advisory Committee, also known as PPAC, turns 25.  Established in 1999, PPAC is a 9-member advisory committee appointed by the Secretary of Commerce. Each member serves a 3-year term, and I am starting my second year. The primary purpose of the Committee is to review the policies, goals, performance, budget, and user fees of the USPTO with respect to patents. The Committee is also charged, by statute, to advise the Director of the USPTO on these matters and to prepare a report to Congress on the advisory actions the Committee has undertaken during the calendar year. You can find the 2023 PPAC Annual Report here.

As the new Chair of PPAC, I look forward to collaborating with the Committee and Director Vidal to serve the interests of the American people and the IP community in ways that enhance national and global competitiveness, accelerate growth in GDP, and drive innovation and entrepreneurship. 

For those of you not familiar with PPAC, another function of the Committee is to provide the Director with feedback from our constituents about initiatives being undertaken by the USPTO with respect to patent matters. In that regard, I view my role as Chair as a facilitator, working closely with Committee members to provide advice and counsel to the Director based on feedback received from our respective constituencies.

This year, PPAC will continue to work with Director Vidal to link patents and invention more explicitly to national competitiveness, through both increasing invention activity and making patent protection available to more inventors around the U.S. It is widely known that innovation is a key driver of competitiveness and long‐term economic growth. It is also known that patents are important measures of innovation. Recent studies show that significant increases in U.S. innovation are achievable by encouraging inclusive innovation, which involves bringing under-represented individuals and communities into the innovation ecosystem. For example, one study finds that “[i]f women, minorities, and children from low-income families were to invent at the same rate as white men from high-income (top 20%) families, the rate of innovation in America would quadruple,” which represents substantial potential growth to the United States economy.

In my capacity as a private citizen and law professor, I have devoted countless pro bono hours assisting under-resourced inventors with protecting their rights in intellectual property, as well as educating them regarding the benefits of protection.  Research shows that the biggest deterrent to the pursuit of IP protections by individuals from historically resourced communities is awareness.  My vision for increasing the number of participants in the innovation ecosystem from under-resourced communities is education.  Ideally, law schools and law firms would pledge to offer community-based programs educating inventors from under-resourced communities about IP basics, i.e., what is protectable, how it can be protected, and pro bono resources for pursuing protection.  I am excited to continue this work of raising awareness in an advisory role as Chair of PPAC.

One of the interesting things about PPAC is that we are composed of individuals with different backgrounds and views on the U.S. patent system and how it should operate.  Nevertheless, we have been able to find common ground in thinking about how patents can best help the nation.  In addition to inclusive innovation, the Committee will continue to work to support the USPTO’s efforts to maintain a patent system that best serves the American people and the IP community.

Three main takeaways:

  1. Role of PPAC: PPAC, established in 1999, is a 9-member advisory committee appointed by the Secretary of Commerce, serving 3-year terms. Its primary function is to review and advise on the policies, goals, performance, budget, and user fees of the USPTO with respect to patents, and to prepare an annual report to Congress on its advisory actions.
  2. Focus on National Competitiveness and Inclusive Innovation: PPAC aims to enhance national and global competitiveness by linking patents and inventions more closely, promoting increased invention activity, and expanding patent protection to more inventors across the U.S. The committee emphasizes the importance of inclusive innovation, highlighting that significant increases in U.S. innovation and economic growth could be achieved by encouraging participation from under-represented groups in the innovation ecosystem.
  3. Education for Under-resourced Inventors: PPAC also aims to raise awareness and educational resources for under-resourced inventors about IP protection. This includes the vision to work with law schools and law firms to provide community-based programs on IP basics, aiming to increase the number of participants from under-resourced communities in the patent ecosystem.

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