The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Goes to School in NYC
Sue Purvis is the nation's first on-campus patent officer. She has been working at the newly founded Manhattan campus of CornellNYC Tech since October as the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's "innovation and outreach coordinator," advising innovators on campus and elsewhere in New York City.
Purvis has worked for the PTO for 14 years, first as a patent examiner and more recently as an advisor to Deputy Under Secretary Teresa Stanek Rea. PTO Director David Kappos, who announced yesterday he will be stepping down in January, said at a news conference in October that by stationing a patent officer at a major graduate research institution, "the USPTO will tear down the walls between university research and the federal support that has the power to help move that research from the lab to the marketplace."
CorpCounsel.com asked Purvis about her job and what she hopes to accomplish for the present and future of intellectual property in the business world. Below is an edited version of that exchange.
CorpCounsel: What does your job at CornellNYC Tech entail?
Sue Purvis: In my capacity at Cornell, I am able to share my knowledge of the full breadth of federal resources and programs that are available to support innovators and entrepreneurs. My assistance includes educating innovators and entrepreneurs on how to secure patent protection anddepending on their needassist them in finding new markets for export.
My responsibilities also include introducing innovation and intellectual property topics into the classroom at all levels; working with local incubators and economic development commissions to help establish new programs that will accelerate the transfer of technologies and companies growth; hosting symposiums on campus and across the New York City region to highlight trending issues in technology and innovation; working with local schools to develop STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics] materials to promote IP and technology curricula in classrooms; and working on new pilot programs that can accelerate the commercialization of technology based off lessons learned from student and business interaction.
In addition to connecting Cornell University students with the PTO and the U.S. Department of Commerce, I am also working directly with local government officials, intellectual property groups, and constituents in the region.
CC: Why is your office part of CornellNYC Tech? Had any inventions or innovations that came out of the school gone through the patent process before your arrival on campus?
SP: The Cornell partnership was born out of the university administrations commitment to helping entrepreneurs and businesses compete and win in the global marketplace. The programs goal is to encourage small businesses in the New York City community to innovate, and to connect the community directly to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and the Department of Commerce more generally.
This Cornell partnership is not the same as a satellite office. However, when the PTO was exploring locations for the satellite offices authorized by the America Invents Act, we found that communities across the country were excited about having the PTO open an office in their city. Therefore, we decided that we should explore other alternatives to a satellite office, and that is what we are doing here. CornellNYC Techa first-of-its-kind graduate-level research campusis a perfect fit.
Since Cornell NYC Tech is a new university, with the first class of students starting in January 2013, inventions or innovations have not yet come out of the campus.
CC: Why was NYC chosen? Is the city considered a hub for major innovation along the lines of Silicon Valley?
SP: This first-of-its kind Memorandum of Agreement was signed directly with Cornell based on discussions that occurred between Cornell President David Skorton and Department of Commerce officials. This partnership represents a unique opportunity to accelerate and amplify the technology-focused work that the university has undertaken at Cornell NYC Tech.
However, this is intended to benefit the entire NYC region. We can see in patent applications and issuances that New York City is a thriving region for innovation, particularly among independent inventors, start-ups, and entrepreneurs. This project will give Cornells students and innovators all across the area direct access to resources that will help them bring their ideas to market and grow their businesses.
CC: Are you working primarily with students and professors on campus?
SP: I am here to connect the broad array of the Commerce Departments innovation and commercialization resources and tools with students, small businesses, and the independent inventor communities in the greater New York City area. I am also able to offer extensive intellectual property education and support services to students, innovators, and the public.
CC: What kind of advice do you give people? Is it mostly about process?
SP: My responsibility is to educate people on the resources offered by the Department of Commerce and the federal government, and to shed as much light on the patent application process as I can.
If an inventor is looking to file a patent application, I recommend they hire an attorney, or I refer them to a program that can assist them if they cannot afford an attorney. The patent process can be very complicated, and an attorney can help an inventor get the most complete protection possible for their invention. Inventors who choose to initiate the patent application themselves should get educated on the process so they know what to expect.
CC: Have any applications been filed at the PTO by people you have worked with since starting in this position?
SP: I have talked with several inventors who have pending applications, and I have spoken with individuals who are eager to file applications. I have not yet heard of somebody filing an application, but were early on in the process. Should they file applications, they will not file them with me, but with the PTO directly.
CC: What is it that people ask you about most?
SP: People are very interested in intellectual property, so I mostly get asked about patents and trademarks.
CC: Can you give an example of a meeting that has taken placewhat an individual or company came to ask you about and what you told them?
SP: I spoke with two individuals, who have a startup company in New York, about their pending patent applications. As a former examiner, I was able to give them insight on the patent approval process. Additionally, I was able to educate them on different options the office has to accelerate the prosecution of patent applications, including Track One and the First Action Interview Pilot.
CC: Are you teaching any classes or serving as a guest lecturer in any courses?
SP: I taught a class about the Fundamentals of Intellectual Property for Entrepreneurs at the New York Institute of Technology, and I have a talk scheduled at Fordham Law School at the end of [November]. I hope to schedule more talks soon. The talks are part of efforts to facilitate an open dialogue about the state of intellectual property protection in the 21st century.
CC: Is this your first time living in New York?
SP: I have always thought it would be great to live in New York, but my job kept me in Washington D.C. Its great to have the opportunity to continue working for the PTO and now live in New York. And what better way to do it than to be a resource for inventors and entrepreneurs in this thriving city?