Improving the quality of patents issued by the United States Patent and Trade Mark Office (USPTO) will be a main focus in 2015.

Last Thursday, Michelle Lee, nominated by Barack Obama to serve as director of the USPTO, announced a patent quality initiative aimed at improving the quality of patents issued by the USPTO. While details of the initiative are yet to be released, the goal is to work toward excellence in customer service and in measuring patent quality.

As part of the patent quality initiative, the USPTO will seek ideas from employees and will consider increasing resources, review of patent examiners’ work, and new employee training. This includes up-to-date IT systems to be used in examining patents.

Lee’s replacement as deputy commissioner will hold the new title of ‘Deputy Commissioner for Patent Quality’, and will focus solely on patent quality. The position is tipped to be filled by Valencia Martin Wallace, the USPTO’s current technology centre director.

Lee, a former patent attorney, engineer and computer programmer, stated ‘I’ve seen, in fact, patents that should not have issued, or that have issued with a scope that’s too broad’. Issued patents that are too broad in scope are often the subject of lengthy litigation battles. ‘If there’s abusive litigation or a patent that should not have been issued there’s … a cost to our businesses’.

When asked about patent “trolls”, Lee stated that she doesn’t find it helpful to use the label, and instead ‘we need to focus on solutions that curtail abusive patent litigation. If you’re an innovator, and you create and you invent something, and you file a patent in it, it should not matter what your business model is’.