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...