A Visit to the Patent Office

By Dr. Stan Trout | Spontaneous Materials

A few months ago, I wrote an article called The Patent Challenge for the Spring 2015 issue of Magnetics Business & Technology Magazine. It was motivated by the panel discussion of NdFeB patents at Magnetics 2015. In it, I mentioned that I had found that the US Patent Office (USPTO) runs a program called Patent Examiner Technical Training Program (PETTP), which brings in experts from many fields of study to help train current and future Patent Examiners. I promised to report back when I had visited and that has in fact happened.

The new Denver Patent Office is in the Federal Building in Downtown Denver, just a short train ride away. It is a very impressive facility, with room for many patent examiners, examiners-in-training, researchers and even litigants to work. When you consider the number of patent applications and the breadth of their topics, it is amazing that our Patent Examiners can speak intelligently about each one of them.

Since I had just an hour, my seminar covered just the basics of permanent magnets. If you have attended one of my Magnetics Bootcamps, you can imagine a compressed version of that, one day condensed into one hour. Because many Patent Examiners work at other locations or even remotely, there were just a handful of people in the room. But there were well over 50 people watching the live feed around the country. There were a few questions afterward. I wished that I could have covered a few more topics and had more time for Q & A, but I was happy with what I had.

In my earlier article, I also promised to check with other patent offices around the world to see if they have a program similar to PETTP. So far, I have only heard from the European Patent Office. They do not have such a program. If anyone has a good contact in any of the other Patent Offices, please let me know and I will ask them the same question.

Should the magnet industry be content that one rare earth magnet consultant took the time to give a seminar to Patent Examiners about permanent magnets? Of course not. I strongly urge any organization with a financial stake in magnet patents to volunteer for PETTP. (Please send me a note for the contact information.) It is clearly in your best interest to do so. Participating in the program has the potential to make future magnet patents more meaningful, something that we all should want. Otherwise, the next time you read a magnet patent and wonder, “How did they ever get a patent for this idea? It doesn’t seem novel to me.” You’ll have no one to blame but yourself.

StanAbout the Author
Dr. Stan Trout has more than 35 years’ experience in the permanent magnet and rare earth industries. Dr. Trout has a B.S. in Physics from Lafayette College and a Ph.D. in Metallurgy and Materials Science from the University of Pennsylvania. Stan is a contributing columnist for Magnetics Business & Technology magazine. Spontaneous Materials, his consultancy, provides practical solutions in magnetic materials, the rare earths, technical training and technical writing. He can be reached at strout@ieee.org.