New innovation center aims to unleash invention, trademark data

A digital services team at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has been working to make it easier to use the agency’s more than 200 years of data.
The Patent and Trademark Office's Innovation Lab is home to the agency's digital services team. (USPTO)

What was a file closet just a year ago has become a nerve center for the Patent and Trademark Office’s data innovation work.

The digital services team inside the USPTO Innovation Lab has spent the past eight months developing the Developer Hub, a portal with charts and graphs that allows tech novices to parse information from seemingly inscrutable agency data troves and find trends related to inventions and brands. When the site launched this spring, page views quickly surpassed the agency’s other online dashboards. Last week, it had nearly 90,000 page views.

Sitting in the small lab surrounded by two white boards, Thomas Beach, senior adviser in the patent office’s Office of the Undersecretary and Director, said he hopes that his team’s work demonstrates why patents and trademarks matter in the larger economy — and helps inventors file higher quality patent applications, which has been a focus of the agency in the fight against so-called patent “trolls.”

“It lowers the barrier to entry to anyone to understand patents and trademarks,” he said. “You don’t have to be an expert in how patents are made. [Users] really just want to know why do they matter — and ‘how can I visually see how they matter.’”


The Developer Hub uses Tableau Public software to generate illustrations on topics like the number of patents granted to universities throughout the years or how state jobs data compares to the number of patents filed. The hub also has a community platform that allows users to share ways they are using the agency’s data and a GitHub page that offers a tutorial about how to use the data from the site.

“The vision on that was to really provide a platform — almost like a train station where every train can come and go, new trains, new ideas, share something, learn something, take a journey and come back,” he said.


Thomas Beach, senior adviser in the patent office’s Office of the Undersecretary and Director, and Scott Beliveau, supervisory patent examiner, inside the Innovation Lab. (Whitney Blair Wyckoff/FedScoop)

Beach and his No. 2 Scott Beliveau led the “scrappy” digital services team — made up of dozens of USPTO staffers and contractors across business units who rotated in and out of the lab — that worked with the data and created visualizations.

The team plans to continue to add functionality, like an API library, to the site and has plans to release a visualization for Vice President Joe Biden’s cancer moonshot initiative at the end of the month that will look at patents related to treating cancer.


Digging into the agency’s information information is no small task. The body of data that the office keeps is large and complex, said Mike Olson, co-founder and chief strategy officer of Cloudera. Indeed, the office just issued its 9 millionth patent. He commended the site’s creators for making some of that more accessible to the non-tech set.

“They’ve made it consumable — they’ve made it accessible in a really easy-to-use way,” he said. “They haven’t stopped people who have more sophisticated skills to explore the data using other tools, but they’ve really simplified access.”

USPTO CIO John Owens told FedScoop the site made a splash when Beach first debuted, and he added that the work of Beach’s team is helping to illuminate trends.

“Once Mr. Beach demoed the website with all of the data results from just the first pass, a lot of my peers, the executives here, said, ‘Wow, this is spectacular. This is things we never thought of before.’”

Innovation labs, like the one that created the hub, are sprouting up across government. Last year the Obama administration released an “innovation strategy” that highlighted the importance of these institutions to allow “agency employees and members of the public to implement their promising ideas to more effectively serve the American people.”


Olson, whose company is involved in government data projects like the Precision Medicine Initiative, said data is critical for innovation.

“Data is going to change our economy and our society in dramatic ways. And we already see that happening,” he said. And he noted that the the administration has created a “deep bench” of people who are “promoting innovation and using data in important ways.”

Beach said even with a new administration poised to enter the White House in 2017, efforts like the Developer Hub to use data better in the government will continue.

“Where it goes from here is going to be great,” he said.

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