Intellectual Property: Additional Agency Actions Can Improve Assistance to Small Businesses and Inventors

What GAO Found

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) offers multiple programs that help small businesses and inventors with acquiring intellectual property protections, which can help protect creative works or ideas. These programs, such as the Inventors Assistance Center, are aimed at assisting the public, especially small businesses and inventors, with intellectual property protections. Several stakeholders GAO interviewed said that USPTO programs have been helpful, but they were also not aware of some USPTO programs. Although these programs individually evaluate how they help small businesses and inventors, the agency does not collect and evaluate overall information on whether these programs are effectively reaching out to and meeting the needs of these groups. Under federal internal control standards, an agency should use quality information to achieve its objectives. Without an agency-wide approach to collect information to help evaluate the extent to which its programs serve small businesses and inventors, USPTO may not have the quality information needed to fully evaluate the effectiveness of its outreach and assistance for these groups and thus make improvements where necessary.

Although the Small Business Administration (SBA) coordinates with USPTO through targeted efforts to provide intellectual property training to small businesses, it has not fully implemented some statutory requirements that can further enhance this coordination. While SBA and the Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) coordinate with USPTO programs at the local level to train small businesses on intellectual property protection (see figure), this coordination is inconsistent. For example, two of the 12 SBDCs that GAO interviewed reported working primarily with USPTO to help small businesses protect their intellectual property, but the other 10 did not. The Small Business Innovation Protection Act of 2017 requires SBA and USPTO to coordinate and build on existing intellectual property training programs, and requires that SBA’s local partners, specifically the SBDCs, provide intellectual property training, in coordination with USPTO. SBA officials reported that they are in the process of implementing requirements of this act. Incorporating selected leading practices for collaboration, such as documenting the partnership agreement and clarifying roles and responsibilities, could help SBA and USPTO fully and consistently communicate their existing resources to their partners and programs, enabling them to refer these resources to small businesses and inventors.

Figure: The Small Business Administration (SBA) and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) Coordinate at the Local Level, but Are Inconsistent

Why GAO Did This Study

Small businesses employ about half of the U.S. private workforce and create approximately two-thirds of the nation’s jobs. For many small businesses, intellectual property aids in building market share and creating jobs. Among the federal agencies assisting small businesses with intellectual property are USPTO, which grants patents and registers trademarks, and SBA, which assists small businesses on a variety of business development issues, including intellectual property.

GAO was asked to review resources available to help small businesses and inventors protect intellectual property, and their effectiveness. This report examines, among other things, (1) the extent to which USPTO evaluates the effectiveness of its efforts to assist small businesses and (2) SBA’s coordination with USPTO to assist small businesses. GAO analyzed agency documents and interviewed officials who train and assist small businesses. GAO also interviewed stakeholders, including small businesses, and, among other things, reviewed federal internal control standards and selected leading practices for enhancing interagency collaboration.

What GAO Recommends

GAO is making four recommendations, including that USPTO develop an agency-wide approach to evaluate the effectiveness of its efforts to help small businesses and inventors, and that SBA document its partnership agreement with USPTO and clarify roles and responsibilities for coordinating with USPTO to provide training. Both agencies agreed with GAO’s recommendations.

For more information, contact John Neumann, (202) 512-6888, NeumannJ@gao.gov

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  • Justice Department Files Lawsuit Against Tampa-Area Physician, Pharmacy, and Clinic Owners for Controlled Substances Act Violations
    In Crime News
    The United States filed a civil complaint seeking to permanently enjoin the owners of a Tampa-area clinic and pharmacy from unlawfully dispensing opioids and other controlled substances, the Department of Justice announced today.
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  • United States Announces New Humanitarian Assistance for Displaced Rohingya and Members of Other Affected Communities in Bangladesh and Burma
    In Human Health, Resources and Services
    Morgan Ortagus, [Read More…]
  • Remarks at the “America Is All In” Launch Event
    In Climate - Environment - Conservation
    John Kerry, Special [Read More…]
  • Secretary Blinken’s Call with Afghanistan High Council for National Reconciliation Chair Dr. Abdullah
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Individual Arrested and Charged with Operating Notorious Darknet Cryptocurrency “Mixer”
    In Crime News
    A dual Russian-Swedish national was arrested Tuesday at Los Angeles International Airport on criminal charges related to his alleged operation of the longest-running bitcoin money laundering service on the darknet.
    [Read More…]
  • Genetics, Diagnosis, Treatment: NIH Takes On Sickle Cell Disease
    In Human Health, Resources and Services
    Each year, some 150,000 [Read More…]
  • Senegal Travel Advisory
    In Travel
    Reconsider travel to [Read More…]
  • The United States Takes Actions Against Supporters of the Illegitimate Maduro Regime’s Fraudulent Elections
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • Zimbabwe Travel Advisory
    In Travel
    Reconsider travel to [Read More…]
  • Attorney General Merrick B. Garland Delivers Remarks at Announcement of Pattern or Practice Investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department
    In Crime News
    Good morning.  Like so many of you, I have closely watched the events in Minnesota. Although the state’s prosecution was successful, I know that nothing can fill the void that the loved ones of George Floyd have felt since his death. My heart goes out to them and to all those who have experienced similar loss. 
    [Read More…]
  • Saudi National Day
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • This Week in Iran Policy
    In Crime Control and Security News
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  • Florida Man Charged with COVID Relief Fraud, Health Care Fraud and Money Laundering
    In Crime News
    A Florida man has been charged regarding allegations that he fraudulently obtained a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan and an Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL), and that he orchestrated a conspiracy to submit false and fraudulent claims for reimbursement to Medicare and CareCredit, and to defraud his own patients by charging them thousands of dollars for chiropractic services under false pretenses.
    [Read More…]
  • Office for Victims of Crime Awards Nearly $4 Million to Support Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Programs
    In Crime News
    The Office of Justice [Read More…]
  • The Bahamas Travel Advisory
    In Travel
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  • Sierra Leone National Day
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Leon DeKalb: U.S. Probation’s First Black Officer
    In U.S Courts
    Leon Elmer DeKalb made history nearly 80 years ago when he became the first African American probation officer in the federal court system.
    [Read More…]
  • Justice Department Files Lawsuit Against Village of Airmont, New York, for Zoning Restrictions that Target the Orthodox Jewish Community
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department today announced that it filed a lawsuit against the Village of Airmont, New York, alleging that it violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) by targeting the Orthodox Jewish community through zoning ordinances restricting religious schools and home synagogues, and by enforcing its zoning code in a discriminatory manner to prevent Orthodox Jews from using their property consistent with their faith. 
    [Read More…]