Record Year for Puerto Rican Inventors and Trademark Owners, Heath W. Hoglund, The San Juan Star, May 29, 2000.
Last year Puerto Rican inventors earned a record forty-three patents and Puerto Rican businesses registered a record seventy-three trademarks. These increases mark a continuing trend. More businesses and individuals are pursuing their intellectual property rights for patents, trademarks and copyrights.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office issues patents for new and useful inventions. Generally, a utility patent grants the right to prohibit others from making, using or selling the claimed invention for a period of twenty years from the day the patent is filed. Patents issued by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office are effective in all states and territories, including Puerto Rico.
The patents issued to Puerto Rican inventors covered a variety of technical fields including medicine (U.S. Patent No. 5,922,443 for an improved catheter), communications (U.S. Patent No. 5,859,894 for an improved cellular transmission system), chemistry (U.S. Patent No. 5,997,854 for an improved shampoo formula), manufacturing (U.S. Patent No. 5,997,854 for an improved method of assembling a stator used in an ignition system), and many others.
As we enter the so-called information age, businesses are increasingly using patents to protect their investments in technological innovations. According to the Commissioner of Patents and Trademarks, Q. Todd Dickinson, "it is no coincidence that the United States has both the strongest patent system and strongest economy in the world. Our patent system has nurtured this country's evolution from an agrarian economy, through the industrial revolution, and into today's information age."
Although Puerto Rico lags behind high-technology states like California and Massachusetts (measured by patents per capita), the number of patents issued to Puerto Rican inventors has increased noticeably over the last couple of decades. Puerto Rican inventors earned an average of sixteen patents per year in the late seventies, twenty patents per year in the eighties, and twenty-seven patents per year in the nineties. The total number of patents issued by the U.S. Patent Office has seen similar increases.
In addition to the importance of patent rights in an increasingly technology-based economy, policies at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office have contributed to the rise in the number of granted patents. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office added a number of patent classifications for methods of doing business. These include, among many others, a new class for patents relating to loan application processing, a new class for patents relating to home banking technology, and a new class for patents relating to electronic funds transfers.
Mainland U.S. financial institutions have already begun pursuing patent protection in these new classes. For example, Citibank was awarded a patent relating to multilingual telephone banking (U.S. Patent No. 5,794,218); and Merrill Lynch & Co. was awarded a patent relating to a method of selecting between a variety of loan products (U.S. Patent No. 5,765,144). As an important banking center, the growth in these new types of financial-related patents is likely to add to the growth in patents issued to Puerto Rican inventors.
As with issued patents, the number of trademark registrations has seen significant growth in recent years. A trademark is any word, design or other feature that uniquely identifies the source of goods or services. Last year's registrations to Puerto Rican companies included a number of unusual (and even amusing) trademarks. Ikaro Productions registered "Ricky Martin" for use with entertainment services, clothing and posters, Acapulco Foods registered "Museo del Jamon" for use with restraunt services, and Bora Bora, Inc., registered "Puka Puka Surf" for use with clothing.
An application for trademark registration may be filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and with the State Department of Puerto Rico. Trademark registrations with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office are recognized in all states and territories, including Puerto Rico.
Trademark rights can offer important competitive advantages in the marketplace. A valid federal trademark registration grants a company the right to stop others from using any mark that is confusingly similar to that of the registrant. In other words, a valid federal trademark registration allows a company to stop others from trading on their good name. These trademark rights allow a company to build brand recognition in the marketplace and where a company invests in advertising, their trademark rights can acquire significant market value. By some estimates, the value of the mark "Bacardi" far exceeds one billion dollars.
As we enter the information age, intellectual property rights such as patents and trademarks will undoubtedly play an increasingly important role. The global shift toward an information-based economy and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's willingness to broaden the scope of available protection will likely increase the value of these rights.