Hack for Change

Blog by Acting Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Acting Director of the USPTO Teresa Stanek Rea

Government has vast amounts of information that can be used to improve our lives, and the Obama Administration has challenged federal agencies to make this data easily accessible to and usable by the public. Agencies across the government are using the National Day of Civic Hacking on June 1 and 2, to address that challenge.

Its name may trigger negative connotations, but civic hacking is a positive form of citizen engagement and volunteerism that uses technology to tackle social challenges. Civic hackers are community members—engineers, software developers, designers, entrepreneurs, activists, and concerned citizens—who collaborate with others, including government, to invent ways to improve quality of life in their communities.

The USPTO is using the government-wide focus on civic hacking as a great opportunity to crowdsource innovative ideas from our extensive trademark data. A trademark is a brand name, slogan, or logo that sellers use to identify and distinguish their products and services. Consumers rely on trademarks to distinguish among competing sellers and ensure the purchase of a quality product. Individuals and companies register their trademarks with the USPTO to enhance intellectual property protection for their brands.

The USPTO currently provides high-quality databases and tools for searching for information about pending and registered marks. However, these resources are used mostly by the trademark community and the USPTO for issues related to the federal trademark registration process.

In February, the USPTO released a comprehensive dataset of information on registered U.S. trademarks in the hope of spurring a flood of new inquiries into such areas as marketing, advertising, brand use, innovation, and new product and service introduction.1 We challenge National Day of Civic Hacking participants to use the trademark dataset and other open data sources to develop a tool that identifies federally registered trademarks that comprise an entity’s portfolio or brand, or are used on specific products, in designated industries, or in geographical areas. Such a solution could provide useful information on how entities develop and employ their brands; whether entities expand into new products, sectors, or regions; and the potential value of trademark portfolios to these entities. The solution may also yield industry-specific information that could inform consumer decisions and aid startups and other firms seeking to develop new product lines.

I urge all those looking for a unique way to volunteer in your community through technology to consider participating in the National Day of Civic Hacking. You can learn more at hackforchange.org.

 1For a thorough description of these data, see Graham, S., Hancock, G., Marco, A., & Myers, A., “The USPTO Trademark Case Files Dataset: Descriptions, Lessons, and Insights,” SSRN working paper (2013) (“Case Files”).