Trademark Registration and Maintenance
U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Department of Commerce
Applications for trademarks in the U.S. have soared over the past two years—highlighting the importance of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in helping businesses and entrepreneurs protect their brands and identities while advancing American innovation.
The Trademark Assistance Center gets high marks from callers for its ability to answer basic questions about trademarks and help people understand the process of filing an application. And while trademark information can be full of legal jargon, a recent redesign of the trademarks website has made it easier for people to find and absorb complex information.
Customers note that the process of applying for a trademark could be more user-friendly—people often struggle to understand which forms to use, how to file them and what information they need to provide for the process. The trademark office plans to address this challenge by building a new, streamlined trademark application system that will combine all the relevant forms and information in one place to make it easier for customers to navigate the application process.
increase in trademark applications between fiscal years 2019 and 20211.
of callers are satisfied with their experience with the Trademark Assistance Center.
of customers think the information provided on USPTO trademarks webpages is clear.
Customer Experience Insights
People call the Trademark Assistance Center to understand trademark issues and learn if they need to apply for one; to get help filing for a trademark; and to check on the status of an application. Callers report it is easy to reach a representative and that employees are helpful, although about 10% strongly disagree that their issue was resolved. Agency officials noted this may be the result of some customers not reaching the correct contact center when being transferred between USPTO contact centers, and the agency plans to examine call transferring processes to understand and address this issue.
Managers at the contact center noted an increasing need to provide support and encourage self-care among front-line employees experiencing “compassion fatigue,” particularly in the past year. There has been an uptick of callers who are in difficult situations—for example, dealing with financial difficulty, or trying to juggle trademark applications while they or their relatives were sick. To prevent burnout, USPTO leaders emphasize the importance of self-care and prioritize giving contact center staff members the opportunity to step away from work, even if it is just for a few minutes, after an exceptionally difficult call. The contact center also has a continuous training program to help build employee capacity to handle these calls: if there is an increase in a certain type of call or customer question, the entire contact center staff is then trained on tips for handling that situation.
In March 2021, the USPTO team embarked on a website redesign, prompted by customer research that revealed many trademark applicants were struggling to find and understand basic information about the trademark process, such as where to start, how much it costs and how long it takes to get a trademark, and whether they need an attorney. When they found the language they were seeking, it was often in legalese and difficult for applicants without an attorney, about one-third of the applicant base, to understand.
During the redesign process, the USPTO team rewrote and reorganized dozens of webpages, consolidating their content into a few key categories based on the top tasks people come to the website to complete. The new categories focus on educating people about trademark basics. The complex instructions and legal language are relegated to subpages or forms, so people do not get mired in too much information at the start of their journey.
While the agency has not so far seen a large shift in customer ratings from its website survey, its research did show that new visitors to the website after the redesign were more satisfied with their experience than first-time visitors before the redesign. After the launch, the team also saw a big shift in customer feedback on individual webpages, with customers rating most webpages as helpful 92% of the time—an increase from 75% before the update, according to USPTO staff. Additionally, the contact center staff noted that while customers used to call with general questions, many customers now get that basic information on the updated website and use the contact center to answer more specific, higher-level questions.
Tips for a website reboot
Based on customer feedback, which indicated the website had major flaws, the trademark staff approached the redesign by wiping the slate clean and thinking beyond what was already on the website instead of trying to improve existing content. In addition to thinking creatively and engaging customers, they brought a variety of staff voices into the redesign, including outreach personnel who work with applicants, attorneys and writers skilled in using plain language.
After creating a first draft, the team tested the redesigned website with a variety of customers, including trademark attorneys and customers without legal backgrounds. They then used this feedback to further refine the pages and clarify any language customers noted was still confusing.
The team also noted the power of using examples and real-life scenarios on the website, especially when trying to convey legal or highly technical concepts in easy-to-understand ways.
The Trademark Electronic Application System can be difficult to navigate and understand, especially for business owners who do not have an attorney representing them in the trademark application process, according to USPTO staff. People struggle to understand which forms to use; where to find those forms, since they are not located in the system itself; and what information they need to provide.
To address this issue, the trademark office plans to overhaul the system with a new modern platform for applying for trademarks. The office is conducting user research in 2021 to support this effort and, in 2022, hopes to build components and prototypes of a new system and then test and refine them.
Businesses can often register a website domain name in a day, so many business representatives are surprised to discover that applying for a trademark can take more than nine months due to the legal reviews required. The trademark staff is focusing on setting realistic expectations by providing more information about processing times on the website to educate applicants about the process upfront and by providing status updates along the way that are easier for applicants to understand.
Leading Customer Experience Practices
The Partnership and Accenture developed the following list of practices to understand how agencies prioritize the customer experience, and steps they can take to improve. The list is based on research about effective customer experience practices in both government and the private sector, and aligns with practices in a customer experience maturity self-assessment for agencies developed by the Office of Management and Budget.
A strong commitment and plan from agency leaders to prioritize customer experience is essential for sustained progress.
1. Includes high-quality customer experience in its strategic goals.
The agency’s strategic plan includes an initiative to “improve the customer experience.”
2. Specifies customer feedback as a key measure of the organization’s performance.
3. Has a senior executive with the responsibility and authority to lead efforts to improve the customer experience across the organization.
USPTO has a customer experience administrator for trademarks who is responsible for the customer experience across the trademark experience.
Ease of Customer Interactions
Interactions with the federal government should be easy, transparent and designed around user needs.
For the most common services provided, customers can:
1. Complete common transactions using the service delivery channel of their choice.
Customers can get information about trademarks and their applications online, by phone or at a walk-up window at agency headquarters.
2. Obtain status updates through online self-service.
Customers can get updates on the status of their filings through the online Trademark Status and Document Retrieval system.
3. Receive a response to feedback or answers to questions over social media.
While Facebook and Twitter are not a primary source of customer questions, the agency does respond to occasional customer questions, with either specific responses or directions on where to find relevant information.
4. Access online information and support in languages other than English.
USPTO.gov is available only in English, but the agency is currently analyzing customer needs for information in additional languages and the resources that would be required to provide it.
Listening to Customers and Acting on Feedback
To understand and prioritize customer needs, agencies should collect, publish, analyze and act on feedback.
1. Collects meaningful customer experience data across interactions and service delivery channels and shares it with the public.
USPTO collects and publicly shares customer experience data for online and phone services related to trademarks, in line with OMB guidance.
2. Collects and analyzes first-hand customer feedback to understand customers’ experiences, based on their own words.
The agency collects first-hand customer feedback through surveys and an open-ended comment form, and also incorporates email feedback received by staff into its analysis.
3. Aggregates and analyzes customer feedback across channels and programs, and shares feedback with relevant staff members so they can act on it.
The agency aggregates and analyzes customer feedback using an automated platform. The agency uses data dashboards and quarterly distribution processes to share customer feedback data with relevant staff members and is working to improve these processes to share data in a timelier way.