On 15th Nov. the U.S. Department of Commerce's U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) released record breaking year-end numbers that reveal historic improvement in the quality of patent and trademark reviews and subsequently the quality of issued patents and registered trademarks. The quality numbers are part of the agency's FY 2007 Performance and Accountability Report, also released on the same day.
"The sustained trend of quality improvements are a tribute to the internal quality initiatives of our managers and employees," said USPTO Director Jon Dudas. "Of course, the quality of patent and trademark examination is a shared responsibility that begins with the application."
Patents - Quality and Productivity at Historic Highs: Sustained Focus on Quality Garners Results
In FY 2007, USPTO's patent examiners
Examined 362,227 applications - the highest number in history.
Quality compliance was 96.5 percent - equaling last year's results, the best in a quarter century.
Patent examiner decisions were upheld by the USPTO's patent appeals board 69 percent of the time, up from 51 percent in 2005.
Trademarks - Exceeding Expectations for a 2nd Record-Breaking Year
For the second year in a row, the USPTO has exceeded all of its trademark-related performance goals.
USPTO's trademark examining attorneys examined a record 323,527 applications.
Quality was 97.4 percent.
The quality results exceeded fiscal year 2007 targets.
The average time from filing an initial trademark application to a preliminary decision from an examining attorney (first action) was below 3 months.
"American businesses depend heavily on trademark protection for their brand names and service identities," noted Director Dudas." A trademark is often a company's most valuable asset. Consumers also rely on trademarks to help them decide among competing products and services. Thus, I am pleased we are contributing to American commerce by ensuring high quality timely trademark protection."
Patent Initiatives - Poised to Make the Process Even Better
Director Dudas noted that "The USPTO will work tirelessly to ensure high quality agency actions, but we must make progress to ensure examiners are presented with applications that clearly depict the claimed invention and relevant prior art is presented to the examiner in a timely manner."
Consistent with Director Dudas' direction, to encourage focused and complete information that allows examiners to make the best decisions when examining applications, the USPTO has initiated a number of improvements to better focus the examination process. These include:
Accelerated Examination - Available since August 2006, Accelerated Examination provide applicants with a final determination on their patent application within 12 months. Applicants provide focused and detailed information about their inventions, an explanation as to why their inventions are patentable over the prior art, and the most relevant prior art upon filing their application. Applicants are encouraged to engage in live interviews with the patent examiner.
Peer Review - Begun in June 2007 as a joint initiative with the New York Law School's Institute for Information and Policy, peer review is a pilot project that allows technical experts in computer technology, for the first time, the opportunity to submit annotated technical references relevant to the claims of a published patent application before an examiner reviews it. Studies have shown that when patent examiners have the best data in front of them, they make the correct decisions. However, examiners have a limited amount of time to find and properly consider the most relevant information. This is particularly true in the software-related technologies where code is not easily accessible and is often not dated or well documented.
Of particular note is the relationship among USPTO's quality initiatives, fewer granted patents, and higher affirmance rates on appeal.
In 2000, a record high of 72 percent of all patent applications became patents. In contrast, 51 percent of patent applications were granted in FY 2007.
The allowance rate is a function of many aspects, including the quality of the applications received.
The USPTO's focus on internal quality controls is primarily responsible for the lowered grant rate over the past several years.
Looking forward, the USPTO expects that its various applicant-centered initiatives to focus examination will result in clearer applications and thus an increased grant rate - - while maintaining a high affirmance rate from the patent appeals board.
Efficiency Via E-Business
To further assist businesses of all sizes in protecting their assets, the USPTO continues to enhance its electronic systems, especially in the area of on-line transactions.
Twenty six user-friendly patent and trademark electronic forms are currently available for filing.
Slightly more than 95 percent of initial trademark applications were filed electronically in 2007, including international filings.
About 50 percent of patent applications were filed electronically, via USPTO's "EFSWeb" filing program, launched in March 2006. This is up from less than 2% two years ago.