uspto.gov
Skip over navigation

Patent Performance for the year 2006

 

Patent Performance

The core function of the Patent organization is the examination of an inventor’s application for a patent. Patent examiners compare the claimed subject matter of an application to a large body of technological information to determine whether the claimed invention is new, useful, and non-obvious to someone knowledgeable in that subject matter. This process includes: the preparation of correspondence relating to the examination; answers on applications appealed to the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences (BPAI); and interference proceedings to determine priority of invention. Additionally, examiners prepare Search Reports and International Preliminary Examination Reports for international applications filed under the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT). PCT Operations and the PCT Legal Administration Office oversee the processing of international patent applications.

Photo showing newly hired patent examiners attending the new USPTO Patent Training Academy, a university-style approach to teaching USPTO's new examiners. More than 1,200 new patent examiners began their careers at the USPTO in fiscal year 2006 with this training program.

Newly hired patent examiners attend the new USPTO Patent Training Academy, a university-style approach to teaching USPTO’s new examiners. More than 1,200 new patent examiners began their careers at the USPTO in FY 2006 with this training program.

Activities essential to the patent process are performed by a number of offices within the Patent organization. At the front end, the Office of Initial Patent Examination (OIPE) performs an administrative review of newly filed applications, manages the recordation and electronic capture of documents, and collects fees. In FY 2006, OIPE received over 417,000 Utility, Plant, and Reissue (UPR) patent applications, over 25,000 Design applications, and over 52,000 PCT applications. This represents an 8.7 percent increase over FY 2005 UPR filings; a 2.1 percent increase over FY 2005 design applications; and a 13 percent increase over FY 2005 PCT applications. Additionally, 121,307 provisional applications were received.

At the back end of the process, the Office of Patent Publications performs post-examination processing of allowed applications, disseminates issued patents to the public, and issues patents to successful applicants. In FY 2006, 164,115 UPR and 19,072 Design patents were granted. This office also published 291,259 pending applications, as provided for in the AIPA.

The Search and Information Resources Administration (SIRA) works with the Office of the Chief Information Officer to identify and develop efficiencies in the patent examination process through the use of information technologies. This office acquires, maintains, and provides access to a vast array of scientific and technical literature for use in the examination process. SIRA also implements and maintains classification schemes for the efficient retrieval of patent information and other documents residing in the search files.

The Office of Patent Quality Assurance performs a quality review function by conducting random sample reviews of both in-process and allowed applications. Data gathered from these reviews are used to identify problems, provide feedback to examiners and supervisors, improve training, and represents a significant element of the Patent organization’s commitment to quality in all areas of its operations. The Office of Patent Training coordinates the development of curriculums and deployment of training throughout the Patent organization.

In 2006, the USPTO updated its Strategic Plan to reflect the dramatic changes in the agency’s work environment and address emerging 21st century challenges and opportunities. The USPTO’s primary emphasis continues to be quality; for the Patent organization this translates to timely, consistent, and accurate examination of applications. Optimizing patent quality and timeliness requires streamlined procedures, good inputs, and a highly skilled workforce. The USPTO continues to strive to meet its performance goals through a number of strategies, including: hiring sufficient numbers of new patent examiners, delivering effective training, exploring work sharing with other patent offices, out-sourcing, leveraging advances in information technology (IT), streamlining procedures, and working with the applicant community to provide products that meet their needs while efficiently utilizing the office’s resources.

Reducing patent pendency and decreasing the size of the work backlog requires a multi-faceted approach to attract, hire, train, and retain the highly effective examiners who are critical to meeting this goal. In FY 2006, the USPTO hired 1,218 new patent examiners – 200 more than its hiring goal. To successfully compete for the most talented and demanded individuals in the workforce, the Patent organization established a multi-pronged recruitment and retention program in 2006, beginning with the award of recruitment bonuses to individuals in difficult-to-fill areas of technology.

To support the aggressive hiring goal of at least 1,200 new examiners per year from fiscal years 2007 through 2012, the Patent organization redesigned its training program and piloted a comprehensive university style approach to training new examiners. Approximately half of the examiners hired in FY 2006 received training through the Patent Training Academy for up to eight consecutive months. This program is designed to provide the participants with a strong foundation and more advanced skills when they enter the examination corps upon graduation. The curriculum combines large group lectures, specialized small group training and study, one-on-one spot assistance, and examination of real patent applications. The first training class under this program was initiated in January 2006, with training completed in September 2006. Additional classes began in May, June, July, and September.

Photo showing (Back row) USPTO Director Jon Dudas and Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez looking on as (front row) Dean Harts of 3M, April Sauders-Fuller of Fish & Richardson, and Felicia Metz of the University of Maryland file patent documents electronically at the March 16, 2006 launch of the USPTO's new Electronic Filing System-Web (EFS-Web).

(Back row) USPTO Director Jon Dudas and Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez look on as (front row) Dean Harts of 3M, April Sauders-Fuller of Fish & Richardson, and Felicia Metz of the University of Maryland file patent documents electronically at the March 16, 2006 launch of the USPTO’s new Electronic Filing System-Web (EFS-Web).

To ensure that our primary patent examiners maintain the knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary to perform high quality examinations, the re-certification program was continued, with an additional one third of all primary examiners completing re-certification. All of the examiners who have been primary examiners for at least three years have been certified. In FY 2006, a new study tool was developed to help patent examiners prepare for the Practice and Procedure Exam. Junior examiners must successfully complete a certification and testing program prior to promotion to the level where they are given legal and negotiation authority. Both new and experienced first-line managers attended training to increase the effectiveness of work product reviews and to improve coaching skills.

The skills of the technical support staff are a vital component of supporting an efficient examination process. In FY 2006, the management initiated a learning opportunities program for Patents Technical Support Staff, providing over 2,000 free computer based courses to all patents technical support and administrative staff. The program also offers a series of lunchtime lectures to expand the employees’ understanding and knowledge of the various business areas throughout the Patent organization.

Identification of the most relevant prior art is one component of a quality examination. In January 2006, the Patent organization commenced enhancement of its International Patent Classification (IPC) search capability, which will introduce the IPC into the U.S. patent classification system in specific areas. As this initiative is expanded to include additional technologies, examiners will benefit from enhanced search capabilities, mutual reliance on search results, and automatic enhancements to the IPC system developed by the USPTO in cooperation with other WIPO industrial property offices. Further improvements to the search process were made with the creation of 1,200 new search templates for examiners.

Following completion of a pilot for outsourcing the preparation of Search Reports for PCT applications to both private sector enterprises and the Australian Patent Office, a competitive bid was executed and contracts awarded for this service in FY 2006. The outsourcing of these reports will allow examiners more time to focus on the examination of national applications. A competitively sourced contract was also awarded for reclassification of patent search files.

In FY 2006, the USPTO expanded implementation of the Trilateral Document Access (TDA) initiative with the European Patent Office (EPO) to include the Japan Patent Office (JPO). TDA allows patent examiners to instantly view application document images for published applications in all three offices using existing viewing tools. As a result, a patent examiner may conveniently compare the foreign application documents to the application under review.

The Patent organization exceeded its goal of ten percent of applications filed electronically in FY 2006. To attain this goal, the Patent organization held multiple forums in 2005 with customer groups to gather requirements for the development of a system that would increase the use of electronic filing by identifying and addressing applicants’ needs. The resulting design for a web-based system with Portable Document Format (PDF) attachments was piloted in late 2005 and released to the public in March 2006. The patent community’s response to EFS-Web has been resoundingly positive as demonstrated by the steady increase in the receipt of electronic filings. The Patent organization continues to actively market the new system to ensure that applicants are familiar with the benefits of electronic filing.

In prior years, the Patent organization achieved its e-government objectives of providing all patent examiners, technical staff, and support staff the ability to work electronically from an image based system. Building on this capability in FY 2006, the Patent Hoteling Program (PHP) pilot was launched to allow participants to work-at-home with full remote access to all systems needed to perform their jobs. The PHP pilot involved testing multiple technical solutions to provide secure, reliable, and fast access to USPTO systems, as well as evaluating communications tools such as voice-over-Internet-Protocol and teleconferencing abilities to ensure that employees could work from remote locations as efficiently as from their offices. The program includes a ‘hotel’ component that permits participants to reserve workspace for required time spent in shared offices throughout the USPTO’s Alexandria campus. In FY 2006, a total of 538 staff and 420 managers received comprehensive training on the use of remote access tools prior to receiving their USPTO-issued equipment and officially joining the program. Additionally, 361 supervisory patent examiners attended change management training to better adapt their management skills to the virtual office environment. As of fiscal year-end, 506 examiners are working from home, and feedback from a survey of participants has been overwhelmingly positive. This program provides a cost-effective means of expanding the examiner corps, improving the quality of life for many employees, and is an attractive benefit to both potential new hires and existing employees.

Photo showing USPTO Director Jon Dudas congratulating the Patents Hoteling Program's first graduating class. Five-hundred patent examiners joined the hoteling program this year and began working from home, giving the USPTO more space for expansion and reducing the commute time for examiners.

USPTO Director Jon Dudas congratulates the Patents Hoteling Program’s first graduating class. Five-hundred patent examiners joined the hoteling program this year and began working from home, giving the USPTO more space for expansion and reducing the commute time for examiners.

In FY 2006, the USPTO published various proposed rule changes aimed at improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the patent application and examination process. Some of the proposed returns would require more focused applications and better information from applicants thus improving quality by reducing the amount of rework performed. Proposed changes include requiring applicants to identify the most important claims to inventions, which facilitates a more focused examination of applications. Some of the rule reforms that the USPTO is considering will affect the examination process in the areas of continuations, claims, and Information Disclosure Statements (IDS).

As one step in creating an alternative examination system that better meets the public’s needs and enables efficient use of USPTO resources, the Patent organization published procedures for patent applicants desiring a final decision within twelve months on whether their application for a patent will be granted or denied. To be eligible for this accelerated examination, applicants who file under this procedure are required to provide specific information so that review of the application can be completed rapidly and accurately.

Quality of Patents

Specific performance results related to the Patent organization goals and measures are as follows:

PERFORMANCE GOAL: Improve the quality of patent products and services and optimize patent processing time

Strategically, quality will continue to be the Patent organization’s number one priority. The Patent organization continues to improve the quality of its products and services using in-depth reviews of work in progress and enhanced end-process reviews to provide feedback to examiners on areas for improvement, targeted training, and safeguards to ensure competencies.

MEASURE: Patent Allowance Error Rate

PATENT ALLOWANCE ERROR RATE

 Graph summarizing the Patent Allowance Error Rate for the last four fiscal years. D

DATA VALIDATION AND VERIFICATION

Data source: Office of Patent Quality Review Report.

Frequency: Daily input, monthly reporting.

Data storage: Automated systems, reports.

Verification: Manual reports and analysis.

Data Limitations: None.

Target and Actual Error Rates for Patents Issued
for the Last 4 Fiscal Years
  FY 2003 FY 2004 FY 2005 FY 2006
Target 4.0% 4.0% 4.0% 4.0%
Actual 4.4% 5.3% 4.6% 3.5% met

  Discussion: Target met. The decline in the error rate indicates that the quality initiatives implemented in FY 2005 and FY 2006 have been effective.

 

MEASURE: Patent In-Process Examination Compliance Rate

PATENT IN-PROCESS EXAMINATION COMPLIANCE RATE

 Graph summarizing the Patent In-Process Examination Compliance Rate for last four fiscal years. D

DATA VALIDATION AND VERIFICATION

Data source: Office of Patent Quality Review Report.

Frequency: Daily input, monthly reporting.

Data storage: Automated systems, reports.

Verification: Manual reports and analysis.

Data Limitations: None.

5
Target and Actual In-Process Examination Compliance Rates
for the Last 4 Fiscal Years
  FY 2003 FY 2004 FY 2005 FY 2006
Target - Baseline 84.0% 86.0%
Actual - 82.0% 86.2% met 90.0% met

  Discussion: Target met. The improvement of the in-process compliance rate indicates that the quality initiatives implemented in FY 2005 and FY 2006 are producing the desired results.

PENDENCY

 

The two primary measures of Patent organization processing time are: (1) average first action pendency, which measures the average time in months from filing until an examiner’s initial determination is made of the patentability of an invention; and (2) average total pendency, which measures the average time in months from filing until the application is issued as a patent or abandoned by the applicant. The USPTO is actively implementing strategies to reduce patent pendency and the backlog of applications awaiting examination such as increased hiring, proposed rule, and process changes. However, even with continued access to the funding required to successfully execute these strategies, pendency will continue to rise for a period of time, but not to the extent it would have if these actions were not taken.

Between fiscal years 1997 and 2006, the number of patent applications filed has increased 87 percent. Simultaneously, the complexity of applications has increased significantly, compounding the demand on limited resources. During most of these years, the Patent organization’s ability to staff at the level necessary to keep pace with the ever-increasing volume of applications were significantly restricted by limited funding and hiring ceilings. While various means of improving efficiency such as automation and enhanced training have been employed in an effort to partially offset the shortage of examiners, the backlog of applications continued to grow, exceeding 700,000 in FY 2006.

In fiscal years 2005 and 2006 more than 2,000 examiners were hired and the Patent organization plans to hire 1,200 examiners each year from FY 2007 through FY 2012. The redesigned training programs will improve new examiners’ initial skills, but optimum examiner efficiency is still a function of experience, and it will be several years before these new hires reach their full potential. Hiring and training alone will not solve the pendency problem—policy and operational changes are also required. For these reasons, the USPTO has identified realistic pendency goals reflective of the time frames necessary for the strategies to provide results.

MEASURE: Patent Average First Action Pendency (months)

PATENT AVERAGE FIRST ACTION PENDENCY

 Graph summarizing the average first action pendency for patents issued for the last four fiscal years. D

DATA VALIDATION AND VERIFICATION

Data source: PALM system.

Frequency: Daily input, monthly reporting.

Data storage: PALM, automated systems, reports.

Verification: Accuracy of supporting data is controlled through internal program edits in the PALM system. Final test for reasonableness is performed internally by patent examiners, supervisors, and program management analysts.

Data Limitations: None.

Target and Actual Patent Average First Action Pendency
for the Last 4 Fiscal Years
  FY 2003 FY 2004 FY 2005 FY 2006
Target 18.4 20.2 21.3 22.0
Actual 18.3 20.2 21.1 22.6 not met

  Discussion: Target not met. This target was not met because there were more older applications processed than planned. We expect to meet the goal next year through increased hiring efforts.

 

Photo showing Chairman and CEO of Toshiba America Toru Uchiike (left) and USPTO Director Jon Dudas (center left) observing a demonstration from Amy Hafer of her team's winning invention, 'The Human Touch.' The event was the ExploraVision Awards Program, one of the world's largest science and technology competitions for students (K-12th grade). It is sponsored by Toshiba America and administered by the National Science Teachers Association.

Chairman and CEO of Toshiba America Toru Uchiike (left) and USPTO Director Jon Dudas (center left) observe a demonstration from Amy Hafer of her team’s winning invention, “The Human Touch.” The event was the ExploraVision Awards Program, one of the world’s largest science and technology competitions for students (K-12th grade). It is sponsored by Toshiba America and administered by the National Science Teachers Association.

 

MEASURE: Patent Average Total Pendency (months)

PATENT AVERAGE TOTAL PENDENCY

 Graph summarizing the average total pendency for patents issued for the last four fiscal years. D

DATA VALIDATION AND VERIFICATION

Data source: PALM system.

Frequency: Daily input, monthly reporting.

Data storage: PALM, automated systems, reports.

Verification: Accuracy of supporting data is controlled through internal program edits in the PALM system. Final test for reasonableness is performed internally by patent examiners, supervisors, and program management analysts.

Data Limitations: None.

Target and Actual Patent Average Total Pendency
for the Last 4 Fiscal Years
  FY 2003 FY 2004 FY 2005 FY 2006
Target 27.7 29.8 31.0 31.3
Actual 26.7 27.6 29.1 31.1 met

  Discussion: Target met.

 

MEASURE: Patent Efficiency

This metric measures the relative cost-effectiveness of the entire patent examination process over time, or the efficiency with which the organization applies its resources to production. The per unit dollar figure is derived by totaling all costs, both direct and indirect, incurred to produce a patent product and dividing the sum by the number of product outputs. Costs include compensation of employees directly involved in processing and examining applications, patent management, appropriate shares of indirect labor supporting the process such as executive, legal, human resources, and administrative staffing costs. Operational and development costs for automated patent systems, space (lease-rent), utilities, and communication infrastructure costs are also included.

PATENT EFFICIENCY

 Graph summarizing the efficiency rates for patents issued for the last four fiscal years. D

DATA VALIDATION AND VERIFICATION

Data Source: PALM system.

Frequency: Daily input, quarterly reporting.

Data storage: PALM, Data Warehouse, Activity Based Management (ABM) System.

Verification: Accuracy of supporting data is controlled through internal program edits in PALM, Momentum, ABM System. Quality control review of data by Activity Based Cost Accounting (ABC) System and Program Business Teams.

Data Limitations: None.

Target and Actual Efficiency Rates for Patents Issued
for the Last 4 Fiscal Years
  FY 2003 FY 2004 FY 2005 FY 2006
Target $3,444 $3,502 $4,122 $4,214
Actual $3,329 $3,556 $3,877 $3,798 met

  Discussion: Target met.

 

 

< Previous Page | Next Page >

United States Patent and Trademark Office
This page is owned by Office of the Chief Financial Officer.
Last Modified: 11/3/2009 3:54:30 PM