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Director's Forum: A Blog from USPTO's Leadership

Tuesday Jan 15, 2013

Interviews and Patent Quality

Blog by Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO David Kappos

We talk a lot and do a lot at USPTO about patent quality. We also talk a lot and do a lot about interview practice. And we have always assumed a relationship—well-documented interviews lead to high quality patents by enhancing understanding and issue-resolution for both applicants and examiners. But we have never actually looked at the data to test this assumption.

Until now.

We recently ran the data to understand whether there is a correlation between interviews held in patent applications and patent quality. We analyzed data on patent quality in applications where interviews were held as well as where interviews were not held (data from over 22,000 applications from the past five years was reviewed).

The findings, which are statistically significant, show that interviews conducted prior to final disposition (allowance or final rejection) of the application increase the probability that the subsequent action will be in full compliance with all applicable quality standards. The data shows that interviews help decrease both improper allowances and improper rejections by approximately 40 percent compared to applications without interviews prior to the final disposition.

The correlation is not surprising, but its degree certainly is impressive. A 40 percent improvement is almost always worth investing in. And while other factors may contribute to the correlation, it is substantial in any event.

Improving patent quality was also one of the stated goals of the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act patent reform legislation signed into law by President Obama in 2011. As the USPTO continues to implement that landmark legislation, we can now add interview practice to the list of actions that verifiably and measurably, improve quality, while saving time and money, and reducing misunderstandings and rework.

Applicants and examiners—please reach out and suggest an interview whenever it makes sense. For quality's sake.

Comments:

I think this is a very interesting fact. I know from experience with attending Oral Proceedings in front of the EPO that a face-to-face meeting can resolve misunderstandings and misinterpretations far quicker than continued written exchanges. Perhaps, a policy whereby the U.S. Examiners request Interviews prior to the issuance of Final Office Actions would encourage Applicants to attend these Interviews and ultimately lead to less continuation filings and more high quality granted patents in a shorter timeframe.

Posted by Rory Litton on January 16, 2013 at 04:31 AM EST #

In support of what Rory Littleton has said, I can testify that at EPO Oral Proceedings we can often get through more useful work in a morning than would be achieved in 3 or 4 office actions, the reason being that misunderstandings are quickly and amicably cleared up and it becomes possible to focus on essentials. But it is a long distance from London to Washington. One way around that difficulty would be to set up conference calls with the examiner, the responsible US attorney, his or her European counterpart and possibly one or more of the inventors. Nowadays Skype enables video conference calls to be made, and these could provide a useful and inexpensive substitute for face to face meetings.

Posted by Paul Cole on January 17, 2013 at 10:34 AM EST #

After reviewing many file wrappers of what I perceived to be strong patents of my competitors, I found that an above average number had had examiner interviews. After that, I recommended to the prosecuting staff that they arrange examiner interviews as often as possible for the more important patent applications. So, my experience completely confirms what your study concludes.

Posted by Bruce Story on January 30, 2013 at 04:37 PM EST #

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