Blog by Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO David Kappos
With this blog I wanted to return to the topic of patent quality. We talk all the time about how important it is. There’s no question it is imperative to our agency and our applicants. We've sought comments from the IP community on this topic, and we've held two roundtable meetings on it, all within the last 9 months. But what is patent quality? That is, what constitutes a patent that is high in quality?
The answer to this question may depend on who you ask. If you ask an attorney, she may say “A high-quality patent meets all statutory and regulatory requirements and will withstand legal challenges by competitors or other third parties.” While true, such a description isn’t easy to apply in the examination process.
An inventor might say, “A high-quality patent is one that covers the full scope of my invention and no less.” Well, perhaps that’s a bit more helpful.
As I said a number of times last year when we kicked off the joint PPAC-USPTO Quality Taskforce, our historical measurements of quality are long overdue to be revised. We have concluded the first phase of the Quality Taskforce work, and we are on track to introduce some new quality metrics this coming fiscal year. You’ll be hearing more about these metrics in the near future.
While the above represents good progress, and while our current quality metrics indicate that quality has been improving, I think it is fair to say we all want to do more relative to quality. So while we continue with efforts stemming from the Quality Taskforce, I'd like to ask about quality from another viewpoint: how do patent examiners think about quality, and especially, what can USPTO management do to ensure that examiners are able to perform the highest quality examinations.
I know that IT is a big part of the quality challenge for examiners, and that we need to provide them with better tools to do their jobs. We’re working on that.
Also, I know that quality output is, to a substantial degree, helped by quality input from you, our applicants. And we look forward to continuing discussions with you in this regard.
And of course there is time -- high quality work requires time. That is why we included increased up-front time for examination when we redesigned the count system last year.
Beyond the IT and applicant components, and the time component of quality, what can USPTO management do to help examiners to conduct high quality examinations? Is more technology training the key? Would more training on case law be helpful? More training in search strategies? Would more access to senior examiners who can help with tough issues be helpful? Or more time available to SPEs for coaching? How can our quality review processes change to help them do quality work? What other investments in our examining corps would be worthwhile toward achieving higher quality?
I look forward to your feedback and look forward to further discussions on quality over the coming weeks and months.