USPTO Year in Review - And a Look Forward
Blog by Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO David Kappos
It has been just over one year since I was sworn-in as Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office, and I’d like to use the opportunity to take stock of where we are, and also to let you know about things we are working on for the coming fiscal year to address our goals of reducing the backlog and improving quality.
But first, I want to take a moment to recognize the incredibly talented and dedicated workforce at the USPTO. As a practitioner, I knew that the USPTO had a dedicated and caring team. But now I can say with tremendous conviction and unique personal knowledge that the USPTO staff is truly remarkable for its knowledge, judgment, and execution -- just as hardworking, smart and passionate as any I have worked with in my career. It is because of their hard work that I can reflect today on progress against our many objectives.
Last year, the USPTO had a backlog of more than 750,000 patent applications. Today that number is closer to 725,000--pretty remarkable if you consider that filings are up four percent this year and the size of our workforce has decreased. We set a goal of bringing the backlog below 700,000 by the end of this year and I am happy to report that we are within striking distance. With the progress we're making, we are poised to see the first significant reduction in the backlog in a decade.
I’d like to highlight some of the initiatives and programs implemented in the past year that have helped us begin chipping away at the patent backlog. First, the USPTO, in partnership with our patent professional employee union (POPA), implemented a new production count system. That is the tool we use to measure examiner performance and output. The new system provides more time for examination and more credit for first actions, and thereby encourages high quality examination early in prosecution. As of August 31, 2010, the number of actions per disposal was down to approximately 2.4 from over 2.9 in FY 2008-2009. This represents a substantial increase in efficiency.
We are also specifically encouraging the compact prosecution of patent applications. Compact prosecution involves finding the core issues with patent applications and resolving them as early in the examination process as possible. One way to encourage this practice is to increase interviews between applicants and examiners. Interviews have risen significantly in 2010, including as a result of our First Action Interview Pilot Programwhich allows participants to conduct an interview with the examiner after reviewing the results of a prior art search.
We are also working to increase the size of our patent examining corps. We’ve launched a targeted hiring program to focus on recruiting experienced former examiners and IP professionals who can get up to speed examining patent applications with a minimal amount of training time.
While we’re improving the way we motivate and hire examiners, we’re working to reduce the impediments applicants and examiners face. One way is through the review of the patent classification system – which is how we assign applications for examination, and is critical to effectively locating prior art. Planning is underway for this project, which will roll out in FY 2011.
Another critical infrastructure project involves upgrading our information technology (IT) systems. We have already started the process to move our Trademark IT infrastructure into a “cloud” computing environment which will improve the stability, availability, and performance of the systems that support trademark examination and public access to Trademark Office information. On the Patents side, we’re building a new patent examination IT system from end to end. This project involves the reengineering of the pre-exam, workflow, examination, and publication processes.
Several applicant-driven patent examination acceleration programs were started this year.
1. Green Technology Pilot Program: This program to provide accelerated examination of patent applications for innovations related to environmentally friendly and energy conservation technologies started in December 2009. As of August 31, 2010, 1,477 Green Technology petitions have been received into our Green Tech Pilot Program. This number represents very strong applicant uptake – nearly 50 percent of the upper limit originally set for the program. We anticipate further expansion of this program in the coming months.
2. Project Exchange: This pilot program gives applicants with multiple filings greater control over the priority in which their applications are examined, by providing incentives for applicants to withdraw unexamined applications that are no longer important to them—and by the way, it helps to reduce our backlog. We piloted this program first for small entities only, and only recently expended it to all applicants. So the numbers are small, but they are starting to pick up and hopefully will accelerate further in the coming months.
3. Three-Track Examination: Just recently, we proposed a new patent examination initiative that would provide applicants greater control over the speed with which their applications are examined. Under the proposed “Three-Track” initiative, an applicant may request Track I (prioritized examination for an additional fee), Track II (traditional examination under the current procedures), or Track III (applicant-controlled delay for up to 30 months). We have received many public comments about this proposal, particularly with regard to Track III, and are taking them into consideration as we refine the proposal for implementation. We expect to proceed with it in the coming year.
Turning to the important work being done by our policy and international teams, it has been a busy year. Worksharing is an important tool for speeding the processing of patent applications filed in multiple jurisdictions and we’re focused on expanding and improving our worksharing practices. The USPTO has implemented the Patent Prosecution Highway (PPH) with other major patent offices worldwide and we’ve set the goal of doubling PPH cases year over year for the next three years. We’re aiming for: 4,000 cases this year; 8,000 cases next year; and 12,000 cases in 2012. I’m pleased to report that we expect to reach the 4000 case goal this year, meaning that in one year we will have more than doubled the throughput of all PPH efforts over all previous years combined.
Finally, I’d like to discuss our increased emphasis on expanding the communications capabilities of the agency and increasing transparency. In the past year we have significantly expanded the amount of information we are making available to the public. We have also launched a number of communications tools to facilitate dialogue between USPTO management, employees, and the stakeholder community at large. These include:
· Blogs: In addition to this employee blog, I am blogging weekly on the “Directors Forum” blog which can be accessed on our Web site, www.uspto.gov, and we’ve just begun sending the Director’s blog out via Google Feedburner so anyone can subscribe.
· Feedback Channels: We’ve implemented “Feedback Channels” to solicit public input on initiatives like the Green Tech and Three Track program and we’ve received a lot of helpful feedback.
· Facebook: We’ve established a Facebook page to engage the public and the intellectual property community directly and provide real-time information.
· Patents Dashboard: This month we launched our new online “dashboard” to communicate Agency data and performance metrics on patent pendency and other key patents measurements in a clear and understandable way—and in real time. If you haven’t had the opportunity to do so, please take a look at the new dashboard on our Web site.
It has been a busy year here at the USPTO and the new year will be just as busy. The entire team at USPTO is committed to implementing improvements across the board to give America’s inventors the opportunity to thrive in a global economy. Thanks to the hard work of our employees and the support of our stakeholders, we are making solid headway.