|Performance and Accountability Report Fiscal Year 2008
Management's Discussion and Analysis
Strategic Goal 1: Optimize Patent Quality and Timeliness
High quality and timely examination of patent applications advances science and technology and creates the certainty innovators need in capital-driven markets. The Patent organization is working closely with the public and its stakeholders to find the best ways to ensure that the U.S. patent system continues to promote innovation and U.S. competitiveness in the global economy. Proposed solutions will not be limited by existing laws, rules, processes or procedures. The following are the priorities for achieving this goal and our accomplishments in FY 2008.
Providing High Quality
The Patent organization continued to transition to an end-to-end, text-based patent prosecution system, and increased the number of examiners able to work from home, while providing them with better electronic tools to perform their work. Electronic filings exceeded this year’s goal, reaching 72.1 percent of total filings. The USPTO continues to explore options that will move toward complete electronic filings.
The Agency also continued the development of a text based Patent File Wrapper (PFW) system, with a goal of replacing the current image-based system. PFW will transform the manual, image-based USPTO system into an environment where the majority of applications are managed and prosecuted electronically. PFW will integrate the applicant with the Patent process, provide workflow and intelligent text processing, and facilitate the work-at-home program. This year implementation of the Transfer Inquiry (TI) portion of PFW was started. The new TI portion of PFW automatically routes transfer inquiry requests to the appropriate art unit. The new interface also allows examiners to access patent application images with improved tables of contents, examiner dockets, and image thumbnails.
In support of both teleworking and the examination process, the Agency implemented the eRed Folder (eRF) automated tool. This tool improves document file management and permits the electronic submission of office actions for review and credit. Finally, the number of eligible positions teleworking increased to 87 percent for FY 2008.
Exploring Range of Options to Meet Challenges
While continued hiring of patent examiners is key to managing increasing workloads, hiring alone is not the answer to the growth of filings and complexity in the patent system. In fact, the Agency is exploring a range of innovative concepts to meet these challenges.
The USPTO expects to increase productivity in the Patent organization by offering examiners more opportunities to determine when and how they do their work, and achieve higher bonuses. This year the Agency extended the voluntary Flat Goal Pilot program for patent examiners that moves production away from an hourly-based system. Under the pilot, examiners may earn larger, quarterly bonuses for every application examined above a particular target goal. Early indications are that participants prefer the per-application bonus compared to the present productivity award structure and enjoy the flexibility of choosing when and how to do their work. The USPTO will evaluate the results of the pilot and incorporate that information into future planning. Similarly, the Agency implemented a voluntary program providing laptops for experienced patent examiners which offers flexibility regarding when and where overtime work is performed. The vast majority of participants report improved production and job satisfaction.
Another pilot concept is the First-Action Interview program, an initiative in which the applicant is entitled to a first-action interview, upon request, prior to the first office action on the merits. Interviews conducted early in an application’s prosecution allow for a speedy resolution of any unresolved issues. These, coupled with reduced applicant periods for response under the pilot, are expected to reduce total pendency for the applications examined under this initiative.
Other initiatives under way include the IP Experienced Hire pilot and the Peer Review pilot. In addition to at least one year of direct and current prosecution experience, candidates must have successfully completed a four-year course of study or specific course requirements in a science or engineering field. It is expected that the IP Experienced Hire pilot will greatly shorten the formal training period and performance adjustment phase for these new examiners. The USPTO has just extended the Peer Review pilot to include business methods in addition to the original computer-related applications.
There were notable regulatory and legislative developments this year. In April, a United States district court issued a permanent injunction enjoining the USPTO from implementing the changes in the Claims and Continuations Final Rule that was published last year. Therefore, the changes to the rules of practice in the Claims and Continuations Final Rule did not go into effect, and USPTO employees continue to process and examine patent applications as before, until further notice. In Congress, patent modernization legislation (H.R. 1908) passed the House of Representatives last fall. A companion bill in the Senate (S. 1145) was passed out of committee but did not reach the Senate floor. The USPTO held two Senate briefings, participated in over 60 meetings with Senate offices and provided technical assistance and expertise to many Judiciary Committee requests. It is anticipated that the patent legislation will be a major bill of the 111th Congress.
Through the Patent Public Advisory Committee (PPAC), the USPTO is reaching out to the user community to determine the types of examination options that should be provided as alternatives to the current system. This is resulting in an open dialogue with patent stakeholders and the public as to what the USPTO needs to do to best protect and encourage innovation in America.
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