RCE Roundtable Opening Remarks

Acting Under Secretary of Commerce for IP and Acting USPTO Director Teresa Stanek Rea

USPTO Headquarters, Alexandria, Va.

April 3, 2013

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

Thank you so much, Andy! It is great to be here this morning for the last of the RCE roundtables. Kudos to Andy and his team for rescheduling this event after the previous event was cancelled on account of weather. Whatever the weather-rain, snow, sleet or hail-the USPTO will go the extra mile to get your feedback! It is great to see so many of you here today, and welcome as well to those watching our webcast. Your participation is very important to us and very much appreciated.

As you are probably well aware, this is a time of great change for our agency. Last month we completed our implementation of the historic America Invents Act, which transformed our nation's patent laws and the way we as an agency do business. The dialogue we had with our stakeholders and user community throughout the AIA implementation is something we plan to continue.

This current series of roundtables on Requests for Continued Examination is just the latest example. All of us at the USPTO are joined with our Patents Public Advisory Committee (PPAC) in our desire to gain a better understanding of the underlying causes for RCE filings so that we can properly address our growing backlog. The previous sessions in Santa Clara, Dallas, New York City, and Chicago were very productive. We received a lot of thoughtful feedback, and I am sure today's sessions will be no different.

Ultimately, the more we understand about our stakeholders' concerns and pressure points, the better. It helps us tailor processes to meet your needs and to be a more user-friendly agency. As you may recall, one of the foremost goals of the America Invents Act was to get quality innovations to the marketplace faster and more efficiently. The very sound reason for this was to help create new jobs, stimulate our economic recovery, and ensure our nation's position as the global innovation leader.

Toward that end, lowering the unexamined patent application backlog and reducing first action pendency were, and continue to be, among our agency's top priorities. And we have made great progress on both of those fronts. We have reduced our overall unexamined patent application backlog, for example, from more than 750,000 in early 2009 to right around 600,000 today, a 20 percent decrease despite an increase in applications of about 5 percent per year.

Our COPA initiative-or Clearing Oldest Patent Applications-contributed to a dramatic decrease in our inventory of unexamined applications. However, a consequence of focusing our time and resources on COPA and other inventory reduction initiatives was a slowing of the processing of RCEs. Over the past three years, the backlog of RCE filings awaiting examination has risen to more than 100,000 applications. We recognize that longer wait times for first actions in RCEs are a concern to our stakeholders.

Accordingly, we have implemented several initiatives aimed at concluding prosecution as efficiently as possible and, ideally, without the need for multiple rounds of prosecution. Foremost among these are initiatives directed to enhancing the quality and efficiency of the examination process. These include:

  • Examiner training on conducting interviews and negotiations,
  • Providing time for examiner-initiated interviews,
  • Programs such as First Action Interview, and
  • A redesign of the examiner count system with a primary objective of encouraging compact prosecution.

The office has already initiated two pilots designed to obviate the need to file some RCEs-the After Final Consideration Pilot, known as AFCP, and the Quick Path IDS, known as QPIDS. Yes, we are the federal government, so we love acronyms. And how fun is it that we launched QPIDS last year on Valentine's Day!

The AFCP provides a limited amount of non-production time for examiners to give more consideration to submissions made under 37 CFR 1.116. The QPIDS pilot is intended to reduce pendency and applicant costs when an information disclosure statement, or IDS, is filed after payment of the issue fee. QPIDS will be available at least until the end of fiscal year 2013. AFCP in its current form has been extended while we develop modifications to the program to increase its effectiveness.

But of course, we recognize that more needs to be done. That was the reason for our Federal Register notice, and it is the reason we are all here today. I am very interested in hearing your thoughts and suggestions. I also want to emphasize that the conversation does not end here. We want to continue to hear from you and to keep you involved and updated on what our agency is doing.

If you have not been to our Data Visualization Center on our USPTO website in a while, be sure to visit it. Our Patents dashboard includes data on the RCE backlog and pendency and much, much more besides. In addition, we recently added dashboards for our Office of Policy and External Affairs and the Patent Trial and Appeal Board, which join our Trademarks dashboard. Almost everything we do can now be viewed by our users and stakeholders on the Data Visualization Center.

It is very important to us, and to me as the acting director, that we remain an open, transparent agency committed to improving our processes. The one thing you will never hear around the USPTO is "business as usual"! Thank you again for coming. I know you have a busy agenda today, so let me hand things back to Andy.