Washington - The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) today announced new details on its "Three-Track" program designed to enable applicants to choose the speed with which their patent application is processed. On February 4, 2011, the USPTO will publish in the Federal Register a notice of proposed rulemaking on "Track One" of the program, which will give applicants the opportunity for prioritized examination of a patent within 12 months of its filing date for a proposed fee of $4,000.
U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke highlighted the "Three-Track" patent examination program, first published for public comment in June 2010, at the White House's launch of the "Startup America" initiative earlier this week.
"The Patent and Trademark Office plays a key role in promoting innovation and entrepreneurship," Locke said. "This new system will bring the most valuable patents, as determined by inventors, to market faster and will help shrink the backlog by catering to the business needs of America's innovators."
The forthcoming Federal Register notice will request comments from the public on a number of different proposed requirements for participation in Track One, including (a) the proposed fee of $4,000 for each application (to recover the full cost of resources necessary to prevent the delay of other, non-prioritized applications); (b) limits on the number of claims to four independent claims and 30 total claims; (c) application filing through the USPTO's electronic filing system (EFS-Web); and other such requirements. The comment period will close 30 days after the notice is published.
"Since putting our 'Three-Track' proposal out for public comment last summer, we have received feedback from innovators across the country supporting these processing options," said Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO David Kappos. "Commenters have been particularly enthusiastic about the option to seek faster examination on their most important applications."
During the program's first year, the USPTO plans to limit the number of applications in the program to 10,000 to ensure that the USPTO can meet the 12-month goal.
For smaller entities, the USPTO is working to offer a 50 percent discount on any filing fee associated with Track One, as it does with many other standard processing fees. The patent reform legislation recently introduced in the U.S. Senate would enable the USPTO to set its own fees and thereby extend this discount to small entity applicants.
Agency begins effort to clear oldest unexamined patent cases
The USPTO also announced today a new effort to eliminate the "tail" of backlog applications that were more than 16 months old at the beginning of the fiscal year and had not yet received a first Office Action, known as "Clearing the Oldest Patent Applications" (or COPA). This initiative is a critical first step in reaching the agency's strategic goal of providing first Office Actions on all new applications in an average of 10 months from their date of filing by 2014.
The goal for fiscal year 2011 is to have a first Office Action completed on nearly all of the 313,000 oldest backlog applications. Reaching this goal, however, is highly dependent on the passage of a fiscal year 2011 budget that would provide sufficient resources for hiring and examiner overtime.
"In the long run, COPA will result in lower overall patent pendency - particularly in light of applicants using the Track One option when it becomes available in the coming months," Kappos said. "Together, these efforts will make a real difference in the speed at which applicants will be able to get a decision on their patent applications."
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