USPTO year in review: New search tool, shorter examination times, and unexpected higher filing volume among highlights of 2020 for Patents and Trademarks

In an unprecedented year, both the Patents and Trademarks organizations worked tirelessly to ensure that the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) continued to improve its services for the innovation community.

Improved Patent Examinations

Patents continued its focus on improving the quality of patent examination:

  • The Patents End-to-End (PE2E)-Search Tool, a new patent search system, provides examiners with increased access to prior art. This tool currently provides examiners access to 39 million more foreign documents and full English translation documents than the current search tool (EAST/WEST); by April 2021, that number will increase to over 70 million. The search system can also integrate with an artificial intelligence-based tool to help examiners find more relevant prior art.
  • An updated performance appraisal plan for examiners provides a roadmap for enhanced patent quality, including an increased focus on search and the clarity of the written prosecution record.
  • Patent applications are now routed to examiners based on the correspondence of a technological profile of each application and each examiner’s work history profile.

Reduced Patent Examination Time

Under the leadership of Andrew Hirshfeld, who was reappointed as Commissioner for Patents in July 2020, the USPTO continued to reduce average patent examination time. The agency is now issuing final decisions—either allowing a patent or issuing a final rejection—on average within 23.3 months—faster than last year’s 23.8 months and significantly faster than in recent years. 

New Milestones for Trademarks

Under the leadership of the new Commissioner for Trademarks, David Gooder, who joined the agency in February 2020, the Trademarks organization saw several new milestones:

  • All-electronic processing of trademark applications rose to 88.7%, leading to more efficient processing, fewer errors, and more cost-effective transactions for USPTO customers.
  • The gains made in efficiency enabled Trademarks to meet pendency and quality performance goals for the 15th straight year, even as applications increased by 9.6% and operations shifted dramatically. The USPTO issued over 400,000 trademark registrations this year.
  • The Trademark Assistance Center answered 128,370 calls, a 10% increase over the prior year, and responded to 29,246 emails.
  • The organization advanced a number of initiatives to mitigate suspicious filings, fraudulent filings and specimens, and counterfeit products, including a joint anti-counterfeiting campaign with the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC), post-registration audits to validate marks in use, and a new U.S. counsel rule that requires U.S.-based representation for applicants, registrants, or parties to a trademark proceeding before the USPTO.

For more information on the Patents and Trademarks organizations’ work this year, view the full USPTO FY 2020 Performance and Accountability Report (PAR) on the USPTO website.