Improving Key Patent Processes and Sub-processes
Blog by Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO David Kappos
As the Patents organization moves toward its goal of reducing the average total pendency of patent applications to 20 months by 2015, it is important to streamline all components of the examination process. Everyone plays a role – including of course our examiners and our quality assurance professionals and our searchers and our management team, as well as all of our support functions and our Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences and Central Reexamination Unit. The technical support staff plays a crucial role in this effort. And they are making substantial progress. I’d like to highlight areas where our technical support team is achieving real results.
In FY 2010 the Technology Center Technical Support Staff of 274 legal instrument examiners and legal document review clerks:
- Entered more than 2.9 million documents;
- Verified more than 264,000 allowed patent applications;
- Reviewed and counted over 2,300,000 office actions; and
- Processed more than 257,000 new patent applications.
These stats represented all-time records for the USPTO, reflecting all-time record workflow through the Agency including interviews conducted, office actions processed, notices of allowance, and final rejections.
An example of the incredible effort put forth by our technical support staff is the reduction of amendment entry times over the 2009 fiscal year. At the end of FY 2009, the backlog of documents to be entered was over 170,000 and the average amendment entry time was 34.5 days. Not good at all. In response, the head supervisory legal instrument examiners reengineered the work distribution process to better balance workflow, and to ensure that all documents were entered in date order. As a result of their determined reengineering efforts, as of October 2010 the backlog of documents was reduced to about 15,000, with amendments being entered in 5.2 days on average. Additionally, the backlog of new applications to be processed was reduced from over 100,000 in FY 2009 to just 13,000 as of October 2010.
These are, quite simply, jaw-dropping improvements. And to top off the performance, the team engineered this dramatic reduction in the backlog of documents to be entered while at the same time maintaining the timeliness of other critical areas of their work processes. Really excellent.
A second example: Our post-examination technical support team has recently begun to focus on its cycle times. It faces the unique challenge of handling the increased rate of patent issuances coming through as we work off our backlog of unexamined patent applications. So just to keep pace, this team had to handle an increase of some 40,000 utility patents issuing in FY 2010 over FY2009. Building on successful process improvement efforts in the printer rush area from early in FY10 (printer rushes occur when an application has been allowed by the examiner, but a technical issue like claim renumbering causes the application to drop out of the issuance queue, requiring attention by technical support staff), the post-examination program analysts and quality control specialists established electronic upload and automated tracking of printer rush queries. As a means of reducing paper-based and e-mail inefficiencies, the team also improved its automation capability so that the post-examination applicant service representatives were able to immediately enter applicant's application data to facilitate issuance.
Here are the results so far from this effort:
- For FY 2009, the average time from applicant's issue fee payment to issuance was 50 calendar days for 165,212 applications.
- For FY 2010, the average time from applicant's issue fee payment to issuance was 51 calendar days for 207,915.
- For FY 2011 to-date, the average time from applicant's issue fee payment to issuance is running at 43 calendar days for 39,064 applications.
This is an impressive eight-day (better than 15 percent) improvement in cycle time in less than one quarter. While there is more to do, the technical support team is again showing that it can achieve excellent results in cutting its processing times at USPTO.
So whether you are a USPTO employee, or a patent applicant, or a member of the patent bar prosecuting applications in front of the Agency, if you’ve been noticing processing times speeding up, now you know who is making that happen behind the scenes: our outstanding technical support staff.
I would like to thank and recognize the technical support staff – of course for the Patents organization but also throughout the USPTO -- for your hard work and dedication, and most importantly for your clear, measurable accomplishments. Reducing pendency is a challenging goal, requiring team effort among all employees playing a role in patent application processing. The technical support staff’s contributions are vital to our Agency putting Americans to work, putting new products and services into the marketplace, and creating opportunity for our country and for the world.