Interview practice and its importance at the USPTO
First Action Interview Pilot Program to end on January 15, 2021
Blog by Andrei Iancu, Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO, and Drew Hirshfeld, Commissioner for Patents
Virtual interview between a patent attorney and a patent examiner
Whether initiated by the applicant or the examiner, interviews during patent prosecution provide an opportunity for the participants to discuss the merits of an application and gain insights that are sometimes not apparent through written exchanges. Examiners are available for telephonic or video interviews, with video interviews gaining in popularity. The USPTO’s improved information technology infrastructure is now permitting high-quality virtual interactions that far exceed past experiences.
Interviews can lead to a better understanding of an applicant’s invention, bridge gaps between the examiner and applicant, and serve as an effective mechanism for facilitating agreement and furthering prosecution. Recent data shows that applications with at least one interview had an allowance rate 10% higher than those with no interview, demonstrating that interviews are an effective tool to place claims in a condition for allowance. This statistic is especially meaningful, as interviews most commonly occur when rejections or objections are pending and the path to allowability is not immediately clear.
As a result of the USPTO’s efforts to promote interview practice at all stages of prosecution, the percentage of applications having at least one interview is now at an all-time high, having risen from 19.6% at the beginning of FY 2010 to 38.1% at the end of FY 2020. To maintain steady progress in this area, we are constantly monitoring and refining our programs. Over time, the USPTO has introduced a number of successful enhancements to facilitate interviews, including: Automated Interview Requests, a convenient web-based method to request an interview; Technology Center Interview Specialists, subject matter experts on interview practice and policy; video conference interviews, allowing an examiner and an applicant to interact in real time from anywhere using video and document sharing; and public interview rooms, available at each USPTO office (when our physical premises reopen).
On the other hand, the Full First Action Interview Pilot Program has not been as successful. The program couples an interview before a first office action on the merits at the request of the applicant with modified prosecution procedures. During the 12 years of the program’s existence, it has been used for only approximately 0.2% of eligible applications. Due to its limited use, the program will be discontinued effective January 15, 2021. This will allow us to concentrate on more effective actions.
We look forward to continued engagement with our stakeholders not only through general interview practice, but also through Patents Customer Partnership Meetings, the Patent Examiner Technical Training Program, and other programs designed to provide unique and invaluable opportunities to communicate, collaborate, and cooperate. If you have ideas to improve our interview process, please contact us at ExaminerInterviewPractice@USPTO.gov.