Director's Forum: A Blog from USPTO's Leadership
Director's Forum: A Blog from USPTO's Leadership
Tuesday Sep 20, 2016

Transparency in Patent Examination Prosecution: Master Review Form

Guest blog by Deputy Commissioner for Patent Quality Valencia Martin Wallace

One important component of the USPTO’s commitment to achieve greater accuracy, clarity, and consistency in examination and prosecution is the Clarity and Correctness Data Capture (CCDC) program. As part of our Enhanced Patent Quality Initiative, the goal of the CCDC is an improved data capture system to enable all reviewers of finished work products to consistently document and access quality review data in one place.  By entering the results of these reviews into a single database, the USPTO will ultimately capture three to five times more data as a single data set than we have previously captured. With this larger data set, we will be able to identify trends at a more granular level, and in doing so, we will be poised to provide training and other educational opportunities to examiners, in order to achieve greater transparency in examination and prosecution. We are also updating our quality metrics in view of this new data, which will be the subject of a future blog post.

As part of this effort, the USPTO is standardizing reviews of finished work products through the use of a single review form, called the “Master Review Form” (MRF). Reviewers in the Office of Patent Quality Assurance (OPQA) and supervisors in our technology centers are already using this form. The MRF places a much greater emphasis on assessing the clarity of an examiner’s reasoning in a rejection compared to past review forms, while maintaining our historic focus on addressing the correctness of an examiner’s action. In addition, the MRF provides reviewers with a greater ability to flag instances of high quality or best practices during their reviews to allow the USPTO to acknowledge these high-performing examiners as well as to provide a set of readily identifiable examples of high quality work that can be used for training purposes. Further, the Master Review Form is a “smart”, software-based form, so reviewers see only those sections of the form that are pertinent to the review that they are doing, which allows reviewers to be more efficient when recording the results of their reviews.

We are continuing to assess the Master Review Form to ensure it strikes the right balance between the level of detail captured by the form and the time it takes to fill out the form. To this end, we have conducted surveys and focus sessions with OPQA reviewers as well as supervisors in the technology centers. These surveys and focus sessions have identified changes to questions as well as a need for better guidance on how to fill out the form. We also published a Federal Register Notice in March 2016 seeking comments on the MRF. We received 32 comments expressing a general desire for more detail in the MRF’s sections to evaluate causal effects, especially the search section, as well as identifying a need for a guidance document for the public. Based on all of this feedback, we created a new version of the Master Review Form, which OPQA and the technology centers are currently using, and updated guidance for this new version. 

Further, we are testing the MRF by using it when conducting case studies as part of the Topic Submission for Case Studies program. Historically, OPQA was able to conduct a very limited number of case studies every year due to resource constraints because each case study typically required a large number of extensive reviews. The Topic Submission for Case Studies program has allowed us to test the extent to which we can use data from the Master Review Form in place of such extensive reviews. 

Even though we only began using the Master Review Form in OPQA in November 2015, we have completed over 11,000 reviews so far this fiscal year and expect to complete at least another 1,000 reviews by the end of the year. In contrast, OPQA completed 7,900 reviews in fiscal year 2015.  Next fiscal year, OPQA expects to complete over 18,500 reviews. As the MRF’s database continues to grow over the coming years with hundreds of thousands of reviews covering a large range of issues, the USPTO will have an even richer data set to use when identifying quality trends, answering questions we would otherwise have had to answer through a case study, and providing more precise quality metrics. This will have an impact for years to come.

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