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Wednesday Oct 09, 2019

USPTO meets critical goals to reduce patent examination pendency

Blog by Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO Andrei Iancu and Commissioner for Patents Drew Hirshfeld

Total and first action patent pendency graph

For many years, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has been working to reduce patent pendency times. And since 2018, the agency has had specific goals of under 15 months for first office actions and under 24 months for total pendency, on average.

We have now achieved these goals! As of September 30, 2019, which is the end of our 2019 fiscal year (FY), the averages are 14.7 months for first action pendency and 23.8 months for total pendency. All along, we have maintained and indeed improved the quality of our examination. This achievement marks the USPTO’s lowest first action pendency since January 2002, despite total application filings nearly doubling in that time, from 353,000 in FY 2002 to 667,000 in FY 2019.

Our success in meeting these goals is the direct result of the efforts of our employees, at all levels, to drastically improve analyses, streamline processes, and clarify approaches that benefit all applications. At the patent examining level, supervisors and examiners undertook and implemented complex data analyses to better prioritize applications and balance workloads without sacrificing quality. At the application processing level, the team focused on increasing efficiencies to accelerate the overall patent examination process. These actions led, for example, to a decrease in the average processing time for an amendment filed in a patent application from 26.2 days to 6.8 days. And, of course, we increased the examiner ranks and we improved examiner training so that today the USPTO boasts the best examining corps anywhere in the world.

But our work does not stop here. We will in fact redouble our efforts to optimize pendency using considered analytics that make sense. Among other changes, we are improving how cases are routed to the right examiner and how time is allocated to each examiner based on a number of factors. And we will focus on areas that need most attention and strive to meet in as many cases as possible the time frames outlined by the patent term adjustment statute (35 U.S.C. 154b). This means, for example, issuing a first office action in as many applications as possible in no more than 14 months.

Processing and examining patent applications in a high quality and timely manner, a primary tenet of our 2018-2022 Strategic Plan, advances economic prosperity and supports a business environment that protects, cultivates and promotes innovation and entrepreneurship. In turn, this helps grow the economy, create jobs, and ultimately improve the way we all live.

Born of the Constitution and steeped in our history, the American patent system is a crown jewel, a gold standard. The USPTO’s more than 12,000 employees come to work every day dedicated to ensuring its continued success. Timely and quality patent examination are key components. We are proud of our achievements as stewards of this treasured system.


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