November's advice article

Using EFS-Web: 5 Electronic Filing Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

EFS-Web Project Manager Jeff Wong contributed to this article.

To compete in today’s innovation-driven economy, inventors and entrepreneurs need to get an invention from initial idea to submitted patent application as quickly as possible.

Filing electronically is the fastest, most efficient, and cost-effective way to file a patent application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The USPTO’s online Patent Electronic Filing System (EFS-Web) was designed with extensive input from the intellectual property community, including small businesses and independent inventors. Over 98 percent of all patent applications are filed electronically through EFS-Web.

To help applicants file electronically, the USPTO’s Patent Electronic Business Center (EBC)—a dedicated technical support desk for the USPTO's online systems, including EFS-Web—is available to the public for extended hours, Monday through Friday. See the end of this article for more contact information.

You can avoid many filing mistakes when armed with a little knowledge up front. Save yourself time, money, and (most of all) headaches by understanding some common mistakes and following some helpful tips to avoid problems.

TIP: In addition to other benefits, filing electronically avoids incurring a surcharge for paper filing (reduced by half for small and micro entities). See fee code 1090/2090 in the current fee schedule. This surcharge applies to new nonprovisional utility applications and does not affect follow-on correspondence.


Problem #1: Application Documents Not Prepared Before Filing

EFS-Web transmits patent applications to the USPTO. EFS-Web does not provide tools to author patent application documents. Before signing in to EFS-Web, applicants must fully prepare their patent application. All new patent applications consist of a combination of USPTO-provided forms and applicant-created documents (e.g., a specification, drawings, etc.). The exact configuration can vary widely depending on the application type, the invention itself, and several other factors. 

Generally, any required USPTO forms can be downloaded from our website and are already compatible with our system, but documents drafted by applicants are often in various formats and tend to have the most problems when uploaded to the system.

Before uploading through EFS-Web, all patent application documents must meet the following criteria:

  • Must be in PDF format
  • Must be 8½ x 11 inches or A4 size, portrait mode
  • All fonts must be embedded

For assistance with PDF document creation or how to embed fonts in PDF documents, contact the EBC. See the PDF Guidelines for instructions on creating PDF documents for EFS-Web.


Problem #2: No PKI Certificate or Customer Number

A Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) digital certificate allows applicants to securely access their patent application information and communicate online with the USPTO. A PKI is not required when filing a new patent application as an unregistered EFS-Web user. However, in order to add documents to an existing patent application or to respond to a USPTO communication, applicants must be registered users of EFS-Web.

Becoming a registered user of EFS-Web requires obtaining a free PKI digital certificate. Applicants should also have a customer number in order to access Private PAIR, the USPTO’s secure means for applicants to view their filed applications. See Getting Started - New Users for steps to register for a customer number and PKI certificate.

Many applicants receive a notice from the USPTO requiring the submission of additional documents or fees when they do not already have a PKI certificate to file the response online. Keep in mind that it can take 5-7 business days to obtain a new PKI certificate and customer number, so apply for them as early as possible.

TIP:  After setting up your PKI Certificate, remember to also request PKI self-recovery codes. These codes provide a quick way to generate a new certificate in the event your PKI certificate becomes expired or corrupted.

Contact the EBC for assistance with PKI registration or recovery.


Problem #3: Software Configuration Issues

EFS-Web uses Java in order to authenticate users when logging in. You can obtain the latest version of Java by visiting the Java website. The EBC is available to help if you experience issues installing Java or logging in after Java is installed. 

 PDF Viewer
A compatible PDF viewer is required to work with the forms and documents in EFS-Web. When working with EFS-Web Fillable PDF forms, we recommend using the latest version of Adobe Reader to ensure compatibility. To download a current version of the free Adobe Reader software, visit the Adobe website.

Web Browser
EFS-Web software updates are extensively tested with the “big three” browsers (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome), and the USPTO attempts to maintain maximum compatibility with all standard Web browsers. The EBC is available to troubleshoot issues you may experience when using a supported browser.

If you are experiencing problems logging in or using the system, make sure your Java, Web browser, and PDF Viewer versions are compatible with the EFS-Web system requirements. If you are unsure whether a piece of software you are using is compatible with our system, please contact the EBC in order to verify whether or not this is the case.

When the USPTO becomes aware of compatibility problems with EFS-Web, we will post an advisory on the EFS-Web announcements page.


Problem #4: Indexing Documents Incorrectly

When uploading documents in EFS-Web, filers must index each document by choosing an accurate document description to identify it. Upon submission, USPTO internal systems use this index to alert the appropriate business units of incoming documents. You should select the most appropriate document description in order for the document to be routed quickly to the correct USPTO processing unit. 

Of course, patent applications can be very complex.  If you need help understanding indexing requirements, see the EFS-Web document description list, which includes a business process for each description, and the “Indexing Guides” section on the resource page. If you have further questions about which document description to use for a particular document, please contact the EBC.

If you need to file immediately and are unsure what document description to choose, but unable to contact the EBC, we encourage you to select the closest document description choice and follow up with the EBC as soon as possible to verify the correct indexing of your submission. If any potential problems are identified, a re-indexing request can usually be submitted through the EBC.


Problem #5: Waiting Until the Last Minute to File

Don’t wait until a deadline to file or submit materials. Applicants may run into potentially time-consuming technical problems with only hours or minutes left before a midnight deadline. Be sure to file early to allow enough time to resolve any unforeseen problems that might occur, and so that you can contact the EBC or other USPTO Customer Support Call Centers for assistance if necessary.

If you encounter an EFS-Web system problem, please check the USPTO System Status and Availability Page for announcements about scheduled and unscheduled system outages.


Additional Resources

The USPTO has many resources to help e-filers use EFS-Web. The EFS-Web landing page provides a wealth of useful information, including comprehensive resources, training materials, and important e-filing announcements

The EFS-Web team is constantly working to improve EFS-Web and implement new features to support our users’ needs. We welcome your feedback to help us do a better job. If you have suggestions for improvement or to report problems please email the EBC.

The EBC is open 6 a.m. to 12 midnight, Eastern Time, Monday-Friday.

Telephone: 1-866-217-9197 (toll-free)
571-272-4100 (local)