Updates to patent examination time, application routing, and examiner performance appraisal

The time patent examiners are allotted to examine applications is a critical link between pendency and quality. Significant changes in patent prosecution have occurred in the years since the current examination time goals were established, among them: new and converging technologies of increasing complexity, a growing volume of prior art, and a change to the system used to classify patent applications and search for prior art. Because of all this, we must make fundamental updates to the methods and processes that support patent examination.

Changes to processes that support patent examination

In October 2019, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) began implementing updates that improve the examination process and better align it with our goals of providing timely, predictable, and reliable intellectual property rights. Taking into account the priorities, challenges, and experiences of both our internal and external stakeholders, these phased changes revise:

  • The method used to allot time for examining patent applications
  • The process for assigning (routing) applications to examiners
  • The evaluation of examiner performance

Allotting examination time

The new method will base time allotment on an application’s classification "picture," which represents the full scope of technology covered in an application and accounts for multi-disciplinary inventions. The changes to examination time also allow for a thorough examination tailored to specific attributes of an application, including the overall number of claims, the length of the specification, and the number of pages in any filed information disclosure statements.

Routing process

The updated process for routing applications will use classification symbols to match the examiner's individual expertise to the technologies covered in the application. It also effectively completes the USPTO's transition from the old United States Patent Classification (USPC) system to the new Cooperative Patent Classification (CPC) system, used by over 45 intellectual property offices around the world.

Examiner performance evaluation

Changes to examiner performance appraisals will provide greater emphasis on finding the best prior art as early as possible, making the examination process more consistent with patent term adjustment timeframes required by law. The new performance evaluation acts as a roadmap to improved patent quality by providing examiners with a list of exemplary practices for searching, improving clarity of the written prosecution record, and adhering to principles of compact patent prosecution.

Additional resources