Ensuring the highest quality in patent examination
About the Office of Patent Quality Assurance
The Office of Patent Quality Assurance (OPQA) is committed to ensuring the highest quality in patent examination. To that end, the Office provides assessment and analysis of quality at the USPTO through work product reviews for compliance, clarity and best practices, defining and standardizing quality metrics and providing feedback to Technology Centers with respect to their reviews and training.
Who is OPQA?
Under the direction of the Deputy Commissioner for Patents in the Office of Patent Examination Policy, OPQA functions to review the work of patent examiners; the majority of this work is completed by our 60+ Review Quality Assurance Specialists or RQASs. RQASs are primary examiners with a proven history of high quality patent examination. Organized by technical disciplines, RQASs are very familiar with the technology being reviewed, much like examiners in the Technology Centers of Patent Operations. In addition to reviewers, OPQA has supervisors for each discipline (often referred to as Quality Leads), technical support staff, administrative and program support staff, and statisticians to both facilitate the reviewers and accomplish other OPQA objectives.
The role of OPQA
OPQA focuses on accurate measures of patent quality. Defining patent quality metrics is always evolving, and OPQA strives for continuous quality improvement. Current quality metrics focuses on statutory compliance. Metrics on clarity assessments are forthcoming.
In addition to patent quality metrics, the reviewing done in OPQA permits statistical analysis to better identify our training needs. Our statisticians perform trend analysis on statutory compliance and clarity assessments to pinpoint which technologies need more guidance in applying patent law and which technologies can provide best practices to share.
Reviewing for statutory compliance and clarity is completed on a random assortment of work. OPQA also completes other reviews to meet various objectives, such as to assess the effectiveness of a training class, to answer inquiries of a case study, or to evaluate the quality of the prior art search completed.
In addition to reviewing, OPQA administers internal and external quality surveys as tools to assess the perception of the quality of patent examination. Results from such surveys are compared to statutory compliance and clarity statistics to ensure the perception of our quality is aligned with our metrics. Sample surveys are found below under Tools.
Master Review Form – OPQA uses the Master Review Form or MRF to (1) complete reviewing for statutory compliance, (2) provide notes to consider for examination moving forward, and (3) offer kudos for exemplary work. It is a detailed, “smart” form with various sections to accurately capture the reviewer’s assessment of both improper rejections made and omitted rejections in an Office action.
Patent Quality Metrics – the current state of patent quality metrics is explained on this webpage. Measurement of such a complex idea is always evolving.
Internal Quality Surveys – an example of a semi-annual examiner survey (examiners are randomly selected to participate)
External Quality Surveys - an example of a semi-annual survey of frequent-filing customers
We have had quality metrics based on independent reviews of Office actions since at least 1983. Our initial reviews focused solely on allowances. Over time, we included additional types of reviews to provide a more thorough understanding of the quality of our work products and processes.
FY 1983 Review of Allowances begin (reviews occur prior to patent
FY 2005 Reviews of In-Process Office actions are added to allowance
reviews (includes finals and non-finals)
FY 2007 External Quality Surveys begin (to assess our stakeholders’
perception of quality)
FY 2008 Quality Index Reportings (QIR) (assessing the quality of our
FY 2010 Reviews grouped into Final Disposition (allowances and final
rejections) and In-Process (non-final rejections)
FY 2011 Quality Composite Score begins – combining seven (7)
individual quality metrics. Two videos are available
to explain the composite score (video 1 and video 2).
Definitions of the QIR items used in the composite are
- In-Process Compliance Rate*
- Final Disposition Compliance Rate*
- Complete First Action on the Merits Review
- First Action on the Merits Search Review
- QIR (average of actions per disposal: RCEs as percent of total disposals; reopenings after final; second action non-finals; and restrictions after first action)
- External Quality Survey
- Internal Quality Survey
*Measuring compliance considering an Office action's ability to advance prosecution
FY 2016 Quality Metrics Program begins (composite score retired) to
simplify metrics into three (3) categories:
- Product indicators (focused on statutory compliance and clarity of Office action)*
- Process indicators (focused on QIR-type data)
- Perception indicators (focused on survey data)
*Measuring compliance considering an Office action's adherence to the criteria of compliance under each statutory basis
FY 2020 Product indicators begun in FY16 now focus more on (a) statutory
compliance, to inform our quality metrics, and (b) best practices,
to encourage activities we have found to be drivers of clarity and correctness.
For inquiries about patent examination policy relating to petitions, regulations, and patent examination practice, go to Office of Patent Examination Policy.
For resources related to patent legal administration (i.e., USPTO Federal Register Notices, Patent Laws and Rules, MPEP, and all USPTO patent examination training materials), go to Patent Legal Administration.