A Request for Continued Examination (RCE) is typically the procedural vehicle of choice at the end of a patent application when no claims have been allowed but the applicant still believes that claims should be allowed based on the disclosed invention. The trouble with this, however, is that there is an enormous RCE backlog that has nearly doubled over the past two years. Just several years ago it would take a patent examiner 2 to 3 months to pick up an RCE, but today in many Art Units the wait is well over 2 years, and for recently filed RCEs the wait could be 4 or more years. See The RCE Backlog: A Critical Patent Office Problem.
The RCE backlog is unacceptable, and quite frankly a growing embarrassment. Emphasis has been on bringing down the unexamined patent application backlog, but at the same time the RCE backlog has grown to epic levels. Overall the allowance rate at the USPTO during the Obama Administration is up compared to the Bush era Patent Office, and the total number of unexamined patent applications (unexamined patent applications plus unexamined RCEs) is down by just over 8% between the start of fiscal year 2011 and the end of fiscal year 2012. That is due to a 15.1% drop in the number of unexamined patent applications because unexamined RCEs grew over 95% over that same interval.
UPDATED: Jan. 22, 2013 at 11:43am (see comment #2)
USPTO Director David Kappos speaking a White House event on April 11, 2012.
Today President Barack Obama publicly started his second term in Office with a celebration in Washington, DC, marked by his second inaugural address to the Nation. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem that President Obama will mark his second inauguration quite the way that President Abraham Lincoln did with a grand ball held at the United States Patent Office in the model room, but today is a very special day in America. We transfer power without a shot fired, which can’t be said for a great many places in the world. Soon we will turn from celebration back to partisan politics, if that hasn’t happened already.
One of the things that President Obama will be faced with in his second term, which I understand he was not expecting to have to deal with, is selecting a new leader for the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
On November 26, 2012, news broke that David Kappos, Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office, would be stepping down and leaving the agency effective the end of January 2013. In fact, Director Kappos’ last day as Director will be January 31, 2013. At that time the mantle of leadership will pass to soon-to-be Acting Director Teresa Rea.
The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) was granted fee setting and adjusting authority with respect to patent fees in the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (AIA), which was signed into law on September 16, 2011. The fee setting (or adjusting) process is not a simple process. As you might expect, there are numerous hoops the agency was required to jump through before making the fees final. Those hoops have been jumped through and the final rules on patent fees will publish in the Federal Register on Friday, January 18, 2013.
Most of this final rules package on fees will go into effect 60 days later, with some portions not becoming effective until January 1, 2014. For example, in response to public comment, small and micro entity fee reductions for international application transmittal, filing, processing and search fees will be effective January 1, 2014 to permit adequate time for operational changes associated with international systems and forms.
One major step in the fee setting process was the publication of proposed fee rules in September 2012. In response to public comments received after those proposed rules were published the USPTO modified some of its revenue and performance targets in the final rule, allowing the agency to reduce certain fees.
David Kappos is Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and the Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office. He assumed that role within the Obama Administration when he took over the USPTO in August of 2009, nearly 32 months ago. Upon arrival Director Kappos found a largely dysfunctional Patent Office, which had really become the “No Patent For You” Office owing to the philosophical and ideological beliefs of the prior Administration. This lead to the development of a massive backlog of un-examined patent applications and played no small part in the severity of the economic collapse and the sluggish rebound. We have a technology based economy and start-up companies that are the backbone of our economy struggled without patents to attract capital investment, expand and hire.
There is still a massive backlog of patent applications, but things are undeniably turning around. There are certainly some pockets of resistance within the USPTO, See Business Methods by the Numbers, but the Patent Office is by-and-large open for business. The USPTO has returned to the historical philosophy that patent examiners should work cooperatively with patent applicants to identify allowable subject matter and issue patents on what is allowable, not just focusing on rejection after rejection after rejection.
While there are quite a few positive changes, with more in the works, Track One is by far the most successful policy initiative that has come to bear during the Kappos Administration. The only problem with Track One is that more applicants are not using it! What are you waiting for? A look at the numbers shows that Track One is a huge success and ought to be employed far more than it has been.
The patent backlog has been well documented over the years. We don’t need to rehash the reasons for the backlog, but everyone in the industry knows that it takes far too long for the overwhelming majority of patents applications to mature into issued patents. Sure, pharmaceutical companies, biotech start-ups and Universities may want to delay issuance of a patent, or even delay USPTO consideration of an application, but how many clients of yours really want and even need a patent as quickly as possible? If you represent independent inventors, small businesses, entrepreneurs and start-ups the answer is almost universally that patents are needed with all due speed.
Over the past several years the Patent Office has attempted to offer a variety of procedures to speed up patent applications, such as project exchange where you drop one application to advance another out of turn and the Green Technology Pilot where certain green technologies are advanced out of turn. Most famously, perhaps because it was a part of the America Invents Act, is Track 1, where you pay an additional $4,800 fee to obtain a patent decision within 12 months. With all of these efforts some wonder why more haven’t taken advantage of the various acceleration options. There are two reasons: (1) patent attorneys are very conservative and don’t like change (with good reason); and (2) $4,800 is no small amount of money.
A new report published by WIPO today shows that intellectual property filings worldwide rebounded strongly in 2010 after a considerable decline in 2009. In fact, the recovery in IP filings was stronger than the overall economic recovery. This is probably to have been expected given that patent filings in particular are a leading indicator of the introduction of new technologies into the marketplace. The question now is whether the patent systems of the world can actually process these increased patent filings in a releavant time frame so that entrepreneurs and small businesses, who are the engine of growth, can be the catalyst pushing toward economic recovery.
According to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), patent and trademark filings grew by 7.2% and 11.8% respectively in 2010 compared to growth of 5.1% in the global gross domestic product (GDP). Not surprisingly China and the United States accounted for the greatest share of the increased filings. With China you have a growing economy in a country with over 1.3 billion people. With the United States you have the largest economy in the world and the rights granted are undoubtedly very strong given the fact that, for the most part, the U.S. judiciary is not anti-patent. Not to be outdone, however, in Europe the growth of IP filings in France, Germany and the UK also far exceeded the GDP growth rate of these three European economies in 2010.
In a rather stunning development, key Republican leaders in the House of Representatives are opposing an adequately funded Patent Office. Indeed, the opposition to appropriate funding for the United States Patent and Trademark Office is becoming a political matter, and the language used to describe the issues suggests that Republicans seem to believe they can score points against the Obama Administration by opposing USPTO funding.
In a letter sent to Congressman Lamar Smith (R-TX), two key Republican Chairmen are opposing the USPTO funding mechanisms currently in place in H.R. 1249, which mirror those passed by the Senate earlier this year. Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI), who is Chair of the House Committee on the Judiciary, was joined by Congressman Harold Rogers (R-KY), who is Chair of the House Committee on Appropriations, opposing provisions that would allow the Patent and Trademark Office to keep the user fees it collects, which are payment for services to be rendered.
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