Many factors can influence prosecution strategies and decisions. For example, take a look at the chart below:
You do not have to look hard to find an example such as the one shown here. Over a period of about a year and a half, the applicant negotiated through a non-final action and then abandoned the application. The patent examiner assigned to the case on average issues a Notice of Allowance at approximately three years and five months. Might the applicant have obtained allowance had they hung on a little longer?
There is no way to know for sure whether the applicant could have achieved an allowance had they hung in, but it would have been helpful to know that the examiner was very experienced and likely had decision making authority. Such an observation would have given great insight into the fact that the examiner in question here has an overall allowance rate of nearly 70%. It no doubt would have also been helpful to know that after an interview in over 50% of cases, the next significant event following the interview was an allowance. In short, the statistical data shows that this was an experienced patent examiner who is interested in working with applicants and their representatives to identify allowable subject matter and issue patents where appropriate.
Last week the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) announced in the Federal Register that it would modify the After Final Consideration Pilot Program (AFCP) to create an After Final Consideration Pilot Program 2.0 (AFCP 2.0). The goal of AFCP 2.0 is much the same as it was when the USPTO initially introduced the precursor AFCP. According to the USPTO, the goal of AFCP 2.0 is to reduce pendency by reducing the number of RCEs and encouraging increased collaboration between the applicant and the examiner to effectively advance the prosecution of the application. Thus, this can and should be viewed as part of the USPTO effort to continue to try and address the RCE problem.
AFCP 2.0 began on May 19, 2013 and will run through September 30, 2013. The USPTO says that any request for participation in the program must be filed on or before September 30, 2013. Of course, as is always the case, the USPTO left open the possibility that the pilot would be extended beyond that date.
After providing the filing I explained that there are better ways to approach the situation, but I also looked into some publicly available statistics to see whether there was any explainable frustration that may have been experienced by this attorney. That part of the article looking at the statistics painted an inaccurate and unfair picture. I write today to set the record straight.
The examiner who was sent this inappropriate filing is a junior examiner — Examiner Valvis — who has been with the Patent Office only 8 months. In the article I suggested that there was reason for frustration. What I inartfully was trying to say was that at first glance there seemed to be a reason to be frustrated because in the database consulted there was no evidence of any patents being issued in 66 applications worked on. I then said: “But with only 66 applications total that might not be surprising.” It isn’t surprising because new examiners begin work on new cases and most cases are not allowed on a first office action. So someone who has only 66 applications was clearly a junior person and the pool simply too small to draw any conclusions one way or another.
EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of the article below contained inaccuracies. It was erroneously stated that SPE Len Tran had not allowed any applications since 2008. As a supervisor he oversaw the work of Junior Patent Examiners and was the decision maker on hundreds of patents since 2008.
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There is a story circulating the Internet over the last few days about an alleged filing with the USPTO. I initially decided to ignore this for several reasons. First, it is impossible for me to believe that a patent attorney actually filed this with the Patent Office, although I could see it being put together for internal use as a cathartic exercise. Second, alleged filing is dated April 24, 2013, but still does not show in Public PAIR. Third, the Art Unit listed in the heading of the alleged filing is Art Unit 4188, which does not coincide with the Art Unit according to the final rejection (i.e., the final rejection comes from Art Unit 3752). Thus, I have my suspicions about the authenticity, but on Monday CBS News published an article discussing this alleged filing under the title The letter to the Patent Office you have to read. So the matter is now out in the open.
Perhaps this really was filed, who knows. If it was filed we will eventually be able to find a copy of the filing on Public PAIR. In the meantime I’m going to continue to refer to this as an alleged filing. Notwithstanding, here the colorful comments from the Remarks section, which seem to be the only thing that makes up the filing.
The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has made great strides over the last several years, there is no doubt about it, but there is still work to be done. The patent system was collapsing under the crushing weight of an ever increasing demand for U.S. patents, antiquated computer systems and policies that lead to second guessing every allowance. This crippled the Patent Office. The Patent Office is better today than it was at the end of the Bush era, but the USPTO has a problem; a very big problem.
At the end of a patent application proceeding (a process known as “prosecution”) there are a number of possible outcomes. A patent can be granted on all of the claims sought, which is rare but not unprecedented. See Patent Bigfoot: The Mythical First Action Allowances. The applicant can give up and not respond to a final rejection for one reason or another, perhaps because the patent examiner has found strong prior art that will be difficult to overcome. Still further, allowed claims can be accepted, rejected claims canceled and a patent issue. In this last scenario the patent application can pay the issue fee, accept the patent and file a continuation or continuation-in-part pursuant to 37 CFR 1.53(b) in order to seek other claims on the disclosure.
But what if the patent prosecution results in no claims allowed? In this scenario, which is unfortunately far more common than either the patent bar or Patent Office would like, the procedural vehicle of choice is a Request for Continued Examination (RCE) under 37 CFR 1.114. An RCE can be filed in situations where claims are allowed, but they are far more common in the scenario where all claims are rejected because with an RCE, which is not considered a new patent application and will have the same serial number as the previous application, all claims go back into prosecution. That means both allowed claims and rejected claims are back on the table during prosecution. That can be dangerous when claims are allowed because patent examiners are known to reject previously allowed claims in an RCE.
Reed Technology and Information Services Inc., a part of the LexisNexis® family and a provider of content management services, announced earlier today that it has joined forces with PatentCore. You may recall that PatentCore is a publisher of online Patent Office analytics, which for the first time has given the patent bar and public a snapshot look at what goes on inside the Patent Office Art Unit by Art Unit and patent examiner by patent examiner.
Reed and PatentCore have recently launched of Reed Tech Patent AdvisorTM information services, a family of on-line data intelligence tools for patent professionals.
Patent Advisor™ provides patent professionals the ability to make analytics-driven strategic decisions based on predictable patterns demonstrated by the more than the 7,500 U.S. patent examiners during patent prosecution. Presently, Patent Advisor™ provides patent professionals with strategic insight based upon information gleaned from an analysis of more than 5 million patent applications, with more applications being added continually. If you are interested sign-up for a 2-day free trial to test drive Patent Advisor™ and see for yourself.
Bob Stoll (right) at the White House, Nov. 2010, with then USPTO Deputy Director Sharon Barner.
On July 19, 2012, I interviewed Bob Stoll, former Commissioner for Patents of the United States Patent and Trademark Office. The interview took place in a conference room at Drinker Biddleon K Street in Washington, D.C. After 29 years working for the USPTO and a total of 34 years working for the government, Stoll retired on December 31, 2011. He then started his new, second career as a private citizen and all around patent specialist at Drinker Biddle in the firm’s Intellectual Property Group.
In part 1 of my interview with Stoll we discussed his adjusting to life in the private sector, the fact that he doesn’t enjoy the billable hour part of private practice (just like every other attorney I know) and we discussed politics a bit, as well as the U.S. economy and innovation policy. Part 2 of my interview, which appears below, picks up where we left off discussing Presidential politics and the buzz that engulfs D.C. every 4 years. We then move on to talk about how innovation drives the U.S. economy and I get his thoughts on why we haven’t seen a great new technology that has spawned an entirely new industry as we have coming out of so many recessions in the past. We then finish part 2 discussing changes to the patent examination process and how to streamline the examination process.
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