Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) David Kappos announced today that the deadline for filing petitions under the USPTO’s Green Technology Pilot Program, which allows for expedited processing of patent applications related to green technology, is being extended through December 31, 2011. The program was originally set to expire on December 8, 2010, but has been successful enough to warrant an extension. In fact, since the pilot program began in December 2009, a total of 790 petitions have been granted to green technology patent applicants, with 94 patents having already been issued.
Additionally, the Green Technology Pilot Program will be expanded to allow for additional participants from the pool of applicants having relevant green technology innovations that are subject to a pending patent application. Those who have pending pending green technology related patent applications that were filed with the USPTO on or after December 8, 2009 may now petition to have those applications accelerated. Petitions seeking expedited processing of new green patent applications may also now be filed simultaneously with the patent application.
Program statistics show that applicants who use the program can obtain a patent much more quickly as compared to the standard examination process. Currently, the average time between the approval of a green technology petition and the first action on an application is just 49 days. In several cases, patent applications in the green technology program have been issued within a year of the filing date. Earlier patenting of these technologies can help inventors to secure funding, create businesses, and bring vital green technologies to market much sooner.
“We’ve seen great results so far for those applications in the Green Technology Pilot Program, so we want to extend it for another year and open the program to additional green inventions,” Kappos said. “By doing so, we hope to help stimulate investment in green technology, bring more green inventions to market, and create jobs.”
The Green Technology Pilot Program, which is one of the ways an applicant can accelerate consideration of their patent application, moves the application forward quicker than would normally be allowed. Patent applications are normally taken up for examination in the order they are filed. Under the Green Technology Pilot Program, for the first 3,000 applications filed on or before Dec. 31, 2011, in which a grantable petition for special status is filed, the agency will expedite examination. As before, to be included in the program petitions for expedited processing of an application must state how the application relates to: (1) the development of a renewable energy source or energy conservation or (2) the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
There are many who are skeptical of a green technology revolution. Unfortunately, in many instances debate over green technologies devolves into a left versus right argument about whether green technologies are ready for prime time, whether the government should be pushing green technologies and potentially choosing winners and losers, and inevitably winds up on some level devolving to a debate on global warming. I say devolving into a debate regarding global warming because there are many who rightly question whether man-made global warming is the culprit for the unquestionable global climate changes we see, or whether there is a confluence of events that are yet unknown and/or not well understood that cause the climate to change, which is what the historical records suggest.
To the extent possible it is critical that we divorce any ideological or political differences over the relative merits of green technology. We must collectively recognize that accelerating patent applications having the promise to offer progress on renewable energy, energy conservation or reduction of greenhouse gases is objectively a good idea. For the time being we have a near ridiculous backlog at the USPTO, and yet there are some applications that potentially provide scientific breakthroughs and innovations that could fundamentally change the world, our economy and our national security.
Moving green technology patent applications to the front of the line strikes me not only as a good idea philosophically, but the only real choice. When has it ever been bad to encourage exciting new technologies? An argument could be made that the Patent Office could and should expand this acceleration program beyond the green tech space and more broadly define those types of innovations that we as a society need most. A one-size-fits-all patent system, or patent term for that matter, strikes me as out-dated. Bacteria are becoming ever more resistant to Antibiotics and with more and more people in the world we need to continually advance food producing technologies. These are but two other examples of situations where a one-size-fits-all patent system is out-dated. Whether through acceleration or a longer patent term, we should be doing what we can to encourage those innovations society most needs.
Accelerating green technologies may wind up in hindsight to have been unsuccessful by some estimates, but when dealing with the advance of science success is relative. Even unsuccessful steps provide valuable intelligence. It was the right thing for President Reagan to favor superconductor technologies even though the value has so far eluded us. It is likewise the right thing for President Obama to favor green technologies and want to see the United States move forward as a global leader in the field, which is precisely the arguments President Reagan used regarding superconductors.
For those who are inventing in this space you should at the very least discuss the requirements of participating in the program with your attorney. We know that green technologies are in their infancy, in relative terms, and as with any new field of endeavor there will be capital requirements for growing and sustaining a fledgling start-up company in this space. Issued patents are not a license to make money, it is always going to be about the technology on a fundamental level, but investors sure do love patents. With a patent you have a competitive advantage provided there is a market, and getting that first patent can be critically important. So do yourself a favor and learn more about the Green Technology Pilot Program at the USPTO.
More details on the extension of the Green Technology Pilot Program can be found in today’s Federal Register.
Additional information on the Green Technology Pilot Program can be found on the USPTO’s website.