The United States Patent and Trademark Office has published its yearly Performance and Accountability Report. I’ve cut out some of the tables and provided a brief commentary below. Some of the graphics are barely legible. This is the way it was published on the USPTO website.
I. USPTO Staffing
The USPTO examining core is made up of about 6,780 patent examiners ranging. They are grouped into various technology centers.
- 1600 – Biotechnology and Organic Chemistry
- 1700 – Chemical and Materials Engineering
- 2100 – Computer Architecture, Software, and Information Security
- 2400 – Computer Networks, Multiplex communication, Video Distribution, and Security
- 2600 – Communications
- 2800 – Semiconductors, Electrical and Optical Systems and Components
- 2900 – Designs
- 3600 – Transportation,Construction, Electronic Commerce, Agriculture, National Security and License & Review
- 3700 – Mechanical Engineering, Manufacturing, Products
These 6,780 patent examiner are responsible for examining the 490,000 applications per year. Just to keep up with demand, each examiner would have to examine 72 patent applications per year.
II. Pendency and Patent Term
The Average First Action Pendency is the time period in months after filing a patent application that the Patent Office takes to render its official stance as to whether claimed invention will be granted a patent. Currently, it takes about 2 years and 4 months to receive the first Office Action. Thereafter, the applicant has an opportunity to present arguments and claim amendments to overcome the rejection made by the examiner. The entire process takes less than three years to final disposition of the case. Final disposition being either allowance or final rejection of the claimed rejection. You can always file a request for continued examination or a continuation patent application. Given that the patent term is generally 20 years from the filing date of the patent application, the average patent term is a little bit over 17 years. Patent term used to be 17 years from the issue date. Accordingly, the life of the patent has increased since the change in calculating patent term back in 1995.
III. Patent Quality
A few years back, the Patent Office was criticized for allowing a patent for a method of swinging on a swing and other dubious patents. They started to review office actions and patents to ensure quality and measured compliance rates. The interesting part of the compliance rates is that they are never 100%. In other words, sometimes patents are granted that should not be granted. Nonetheless, in my experience, these bad patents such as the method of swinging on a swing patent no longer mature into a patent.
IV. Perception of Quality
This graph measures the user community’s perception of patent quality.
V. Patent Prosecution Highway
PPH stands for patent prosecution highway. In the PPH program, if an application is filed in two or more countries and the patent office of first filing allows at least one claim in the patent application, the applicant may request the patent office of second filing to fast-track examination of the corresponding claims. The benefit is that the applicant receives patentability determinations faster in multiple jurisdictions. Also, the Patent Offices participating in the program benefit from the work sharing efficiencies. In my opinion, if you are budget conscious, you may want to delay examination since expedited examination generally brings additional costs such as examination costs, issue fees, etc.
The other interesting part of the graphs is that the blue line is higher than the red line. These are the best graphics available from the report. The point is that with the PPH program, your claims are more likely to be allowed in the office of second filing.
VI. Various Patent Metrics
This figure illustrates that the time to first office action is generally decreasing. The allowance rate is going up. Also, the number of actions per disposals is decreasing. This means that the number of office actions till you receive an allowance or final rejection is decreasing. The report doesn’t explain the Green Technologies Pilot graph.
VII. Electronic Filing
Electronic filing is the preferred route. You obtain a serial number instantaneously from the USPTO. You obtain a filing date as of submission of the electronic documents. This number will be driven closer to 100% now that there is a $400 surcharge to file by paper. 37 CFR 1.16(t).