USPTO Seeking to Improve Quality of Patents

In one of his final posts on the USPTO Director’s Forum Blog, departing director David Kappos presented some eye-opening statistics about patent quality.   The post discussed a study of over 22,000 patent applications in the past five years that assessed whether Examiner interviews help improve the quality of the resulting patent.  The conclusion:  a resounding yes.  According to the post:  “The data shows that interviews help decrease both improper allowances and improper rejections by approximately 40 percent compared to applications without interviews prior to the final disposition.”

This post followed a flurry of recent USPTO activity directed to improving patent quality.

For example, the post coincided with the publication of a Federal Register notice in which the USPTO sought comments on a proposal for new patent application drafting practices that would help improve patent quality.  The proposal considers various ways to clarify the scope of patent claims, such as by:

  • requiring claims to be presented in a standard template format;
  • requiring applications to specify where each claim element is discussed in the detailed description;
  • requiring applications to state whether terms of degree (“substantially,” “approximately,”  “about,” etc.) have a lay or technical meaning and explaining the scope of such terms; and
  • including a glossary of specialized terms and designating a default dictionary for other terms.

Also in January, the USPTO announced the Software Partnership as a cooperative effort between the USPTO and the software community to explore ways to improve the quality of software patents.   In the announcement, the USPTO invited comments about whether software patents that include means-plus-function or functional claim elements should also recite specific structure for performing the function.  The notice also identified plans for two public roundtable discussions in February 2013 to discuss software patents

The USPTO is seeking comments on each of the new proposals through March 15, 2013.  

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