USPTO Proposes Incentives for Examiners to Reduce Patent Application Pendency

On September 20, the USPTO announced a proposal to overhaul its patent examiner “count” system — which is the system on which examiners’ evaluations and compensation are largely based.  The USPTO’s goal is that the changes will help reduce patent application backlogs by having examiners resolve issues with applicants early in the examination process.  The proposed changes include:

  • allowing examiners more time to spend on a first action on the merits, along with more time overall to spend on a patent application;
  • encouraging, and adding time for, examiner-initiated interviews
  • reducing examiner credit for cases on which a request for continued examination (RCE) is filed.

The increased inventives for resolving issues early in the case, and the decreased incentives for RCEs, will be welcomed by patent applicants.  Currently, examiners have little incentive to resolve issues before an RCE.  Under the existing system (in place since 1976), examiners receive equal credit (2 counts) for a new application and an RCE.  Under the new system, the counts provided for the first RCE in a case are reduced to 1.75, and only 1.5 counts are awarded for a second RCE.

Will the new system result in examiner-suggested amendments that will achieve allowance early in a case?  Will the increased time given to examiners in each case result in the unintended effect of increasing pendency?  Time and implementation will tell.  The patent examiners’ labor organization — the Patent Office Professional Association — is expected to vote on the proposed changes later this month. 

Complete details about the proposed changes are available at this link on the USPTO website.

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