On May 21, 2010, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office announced that it would open up its Green Technology Pilot Program to patent applications that cover additional technology categories. Under the Pilot Program, an applicant who has filed a patent application covering technology that enhances environmental quality may apply for special handling status. When the special status is granted, the USPTO will advance the application out of turn so that it is reviewed more quickly.
The original guidelines for the Pilot Program, published in December 2009, limited the program’s benefits to patent applications filed before December 8, 2009 in certain categories, including:
- alternative energy production;
- energy conservation;
- environmentally friendly farming; and
- environmental purification, protection, or remediation.
So far, the program has had limited impact. In the first five months of the program, the USPTO awarded special status to only 342 patent applications. This may be because the program’s original technology classification requirement only covered technologies for which the wait time is generally not very long at the USPTO. Thus, applications that achieved special status often received little actual benefit. In addition, the program only covered already-filed applications. It did not cover (and thus did nothing to encourage) new patent applications for “green” technologies.
Under the newly announced expansion of the program, the USPTO has eliminated any technology classification requirements. Rather than limiting the program to specific technology areas, the program now simply requires the applicant to explain how the invention materially enhances the quality of the environment by contributing to the restoration or maintenance of life-sustaining elements. The program is still limited to applications filed before December 8, 2009 — and thus it does not cover newly filed patent applications. However, elimination of the technology classification requirement may encourage more applicants to participate in the Pilot Program, and thus spur extension of the program past its original pilot period.
The Pilot Program lasts through December 8, 2010 and is limited to the first 3,000 applicants. More details are available on the USPTO website.