Tag Archives: USPTO

End of an era: USPTO proposes to phase out hard copy patent and trademark certificates

As part of its plan to modernize the U.S. intellectual property registration system, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) plans to stop issuing patent and trademark certificates in hard copy format. In a recent blog post, USPTO Director Drew Hirshfeld announced that the USPTO will soon publish a proposed rule to eliminate the USPTO’s regulatory obligation to mail a paper copy of the patent to the correspondence address of record.

The USPTO expects the new rule to speed up patent grants by reducing the time required for publication. Under the new rule, patents will issue electronically within one week after the patent number is assigned.

The USPTO’s trademark regulations do not require the USPTO to mail trademark registrations in hard copy form. Nonetheless, the USPTO plans to issue a notice and seek public comment on this procedural change before applying it to trademarks, too.

When the new rule takes effect, patent applicants who plan to file a continuation application before a patent grants will need to take extra care, as less time will be available between the issue fee payment date and the patent grant date. As a best practice, applicants should try to file the continuation before they pay the issue fee, as they will lose the opportunity to file a continuation when the patent grants.

The USPTO’s announcement indicated that hard copies of patents and trademarks, with an embossed gold seal and the Director’s signature, will still available to registrants who request them and pay an extra fee.

How long does U.S. patent and trademark prosecution take? (2021 edition)

The USPTO recently released its FY 2021 Performance and Accountability Report, which contains detailed information about allowance rates, average pendency, and other statistics about its review of patent and trademark applications this year. Each year, IP Spotlight analyzes this Report and, and we update our readers who often ask: how long does it take for a patent or trademark registration to grant?  To answer that question:

Patents: In Fiscal Year (FY) 2021, for the first time in nine years, the USPTO’s average time to first action increased, to 16.9 months in FY 2021 (compared to 14.8 months in FY 2020). The average total pendency — that is, the time from filing to either grant or abandonment — remained steady at 23.3 months.

The wait times varied based on the USPTO Technology Center that reviewed the application. The breakdown by technology included:

  • biotechnology and organic chemistry (USPTO Technology Center 1600) inventions had an average wait time of 17.0 months to first action, and an average total pendency of 24.0 months;
  • chemical and materials engineering (USPTO Technology Center 1700) inventions had an average wait time of 18.8 months to first action, and an average total pendency of 26.7 months;
  • computer architecture, software and information security (USPTO Technology Center 2100) inventions had an average wait time of 17.5 months to first action, and an average total pendency of 25.6 months;
  • networks, multiplexing, cable and security (USPTO Technology Center 2400) inventions generally waited 15.7 months to first action, and had an average total pendency of 22.9 months;
  • communications technologies (USPTO Technology Center 2600) inventions once again had the shortest average wait times — 13.5 months to first action, and an average total pendency of 19.9 months;
  • semiconductors, electrical systems and optical systems (USPTO Technology Center 2800) inventions experienced an average wait time of 15.7 months to first action, and an average total pendency of 22.3 months;
  • e-commerce, transportation, construction, and agriculture technologies (USPTO Technology Center 3600) inventions had an average wait time of 18.1 months to first action, and an average total pendency of 25.9 months; and
  • mechanical engineering and manufacturing technologies (USPTO Technology Center 3700) inventions encountered an average wait time of 18.6 months to first action, and an average total pendency of 26.7 months.

The total number of nonprovisional patent applications remained flat at approximately 651,000 in FY 2021. The number of provisional patent applications dropped by 9.2% to a five-year low of 158,334, which may signal that a decrease in nonprovisional patent application filings will occur next year.

374,000 patents issued in FY 2021, which is a decrease from the 2020 number bit similar to the 2019 number. The overall allowance rate for patent applications remained steady at 61.8%.

Trademarks: In FY 2021 the average time from filing to first Office Action in a trademark application more than doubled from the previous year, with the average wait time now 6.3 months to first action. Average total pendency was 11.2 months for applications that were not opposed or suspended during prosecution. which is an increase of nearly 3 months compared to FY 2020 numbers.

The longer wait time can be attributed to an unprecedented increase in new trademark application filings. Specifically, in FY 2021 the total number of trademark applications was 943,928, which is a nearly 28% increase compared to the FY 2020 statistic, and a 40% increase when compared to the number of filings made in FY 2019.  The USPTO plans to address this by better leveraging artificial intelligence and automation in the examination process, which the USPTO expects will increase examination efficiency.

How long does it take to get a patent or trademark registration? (2017 update)

At the end of each fiscal year, the USPTO releases a Performance and Accountability Report, with statistics about patent and trademark allowance rates, average pendency, and other details. The USPTO recently released its Performance and Accountability Report for Fiscal Year 2017. This means that it’s time for IP Spotlight’s annual review of the question:  “how long does it take to receive a patent or register a trademark?”

To answer that question, here are a few highlights from the USPTO’s FY 2017 report:

Patents:  The USPTO continued a six-year trend of reducing overall patent application pendency in FY 2017. The average time between filing and first office action was 16.3 months, which is about the same as last year. However, average total pendency decreased to 24.2 months (down from last year’s 24.2-month average pendency, and down from a high of 33.7 months in 2012).

The report did not discuss the effect of the USPTO’s “Track 1” expedited examination option on the overall timeline. Applicants who pay the additional fee for Track 1 processing typically receive a first action within 4-6 months of filing, and allowance or final action within 12 months of filing.

The wait times vary depending on the technology involved. Patent applications for computer architecture and mechanical engineering inventions generally experienced the longest waits, while applications in the biotech and organic chemistry fields moved relatively quickly. The breakdown by technology included: Continue reading

New USPTO fee schedule increases fees for challenging granted patents, adds streamlined reexamination option

The USPTO recently published an adjusted fee schedule for certain patent fees. The new schedule significantly increases the fees for challenging the validity of a patent in inter partes review (IPR), post-grant review (PGR) and covered business method (CBM) proceedings. (A comparison of these three types of proceedings is available from the USPTO at this link.)

The new fees for an IPR proceeding (request fee + post-institution fee) total $30,500 — an increase of $7,500. Additional fees apply if the IPR proceeding involves more than 15 claims.

The new fees for a PGR or CBM proceeding (request fee + post-institution fee) total $38,000 — an increase of $8,000. Additional fees also apply if the PGR or CBM petition involves more than 15 claims.

The office also established a new “streamlined reexamination” option for ex parte reexamination requests that do not exceed 40 pages. Line spacing (double-spaced or 1-1/2 spaced), font size (12-pt non-script), and margin requirements apply. The fee for a streamlined reexamination is $6,000, compared to the standard $12,000 ex parte reexamination fee.

The fee hikes also include:

  • a $100 increase (to $1300) in the fee for filing a first request for continued examination (RCE);
  • a $200 increase (to $1900) in the fee for filing a 2nd or subsequent RCE;
  • a $180 increase (to $760) for the search and examination fees required for new design patent applications;
  • a $240 increase (to $2,240) in the cost of moving an appeal of a final rejection from the briefing stage to the Patent Trial and Appeals Board for review; and
  • other fee increases for various petitions, such as petitions to revive an abandoned patent application and petitions to accept a delayed maintenance fee payment.

The costs listed above are the standard fees. Small entities and micro-entities may qualify for 50% or 75% reductions of certain USPTO fees.

The new fee schedule will take effect on January 16, 2018.

USPTO retires SAWS: will it have an effect on the USPTO’s effort to screen out poor quality patents?

The USPTO sealUSPTO’s recent announcement that it is retiring its Sensitive Application Warning System (SAWS) yielded mixed reactions from the patent community. While many noted that the announcement was a win for transparency and accountability in government, others (including some patent applicants) found little comfort after they incurred substantial time and expenses resulting from the USPTO’s delay of patent applications that were assigned to the secret program.

With roots dating to 1994, SAWS first came to light in 2006 after a leaked memo revealed that the USPTO was flagging certain patent applications that could be considered “controversial or noteworthy.” SAWS applications could not be allowed before the Examiner prepared a memo to the USPTO Deputy Commissioners for Patent Operations and Patent Examination Policy.

Some of the criteria for SAWS designation were straightforward:  applications covering perpetual motion machines, anti-gravity devices, and technologies that violate laws of physics were included in the list. Other criteria were more fuzzy: Continue reading

Is the predicted “death of hundreds of thousands of patents” coming true?

In May 2013, Judge Moore of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit predicted that the court’s decision in CLS Bank Int’l v. Alice Corporation Pty Ltd. would result in the “death of hundreds of thousands of patents, including all business method, financial system, and software patents as well as many computer implemented and telecommunications patents.”

In the year that followed, not much changed.  The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office continued to issue patents in these areas.  And the Federal Circuit issued other decisions affirming that software was still patentable.  While patents covering financial business methods and purely human activity faced difficulty, patents for non-financial software inventions continued to grant at a fast clip.

Then, in June 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an opinion that affirmed the Federal Circuit’s decision. The Court’s decision in Alice Corporation Pty. Ltd. v CLS Bank Int’l said: “there is no dispute that many computer-implemented claims are formally addressed to patent-eligible subject matter,” and subsequent USPTO guidance suggested that “the basic inquiries to determine subject matter eligibility remain the same.” Soon afterward, however, the practical effect of the Court’s decision became quite different.

In the weeks following the Supreme Court decision, I’ve seen that the USPTO is rejecting nearly every application assigned to its business methods examining unit for failure to meet the post-Alice patent eligibility standard. Other patent attorneys have noted this too, and have commented on it with concern.

District Courts and the Patent Trial and Appeal Board have been similarly critical of software patents in recent weeks. Dennis Crouch of Patently-O recently published a comprehensive summary of District Court and PTAB decisions that overturned software patents after the Alice decision.

In addition, in one of its first published opinions that addressed the Alice decision, the Federal Circuit found an invention for a computer-implemented method and system for playing bingo to be a mere abstract idea and thus not patent-eligible. Although the case (Planet Bingo LLC v. VKGS LLC) is non-precedential, it may serve as a harbinger of things to come in future software patent cases.

The USPTO is continuing to issue patents for software-related inventions that are assigned to it’s non-business-method examining units, so it’s clear that at least some software remains eligible for patenting. However, it’s also clear that new and potentially significant challenges are now in place for those who want to obtain or enforce software patents in the future.