The PTO is on a mission to “improve the quality of the overall patent examination and prosecution process, to reduce patent application pendency, and to ensure that granted patents are valid and provide clear notice.”
To that end, the PTO recently released a Request for Comments (RFC) on Enhancement in the Quality of Patents. [PDF]. The RFC asks for public comment on ideas that the PTO can implement (without changes in the rules or laws or much increased expenditure) that improve patent quality and the quality of the examination process. Generally, the office is looking for practical suggestions of ways to obtain measurable quantites that are linked to meaningful outcomes. The suggestions should all be directed toward the PTO’s goal of providing the strongest quality patent possible in the shortest time permits.
The RFC identifies seven categories of inquiry:
- How should the office measure quality of the examination process as well as quality of the final product (issued or abandoned patent)?
- What stages of the prosecution process should be most closely monitored for quality problems?
- Are there ways to reduce pendency while increasing quality? (How has the flux of continuations and RCE’s impacted quality and pendency?)
- What pilot prograrms are working: Peer-to-Patent; Pre-Appeal Brief Conference; First Action Interview; CLE for Practitioners? Ideas for pilots?
- How should customers be surveyed for their information regarding patent quality?
- Are there specific tools (software, processes, etc.) that the PTO should be using to increase quality?
- Incentives: Are there ways to provide incentives to both applicants and examiners to improve quality?
The RFC additionally identifies “areas of particular USPTO interest”
- Prior Art: How to identify the “best” prior art in ways that it can be used by an examiner.
- Higher Quality Patent Applications: Are there ways that the USPTO can help (or push) applicants to write better applications that do a better job of describing the invention and that include claims in the initial application that actually take the prior art into consideration?
- Comprehensive First Office Action: How can we measure whether examiners are doing a good job in their initial office actions? Are there better ways for examiners to communicate rejections?
- Interviews: How should interviews be used in a way that improves quality and pendency?
Please e-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org by February 8, 2010.
In the context of this inquiry, a “quality patent” has been defined as:
A patent: (a) For which the record is clear that the application has received a thorough and complete examination, addressing all issues on the record, all examination having been done in a manner lending confidence to the public and patent owner that the resulting patent is most likely valid; (b) for which the protection granted is of proper scope; and (c) which provides sufficiently clear notice to the public as to what is protected by the claims. The present quality improvement effort has, as one goal, reduction of overall application pendency and is thus also directed towards identifying quality issues that give rise to process inefficiencies. The term ‘‘quality patent’’ as used herein does not include the economic value of the resulting patent, which is a result of market conditions and not the patent process itself. Rather, providing the strongest quality patent possible in the shortest time permits making the best use of a patent, given any set of marketing conditions.
Read the full RFC here before you add your comments: PDF.