The USPTO has published a request for comments that provides more detail on the potential multi-track examination timing initiative. (75 FR 31763). A public meeting will be held on July 20, 2010, 1:30 pm at the USPTO. Written comments must be submitted by August 20, 2010. Written comments, requests to attend the meeting, and requests to present at the meeting should all be sent to email@example.com.
The potentially greatest impact of the proposal is directed toward applicants that claim foreign priority. In all such cases, the PTO is proposing that the office delay examination until the PTO receives a copy of the first office action and applicant reply from the foreign prosecution.
Under the initiative, for applications filed in the USPTO that are not based on a prior foreign-filed application (e.g., that do not claim foreign priority benefit), applicant would be able to: (1) Request prioritized examination (Track I); (2) for non-continuing applications, request a delay lasting up to 30 months in docketing for examination (Track III); or (3) obtain processing under the current procedure (Track II) by not requesting either (1) or (2). For applications filed in the USPTO that are based on a prior foreign-filed application, no action would be taken by the USPTO until the USPTO receives a copy of the search report, if any, and first office action from the foreign office and an appropriate reply to the foreign office action as if the foreign office action was made in the application filed in the USPTO. Following or concurrent with the submission of the foreign office action and reply, applicant may request prioritized examination or obtain processing under the current procedure.
While it is believed that most applicants will continue to file applications first in their national or regional office based on business needs or costs of translation, comment is also requested on whether the USPTO should anticipate a larger number of applications being filed at the USPTO first rather than an applicant's national office. Additionally, would this filing pattern change if (as proposed in various patent law reform bills) a foreign filing date could be used as a prior art date under US law?
The instant proposal permits deferral of certain fees if Track III examination is requested. ... [C]omments to this notice are requested on whether PTA should be limited by a request by applicant for deferred examination in the office of first filing. Similarly, comments are also requested on whether PTA should be limited if the applicant does not request accelerated examination in the office of first filing.
Prioritized Examination (Track I): For some applicants with a currently financed plan to commercialize or exploit their innovation or a need to have more timely examination results to seek additional funding, more rapid examination is necessary. While some programs are currently available to prioritize applications (e.g., the accelerated examination program and the petition to make special program), some applicants neither want to perform the search and analysis required by the accelerated examination program nor can they seek special status based on the conditions set forth in 37 CFR 1.102. For such applicants, the USPTO is proposing optional prioritized examination upon applicant's request and payment of a cost recovery fee. A request for prioritized examination may be made in a USPTO first-filed application at any time and may be made in any other application only after receipt of a copy of the search report, if any, and first action on the merits from the intellectual property office in which the relied-upon application was filed and an appropriate reply to that action in the application filed in the USPTO. On granting of prioritized status, the application would be placed in the queue for prioritized examination.
The fee would be set at a level to provide the resources necessary to increase the work output of the USPTO so that the aggregate pendency of non-prioritized applications would not increase due to work being done on the prioritized application. The fee would also be set to recover any other additional costs associated with processing the prioritized application. For example, if work output is to be increased by hiring new examiners, then the fee for prioritized examination would include the cost of hiring and training a sufficient number of new employees to offset the production work used to examine prioritized applications. Under the USPTO's current statutory authority, the USPTO is not permitted to discount the fee for small entity applicants. Should the USPTO's authority to set fees be enhanced, it is anticipated that the USPTO would discount this fee for small and micro entity applicants, given the substantial fee that would need to be charged to recover all of the costs associated with the contemplated service.
The USPTO is also considering limiting the number of claims in a prioritized application to four independent and thirty total claims. In addition, the USPTO is considering requiring early publication of prioritized applications so that applications would be published shortly after a request for prioritization is granted, or eighteen months from the earliest filing date claimed, whichever is earlier.
All applications prioritized on payment of a fee, or accelerated or advanced out-of-turn under existing programs, would be placed in a single queue for examination on the merits and *31766 would be taken up out-of-turn relative to other new or amended applications. The goals for handling applications in this queue would be to provide a first Office action on the merits within four months and a final disposition within twelve months of prioritized status being granted. If this process is implemented, the USPTO anticipates that it would provide statistics on its progress in meeting these goals on its Internet Web site.
To maximize the benefit of this track, applicant should consider one or more of the following: (1) Acquiring a good knowledge of the state of the prior art to be able to file the application with a clear specification having a complete schedule of claims from the broadest that the applicant believes he is entitled in view of the state of the prior art to the narrowest that the applicant is willing to accept; (2) filing replies that are completely responsive to the prior Office action and within the reply period (shortened) set in the Office action; and (3) being prepared to conduct interviews with the examiner.
An applicant-controlled up to 30-month queue prior to docketing (Track III): Some applicants file an application just prior to the statutory bar date but before a commercially viable plan for exploitation of the innovation has been developed or financed. To better provide for the timing of examination that such applicants desire and to provide a similar time period to that provided internationally, the USPTO is considering permitting any applicant in an application that does not claim benefit of a prior-filed foreign application or prior non-provisional application to select, on filing or in reply to a notice to file missing parts, an applicant-controlled up to 30-month queue prior to docketing for examination. In order to avoid delays in notice to the public, any application requesting Track III must also be published as an 18- month patent application publication. An application granted this status would be placed in a queue for applicant to request examination and pay the examination fee with the surcharge (if not already paid) within thirty months of the actual filing date of the application or any relied-upon provisional application (i.e., to which benefit is claimed under 35 U.S.C. 119(e)). Failure to request examination within the 30-month period would result in abandonment of the application. The request for examination and examination fee (and surcharge) would be due on the 30-month date but could be submitted early (e.g., on filing of the application) with a request that the application remain in the pre-examination queue for a period of time (e.g., up to 30 months from filing). On expiration of the time period, the application would be placed in the queue for examination.
On receipt of the request for this queue, the USPTO would determine if the application was ready for publication as a patent application publication (except for the receipt of the examination fee) and determine if any request for nonpublication made on filing had been rescinded. If both conditions were met, the application would be placed in a queue to await a request for examination and payment of the examination fee. If the application was not ready for publication, a requirement to place the application in condition for publication would be made and, once satisfied, the application would be placed in the 30-month queue. The request for examination and payment may be made at any time during the 30-month period. If no request is made within the 30-month period, the application would be held abandoned. The examination fee and the surcharge may be paid within the 30-month period or may be submitted after a timely request for examination is filed on notice of non-payment by the USPTO, along with any required extension of time fees.
Upon receipt of the examination request and fee, the application would be placed in the queue for examination, but the receipt date of the examination request would be used as the "date in queue." Thus, the application will be taken up for examination as if the request date was the application's actual filing date. If applicants determine that more rapid examination is desirable, then they may request (and pay the required fee) for prioritized examination while the application is in the queue for examination.
PTA Offset: Currently, the USPTO is considering a rule to offset any positive PTA accrued in a Track III application when applicant requests that the application be examined after the aggregate average period to issue a first Office action on the merits. For example, if the aggregate average time to issue a first Office action is 20 months and applicant requests that the application be examined at month 30, the proposed PTA reduction would be 10 months beginning on the expiration of the 20-month period and ending on the date on which applicant requested examination to begin. The overlap with the aggregate average period when the USPTO would not be able to have issued a first Office action on the merits would not be treated as an offsetting reduction.
PTA Offset for Foreign Delay: Similarly, for an application in any of the three tracks that claims foreign priority, the USPTO is considering a rule to offset positive PTA accrued in the application when applicant files the required documents (that include a copy of the search report, if any, and first office action from the foreign office and an appropriate reply to the foreign office action as if the foreign office action was made in the application filed at the USPTO) after the aggregate average period to issue a first Office action on the merits. For example, if the aggregate average time to issue a first Office action is 20 months and applicant submits the required documents 30 months after the filing of the application, then the proposed PTA reduction would be 10 months beginning on the expiration of the 20-month period and ending on the date of the filing of the required documents. Thus, delays by foreign offices beyond the aggregate average time for the USPTO to issue a first Office action on the merits would be an offsetting reduction against any positive PTA accrued by the delay in issuing a first Office action while the USPTO awaits the preparation of a search report and first action by the office of first filing.
In Tracks I and II, if the U.S. application claims the benefit of a prior-filed foreign application, and the relied-upon foreign application is abandoned prior to an action on the merits being made available, applicant must notify the USPTO and request that the application be treated for examination queuing purposes as if the foreign priority claim had not been made. The USPTO is considering making the failure to notify the USPTO within three months of the abandonment in the foreign office trigger a PTA offset as the USPTO would not appreciate the need to treat the application as if first-filed in the USPTO until such notice is given. Similarly, if the office of first filing has a practice of not producing actions on the merits, applicant would need to notify the USPTO that the application should be treated for examination queuing purposes as if the foreign priority claim had not been made.
Comments on one or more of the following questions would be helpful:
- Should the USPTO proceed with any efforts to enhance applicant control of the timing of examination?
- Are the three tracks above the most important tracks for innovators?
- Taking into account possible efficiency concerns associated with providing too many examination tracks, should more than three tracks be provided?
- Do you support the USPTO creating a single queue for examination of all applications accelerated or prioritized (e.g., any application granted special status or any prioritized application under this proposal)? This would place applications made special under the "green" technology initiative, the accelerated examination procedure and this proposal in a single queue. For this question assume that a harmonized track would permit the USPTO to provide more refined and up-to-date statistics on performance within this track. This would allow users to have a good estimate on when an application would be examined if the applicant requested prioritized examination.
- Should an applicant who requested prioritized examination of an application prior to filing of a request for continued examination (RCE) be required to request prioritized examination and pay the required fee again on filing of an RCE? For this question assume that the fee for prioritized examination would need to be increased above the current RCE fee to make sure that sufficient resources are available to avoid pendency increases of the non-prioritized applications.
- Should prioritized examination be available at any time during examination or appeal to the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences (BPAI)?
- Should the number of claims permitted in a prioritized application be limited? What should the limit be?
- Should other requirements for use of the prioritized track be considered, such as limiting the use of extensions of time?
- Should prioritized applications be published as patent application publications shortly after the request for prioritization is granted? How often would this option be chosen?
- Should the USPTO provide an applicant-controlled up to 30-month queue prior to docketing for examination as an option for non-continuing applications? How often would this option be chosen?
- Should eighteen-month patent application publication be required for any application in which the 30-month queue is requested?
- Should the patent term adjustment (PTA) offset applied to applicant-requested delay be limited to the delay beyond the aggregate USPTO pendency to a first Office action on the merits?
- Should the USPTO suspend prosecution of non-continuing, non-USPTO first-filed applications to await submission of the search report and first action on the merits by the foreign office and reply in USPTO format?
- Should the PTA accrued during a suspension of prosecution to await the foreign action and reply be offset? If so, should that offset be linked to the period beyond average current backlogs to first Office action on the merits in the traditional queue?
- Should a reply to the office of first filing office action, filed in the counterpart application filed at the USPTO as if it were a reply to a USPTO Office action, be required prior to USPTO examination of the counterpart application?
- Should the requirement to delay USPTO examination pending the provision of a copy of the search report, first action from the office of first filing and an appropriate reply to the office of first filing office action be limited to where the office of first filing has qualified as an International Searching Authority?
- Should the requirement to provide a copy of the search report, first action from the office of first filing and an appropriate reply to the office of first filing office action in the USPTO application be limited to where the USPTO application will be published as a patent application publication?
- Should there be a concern that many applicants that currently file first in another office would file first at the USPTO to avoid the delay and requirements proposed by this notice? How often would this occur?
- How often do applicants abandon foreign filed applications prior to an action on the merits in the foreign filed application when the foreign filed application is relied upon for foreign priority in a U.S. application? Would applicants expect to increase that number, if the three track proposal is adopted?
- Should the national stage of an international application that designated more than the United States be treated as a USPTO first-filed application or a non-USPTO first-filed application, or should it be treated as a continuing application?
- Should the USPTO offer supplemental searches by IPGOs as an optional service?
- Should the USPTO facilitate the supplemental search system by receiving the request for supplemental search and fee and transmitting the application and fee to the IPGO? Should the USPTO merely provide criteria for the applicant to seek supplemental searches directly from the IPGO?
- Would supplemental searches be more likely to be requested in certain technologies? If so, which ones and how often?
- Which IPGO should be expected to be in high demand for providing the service, and by how much? Does this depend on technology?
- Is there a range of fees that would be appropriate to charge for supplemental searches?
- What level of quality should be expected? Should the USPTO enter into agreements that would require quality assurances of the work performed by the other IPGO?
- Should the search be required to be conducted based on the U.S. prior art standards?
- Should the scope of the search be recorded and transmitted?
- What language should the search report be transmitted in?
- Should the search report be required in a short period after filing, e.g., within six months of filing?
- How best should access to the application be provided to the IPGO?
- How should any inequitable conduct issues be minimized in providing this service?
- Should the USPTO provide a time period for applicants to review and make any appropriate comments or amendments to their application after the supplemental search has been transmitted before preparing the first Office action on the merits?