USPTO Creates Fast Tract for Inventors

By Scott Nyman

In December 2009, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) introduced their Green Technology Pilot Program. This program accords special status to inventors filing patent applications related to green technologies, resulting in an accelerated patent examination. More specifically, the pilot program expedites the examination of patent applications relating to the development of renewable energy sources or the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. This past December, USPTO Director David Kappos announced the extension of the Green Technology Pilot Program through December 31, 2011.

The Green Technology Pilot Program does, however, include some limitations. This program is limited to the first 3000 petitions accepted into the pilot program. Additionally, the inventive technology areas that can benefit from the Green Technology Pilot Program are limited to greenhouse gas reduction, environmental quality, energy conservation, and development of renewable energy resources.

Insuring Qualification

To qualify, an inventor must file a petition with the USPTO stating the basis of special status. Also, the patent application may contain no more than three independent claims and no more than twenty total claims. The claims of a patent application define the scope of inventive rights granted to the inventor upon allowance of the patent – similar to a property description in a real estate transaction.

As of January 17, 2011, roughly half of the 2236 petitions filed under the Green Technology Pilot Program have resulted in examination with special status, with 1145 petitions approved and 176 pending. After approval, the USPTO has generally issued its first Office Action within 49 days.  An Office Action is a decision on patentability made by an Examiner, a significant improvement over the 2-3 year delay to receive a first Office Action from the USPTO otherwise. In some instances, patent applications filed under the Green Technology Pilot Program have resulted in an allowed patent in under a year – a level of efficiency that the USPTO has not seen in years.

Pro’s & Con’s

The USPTO anticipates that accelerating these applications through the examination process will help to stimulate growth in the green technology industries, provide additional jobs, and assist in the preservation of our environment. While I agree that the Green Technology Pilot Program will be beneficial to expediting the development and implementation of much needed green technologies, I wonder what other applications the USTPO is pushing aside to accommodate the pilot program.

As of July, 2010, the USPTO reported a backlog of over 1.2 million patent applications. Included in this backlog are over 700,000 applications that have not even reached an Examiner’s desk. With statistics like these, it is easy to see that a long term solution is required to increase efficiency within the USPTO and reduce the backlog altogether.

Patent Office In Our Future?

I applaud the USPTO with their recent announcement to open its first satellite office in Detroit. The USPTO chose this location after recognizing the high percentage of scientists and engineers in the workforce, access to major research institutions and universities, high volume of patent activity, and significant number of patent attorneys and agents in the area. If successful, the USPTO will consider additional cities to branch out to next.  We are hopeful that the USPTO will consider Brevard County, FL as a possibility for a satellite office and take advantage of our decreased cost of living, high percentage of scientists and engineers in the aerospace industry and access to Florida Tech, and other universities.

This combination of satellite offices and pilot programs may be just what the USPTO needs to return to efficient operation. In the long term, the USPTO expansion into satellite offices has potential to offer the additional quality Examiners needed to cut through the backlog. In the short term, the USPTO pilot programs, such as the Green Technology Pilot Program, may help pool the resources of its existing Examiners and target inventive fields where priority is needed most. Time will tell if this is the solution the USPTO requires, but I believe it is certainly a step in the right direction.