The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is one of the most vital contributors to the vibrant American economy. By offering legal protections for the intellectual property created and owned by inventors and businesses, the USPTO and the U.S. patent and trademark systems offer a powerful incentive for innovation and technological progress. While this Agency dedicates itself to reviewing the next, new thing in all areas of technology, the USPTO in one instance was struggling due to the use of an old, outdated process. John Doll and David Freeland have led a team at the USPTO that has helped bring the Agency into the 21st century by establishing the first-ever Internet-based electronic filing system for U.S. patent applications, which is good for businesses, good for consumers and even good for the USPTO itself.
Each year, more than 400,000 patent applications are filed with the USPTO. For 25 years, people at the Office talked about creating a system, which would allow people to file patent applications electronically. The USPTO actually had an electronic filing system in place, but it was cumbersome and did not meet the needs of the patent customers, as evidenced by the fact that less than two percent of all patent applications were being filed electronically through the use of this initial system.
Commissioner for Patents John Doll and Chief Information Officer David Freeland put together a team to create a new system for filing patent applications and related patent documents electronically. Within six months, a prototype was ready for piloting with public users. A few months later, the system was made available to the general public.
The response to the new program has been overwhelmingly positive! A little more than a year after implementation, the percentage of patent applications being filed electronically on a weekly basis has increased from 1.5 percent to more than 60 percent.
Inventors and businesses love it because they can file applications and related documents virtually anytime and anywhere. Filers may use their existing software and submit documents simply by attaching PDF files. Filers may also pay fees online. In addition to the added convenience, businesses now save significant amounts of money on staff overtime and courier services. The patent applicants also save time and money because they no longer have to review documents for data-entry errors made by the USPTO. Applicants receive immediate confirmation when a submission is received, and the USPTO provides instant notification if a document was improperly filed and should be resubmitted. Filers can also go online and check the application’s status within hours of filing.
The system has been a win for the USPTO for a number of reasons as well. Besides data entry mistakes due to USPTO clerical errors being greatly reduced, the up-front on-line edits of incoming data and documents help save time and ensure greater accuracy and completeness, which is critical in helping the USPTO initiate the submission process and reduce time to action of pending patent applications. In the past, when all applications were received via paper, the applications had to be scanned into the USPTO’s electronic database of patent applications, and information provided by applicants was manually entered into USPTO systems.
Commissioner Doll says the most significant key to the success of the new electronic filing system is that the USPTO set out to design a system that was helpful to the customer first and the Office second. The team worked extensively with patent applicants, holding many working meetings with them to solicit requirements and input to build a system that would be user-friendly. More than 80 corporations, law firms and independent inventors participated in a pilot program and provided invaluable feedback and suggestions to make the system even better.
One more testament to the success of the program is that it is being reviewed by other nations and is likely to be replicated internationally.
John Doll and David Freeland’s program, by making the patent system accessible to Americans everywhere, takes the uncertainty and tedium out of filing a patent application and gives U.S. inventors enhanced ability to protect their inventions. Sounds like an idea worthy of a patent.