Yesterday, the PTO announced the launch of a new ombudsman pilot program. This is the latest intiative by Director David Kappos to work cooperatively with patent applicants in conducting the business of the Office.
The program is designed to assist patent applicants “when there is a breakdown in the normal prosecution process” and is not meant to replace the normal channels of seeking assistance from examiners and supervisory patent examiners (SPEs). Only when the applicant is unable to get assistance from those channels should the applicant contact the ombudsman.
The PTO also indicates that general questions should still be directed to the appropriate customer service center. The ombudsman program is not designed to provide general information or to replace customer service centers. Instead, the ombudsman is designed to assist with issues regarding specific applications where the applicant cannot get a satisfactory answer or be directed to the appropriate party by the normal routes of inquiry. Similarly, the ombudsman is not designed to deal with the merits of a patent application, but is rather for resolving problems dealing with procedures, such as unusual delays or the like.
To participate in the program, the applicant fills out an electronic form on the PTO’s website that includes the general nature of the problem. The PTO promises call the applicant within one business day of receiving the form. The form should include only general information because information about the merits of a pending application will be placed in the application file.
The Ombudsman Program is staffed by SPEs, Training Quality Assurance Specialists, and subject matter experts. The initial pilot program is slated to run for one year at which point the PTO will evaluate the program. Thus, the PTO is also accepting comments regarding the procedure.
As anyone who has dealt with the PTO (or other governmental agencies) over the years knows, it can at times be quite frustrating. It is often difficult to know who at the PTO to contact regarding specific problems. In fact, often the person you contact at the PTO doesn’t even know to whom to refer the problem. In such cases, the problem can often be unresolved resulting in frustration for applicants.
This program sounds like a great idea if it is well implemented. Having a PTO director who has dealt with the agency from the other side is great. I look forward to other initiatives to improve the agency’s ability to interact with applicants and resolve problems quickly and efficiently.
The Federal Register notice regarding the program is available here.