I am currently the president of the Greater Richmond Intellectual Property Law Association (GRIPLA). Last night, we held our annual Holiday Party. Robert Stoll, Commissioner for Patents at the PTO, was our keynote speaker.
Commissioner Stoll was very enthusiastic in his presentation. He pointed out that patent issues are getting attention from Secretary of Commerce Locke and even from President Obama himself.
Stoll then went through the administration’s Strategic Priorities where he emphasized increasing patent quality, reducing the backlog, and improving relations with employees and stakeholders. The PTO is trying to make its employees, including examiners at all levels and supervisors, work more collaboratively, while also giving them more opportunities to work from home outside the office. Similarly, the PTO is taking more input from attorneys and inventors than in the past.
The pendency goals of 10 months to first office action and 20 months total were reiterated. It is difficult to say if anyone (including at the PTO) actually believes this can happen by Secretary Locke’s stated goal of FY2014, but Commissioner Stoll did acknowledge that it will require a tremendous amount of examiner hiring. He also referred to increasing transparency, such as through the Dashboard, and increasing collaboration with other IP offices through expansion of the Patent Prosecution Highway.
He referred to the new intiatives intended to give applicants more control over the pace of examination, such as the Three Track examination program, the Green Tech pilot program, and the Project Exchange.
He was very enthusiastic about the increases in examiner interviews, especially those prior to the first office action. Interview time in FY2010 was up nearly 40% to 138,222 hours. Applications with interviews prior to the first office action have a higher allowance rate and a much lower number of actions per disposal.
On the quality front, he referred to the new quality metrics that should make examiners less apprehensive about allowing applications. The old review system gave examiners an incentive to reject cases even when not warranted. Negative consequences seemed to flow only from allowances.
In other news, Commissioner Stoll does not expect to see Patent Reform (particularly S. 515) pass in the lame duck congress. He is particularly concerned with fee-setting authority. This is the vital part of the legislation that the PTO needs to hire sufficient examiners and move toward the pendency goals.
He is also concerned with several cases pending in the courts. Depending on what the Federal Circuit does with the Therasense inequitable conduct case, and the Supreme Court in the Microsoft presumption of validity case, there could be a significant increase in the number of references that applicants dump on patent examiners. If the Supreme Court says that the presumption of validity only applies to references actually considered by the examiner, applicants will obviously have the incentive to get more and more references considered.
There is also a forthcoming announcement about a regional patent office. Commissioner Stoll did not specifically state where such an office would be located, but based on descriptions of the area and the fact that the Internet does not do a good job of keeping secrets, it seems that the location will be Detroit. Does this mean other offices are in the plans as well? Commissioner Stoll called the first one a “test case”. Not that they would close the first office, but it will help determine whether there should be others. Perhaps examiner interviews could be conducted at Patent and Trademark Depository Libraries (PTDL).