March marked the end of the first half of FY2011 and provides a time to refer to the PTO’s numbers again, as reported by the Data Visualization Center. The numbers below are comparisons of the numbers at the end of March 2011 with the end of September 2010.
First Action Pendency – 25.3 Months
This number is down from 25.7 months at the end of FY2010; first office actions are occurring about 12 days sooner. This number is really hard to get a handle on because of its extreme fluctuation. It reached a low of 24.2 months in January, but shot up by 0.8 months from February to March.
“Traditional” Total Pendency – 33.9 Months
There is good news here as this is down from 35.3 months. This number is the lowest it has been since June 2009.
Application Pendency with RCEs – 41.6 Months
This number is down 1 month from 42.6 months. Any decrease is good, but this number needs to go down faster for the PTO to meet some of its production goals.
Applications Awaiting First Office Action – 708,912
This number is virtually unchanged since September when it was 708,535. Digging a bit inside the numbers, however, reveals a bit more information. The PTO cut 20,000 off this number during September 2010. This appears to have been a bit artificial because the number actually went up during the first quarter of FY2011 reaching 721,831 in December. Presumably, this is when the examiners exhaled after the September push. During the second quarter of FY2011, the number has been steadily declining.
Patent Application Allowance Rate – 46.2%, 62.9%
The first number counts RCE filings as abandonments, while the second number does not, but counts them as continuing prosecution. These numbers are up from 45.6% and 61.1%, respectively, at the end of FY2010. These numbers continue to show that many patents are allowed by forcing applicants to file RCEs that are not allowed initially. Proposals to simply eliminate RCE filings must first deal with this issue before they can be taken seriously.
Number of Patent Examiners – 6,840
The PTO has had a net increase of 711 examiners during FY2011, up from 6,129. The 11.6% increase in the size of the examining corps is significant. Due to training and efficiency issues with new examiners, it may take a while to see a benefit from this in the other numbers.
Pendency from Application Filing to Board Decision – 78.6 Months
And here’s the really bad news. This number is up from 76 months at the end of FY2010 and continues to climb sharply due to a significant increase in the number of appeals filed. The PTO was set to hire a number of additional patent judges and staff members for the Board to help in this area.
Another interesting number is that it now takes about 3.3 months from the filing of an RCE to the next office action. This seems to contradict the new policy announced in October 2009 of placing RCE filings on the “special new” docket.
The PTO continues to make some headway on its pendency and backlog problems. The additional examiners should certainly help here. The crisis at the Board, however, seems to be getting worse.