Yesterday, I provided an update on the numbers from the PTO’s Data Visualization Center for the first half of FY2011. One number that I indicated was difficult to grasp was the First Action Pendency because of the extreme fluctuation, including a jump from 24.2 months in January to 25 months in February and now to 25.3 months in March.
David Fitzpatrick, Office of Patent Financial Management at the PTO, has provided the explanation. It concerns the PTO’s relatively new Cleaning the Oldest Patent Applications (COPA) initiative. Through this effort, the PTO is seeking to reduce the “tail” of the backlog of patent applications by providing first office actions for applications that are more than 16 months old.
The initiative has been fairly successful in that it has reduced the number of applications more than 16 months old from 299,099 at the beginning of FY2011 to 197,583 at the end of March, a reduction of more than 1/3. Another way to look at the numbers is that the percentage of the backlog of unexamined applications that are more than 16 months old dropped from 42.2% (299,099/708,535) to 27.9% (197,583/708,912). That is good progress on the oldest applications.
As Mr. Fitzpatrick correctly notes, making the oldest applications a priority necessarily increases the average time to first office action. His explanation follows:
Commissioner Stoll requested that I contact you in regards to your “PTO FY2011 Numbers So Far” blog dated April 13. In your blog you referenced the change in the average first action pendency result for March compared with February. I wanted to try and explain the fluctuation for you. First action pendency is an indicator of the average age of all first actions completed over a three-month period. Between February and March, there was a shift in the age of first actions completed by examiners. If examiners pick up older cases over newer cases, the average pendency will increase. On the flip side, if examiners work newer cases, average first action pendency will decline. In order to reach our goal of 10-month pendency by fiscal year 2014, we need to reduce number of older applications awaiting a first office action. This is one of the reasons why we implemented the Clearing the Oldest Patent Applications (COPA) initiative. By encouraging examiners to work on older cases, we will see a temporary increase in pendency; however, as older cases are removed from our backlog, our first action pendency number will decline as we strive to hit the 10-month goal.
I appreciate this explanation and the PTO, Commissioner Stoll and Mr. Fitzpatrick, for taking the time to read my blog and to provide the patent community with this explanation. I also want to thank the PTO for its progress on the backlog and pendency issues. I still think that 10 months by FY2014 will be extremely difficult to achieve. Now, it’s time to focus on the problems facing the Board.
If only Congress would cooperate . . .
Director Kappos referred to this issue in his latest Director’s blog post where he also reported a projected 4.9% increase in application filings for FY2011, up so far from 232,468 to 249,209 (a 7% increase). http://www.uspto.gov/blog/