By Jonathan Kennedy
The Patent Public Advisory Committee (PPAC) for the USPTO published its Annual Report for the 2014 fiscal year. The annual report is directed to the President of the United States and addresses many issues faced in the previous fiscal year, summaries of goals met, and recommendations for the future.
The 2014 report expressed concerns over the effect of sequestration and the USPTO's budget. At the end of the 2014 fiscal year, the USPTO netted $129 million in fees. The report notes the USPTO's continued concern over high user fees and beginning in the 2015 year is conducting a biennial fee review to assess any chilling effect on innovation and disclosure due to patent office fees. This will include an assessment of whether the fees are commensurate with the USPTO's projected needs.
The 2014 report discussed many goals that were achieved during the 2014 fiscal year including a significant reduction in the backlog of Requests for Continued Examination (RCEs). Between October 2009 and March 2013, the number of RCEs awaiting examination grew from approximately 17,000 to over 110,000. As of October 2014, this number has been reduced to 46,441. The PPAC recommends that the Office establish a goal that all RCEs be examined within four months at the latest—four months is currently the average for when an RCE is examined. This would help to progress the examination of applications.
The 2014 report also highlights the importance of some programs instituted by the USPTO to decrease patent pendency. During the 2014 fiscal year total patent application pendency was reduced to an average of 27.4 months. Specifically the report highlights the use of the After Final Consideration Pilot 2.0, Track One Prioritized Examination, Patent Prosecution Highway (see our recent series on ways to accelerate examination, which addresses both the Track One Prioritized Examination and Patent Prosecution Highway and other programs), and the Quick Path Information Disclosure Statement (QPIDS). The report notes that QPIDS allows applicants to have new prior art considered by the USPTO without the need for an RCE after payment of the issue fee. In the 2014 fiscal year there were 2,241 QPIDS requests filed and 1,934 continued on to issue with an RCE. This program appears to be quite effective.
The report also addressed the opening of satellite offices in Denver, Colorado, Silicon Valley, California, and Dallas Texas, in addition to the satellite office already opened in Detroit, Michigan. The USPTO hired an additional 137 patent examiners and 47 judges. Further, the report notes an additional 112 examiners are expected to be hired in the 2015 fiscal year. At the end of the 2014 fiscal year, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) had 214 judges. The report notes that the PTAB was kept busy during the 2014 fiscal year with appeals from examination and post-grant proceedings. The PTAB affirmed or affirmed-in-part 67%, reversed 30%, and remanded or dismissed 3% examiner decisions on appeal. Since the inception of the America Invents Act, the PTAB has received 2,082 petitions for post-grant proceedings—1,841 inter partes review petitions, 233 covered business method petitions, 2 post-grant review petitions, and 6 derivation proceeding petitions. The report notes the vast majority of petitions related to the electrical and computer software arts at 71.6% of petitions.