Patent Applications – What Happens After They Are Filed?June 9, 2017

You have worked with an MVS attorney to get your invention covered by a patent application, and the application has been filed. Great! Have you ever wondered what happens to the application at the US Patent Office? Part of it depends on if you have filed a provisional application or a utility application. If you filed a provisional application, the application gets assigned a serial number and filing date, and gets put into the USPTO’s database. Other than that, no one will look at the contents or make the filed documents accessible. You then have the 1-year wait to determine if you would like to file the utility application.

However, if and when you file a utility application, the fun begins. First, the contents and documents of the application and associated paperwork will be evaluated to meet procedural and formal requirements. Assuming this is met, the application will be given a serial number and assigned to a patent examiner.

The USPTO is divided into technology centers, with examiners placed in the centers that are most associated with their educational background. For example, Technological Center 3600 includes, in part, agricultural applications and an examiner looking at agricultural implement applications may have a background in Mechanical Engineering, Ag Engineering, or the like.

A broad list of the Technology Centers are as follows:

  • 1600 – Biotechnology and Organic Chemistry
  • 1700 – Chemical and Materials Engineering
  • 2100 – Computer Architecture, Software, and Information Security
  • 2400 – Computer Networks, Multiplex communication, Video Distribution, and Security
  • 2600 – Communications
  • 2800 – Semiconductors, Electrical and Optical Systems and Components
  • 2900 – Designs
  • 3600 – Transportation, Construction, Electronic Commerce, Agriculture, National Security and License & Review
  • 3700 – Mechanical Engineering, Manufacturing, Products

Within each of these, there are art units covering specific categories. For example, while 3600 may include the agricultural implement application, it could also include other various subject matters. Therefore, an art unit such as 3641 is more specified, and covers applications for such inventions related to planting apparatuses.

Once an examiner with a technical background fit to examine the subject matter covered in the application has been assigned, it is a bit of a waiting game. The standard practice of applications is first in, first examined. Therefore, the pendency of the actual examination may be subject to the amount of applications assigned to a particular art unit and/or examiner within the unit. There are approximately 546,766 unexamined applications at the Patent Office, and approximately 8,900 examiners, which averages out to about 61 unexamined applications per examiner. This explains, at least partially, the long wait from filing to receiving a first action. According to data provided by the USPTO, as of March 2017, the average pendency from filing a new application to receiving correspondence from an examiner is currently 16.1 months. This covers all art units, and may vary according to the particular technology of the applications. For example, Technology Center 1600 currently has the shortest pendency, at 12.4 months, while Center 2100 has the longest, at 20.1 months.

At this point, the back and forth begins in an attempt to place the claims in form for allowance to issuance. For reference, the total pendency from filing to issuance is currently an average of 25.7 months. This is actually pretty similar across the Technology Centers.

Thus, there is at least some explanation as to the timing of a patent application. It should also be noted that this is not the case with every application, and it is completely okay to reach out to an attorney to see if they can check on the status of an application or to look into an expected time to first action, which we can access through the USPTO’s website. In addition, if you would like to look at any of the data related to applications, pendency, etc. provided by the USPTO, you can do so via the Patents Dashboard.

This article was published in the MVS Briefs June newsletter issue.

Luke T. Mohrhauser is an Intellectual Property Attorney in the Mechanical/Electrical Patent Practice Group at McKee, Voorhees & Sease, PLC. For additional information please visit or contact Luke directly via email at

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