PTO starts e-government shift
PTO starts e-government shift
An agency whose first 100 years was defined by paper faces future without it
By Patricia Daukantas
For the first time since 1790, the Patent and Trademark Office is forgoing paper documents from inventors applying for patents.
Using custom-designed software that incorporates encryption technology and an Extensible Markup Language tool, inventors or their agents now can send documents to PTO via the Internet.
The new Electronic Filing System (EFS) excludes several categories of patents, and only people who have the authority to file applications'independent inventors, patent attorneys and patent agents'can use it.
The PTO team of'from front to back'Huyen Tran, Jenna Davis, Deron Burba, Rob Porter, William Stryjewski and Mike Moore developed the app that lets inventors send documents to the agency via the Internet.
PTO officials view EFS as a move toward reducing the amount of paper the agency handles, an effort that includes wider use of XML (see story, Page 41).
EFS uses a public-key infrastructure to encrypt and digitally sign submissions, said Deron Burba, manager of PTO's Patent Re-engineering Systems Division.
The e-filing system handles applications for utility patents, or general inventions, project manager Diane Lewis said. In addition, applicants who have submitted biotechnology patent applications on paper can submit the lengthy gene sequence data electronically.
Excluded from the current release of EFS are applications for design and plant patents, as well as provisional applications and requests for re-examination.
PTO has made copies of patents available on the Web for some time (see story, Page 41). The agency has created the electronic files by scanning paper documents through an optical character recognition system.
To test the filing system, the agency conducted a small pilot with about 15 applicants last year, Lewis said. The system went into full operation late last month.Helping hand
To help applicants prepare an electronic application without extensive tutoring in XML, PTO developed a downloadable program called the Patent Application Specification Authoring Tool.
PASAT works with Microsoft Word 97 to export a document as an XML file. A template also is available for Corel WordPerfect 9, which has built-in XML capability.
PASAT uses S4/Text, an XML editing tool from Infrastructures for Information Inc. of Toronto, Burba said. It lets the applicant embed .tif files such as drawings, diagrams, chemical formulas and mathematical equations into a document.
Another EFS program, the Electronic Packaging and Validation Engine, bundles the patent application files with authorship and filing fee data, all in XML, for transmission. It also electronically signs the application.
Lockheed Martin Corp. assisted the ePAVE development effort, Burba said.
Eventually, PTO will capture the authorship and fee information directly into its Patent Application Locating and Monitoring database, Lewis said.
Before using EFS, inventors, attorneys and agents must apply to PTO for a digital certificate. The patent office, acting as its own certificate authority, uses PKI software from Entrust Technologies Inc. of Plano, Texas.
PTO started using PKI technology last year when it deployed another system, called Patent Application Information Retrieval, that lets would-be patent holders check the status of their applications, Burba said.
As of Oct. 20, slightly more than 10 percent of attorneys and agents registered with PTO had signed up for digital certificates, but that number should grow as awareness of the program increases, Burba said. PTO is making the EFS software available on CD-ROM to registered attorneys.
To receive patent applications, PTO has a 'fairly complex infrastructure' of Hewlett-Packard 9000 N-Class, K-Class and D-Class servers running Oracle8i database management software, Burba said. The agency has allocated 1T of storage on disk farms from EMC Corp. of Hopkinton, Mass.
Starting Nov. 29, EFS will begin accepting pre-grant publication resubmissions in electronic format. Pre-grant publication is a new process for PTO. Traditionally, it has kept patent applications confidential until they are approved.
Many other countries, however, publish patent applications 18 months after they are filed, even if the patents haven't been granted yet, Burba said. Congress passed the American Inventors Protection Act of 1999 to bring PTO's practices in line with those of other nations. The law takes effect Nov. 29.
More information about electronic filing is available from the Patent Electronic Business Center at www.uspto.gov/ebc/index.html