PTO: New IT development will accelerate processing

PTO: New IT development will accelerate processing

The Patent and Trademark Office has set its sights on building new and expanded systems for processing patents and trademarks electronically, undersecretary for intellectual property James Rogan said today.

PTO's existing systems are 'not user-friendly and [are] cumbersome,' he said. Currently, only about 2 percent to 3 percent of patent applications are submitted electronically.

The Commerce Department agency seeks to achieve electronic end-to-end processing of trademarks by October 2003 and patents by October 2004, Rogan told reporters today during a teleconference.

PTO plans to use off-the-shelf systems and coordinate its IT makeover with patent officials in Europe and Japan. The European Patent Office now uses a system known as Epoline. 'The technology already exists,' Rogan said. 'Their system is far more user-friendly. We would like to piggyback on their efforts and develop it jointly.'

A patent lawyer for a major Washington law firm confirmed that colleagues have shunned PTO's existing filing system, after an initial rush of interest. 'For something to work, you would have to have access through the Web,' the attorney said.

The PTO system 'is really complicated to use,' he added. 'The problem is with the interface. It is really hard to get it up and running.'

But the patent lawyer questioned whether the multinational systems could be electronically coordinated because of legal differences. He also expressed doubts that changes in PTO's 200 types of fees'another proposal detailed by Rogan'would have much impact on processing speed. The fees range from $50 for a trademark to the about $600 for a patent application, too low to affect applicants' business considerations in a field where attorneys charge $350 per hour or more, the lawyer said.

PTO's plan also calls for more outsourcing of examining patents for conflicts with existing patents, changes in the fee structure to reward applicants for filing electronically, and creation of what Rogan called a rocket docket to speed some applications. The reforms will reduce the backlog and processing time for patents, which now stand at 408,000 applications in process and two to three years in processing time, Rogan said.

The proposed outsourcing and other plans drew fire from Ronald J. Stern, president of the Patent Office Professional Association, which represents about 3,400 patent examiners. The union president said in a statement that the changes would 'harm patent quality, increase patent [processing time] and undercut the integrity of U.S. patent searching and examination.'

Rogan said some changes would need congressional approval because the reform plan calls for changes in patent laws, regulations and procedures as well as administrative practices.

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