Remarks By Director Michelle K. Lee at the IP5 Heads of Office and Industry Meeting
USPTO Director Michelle K. Lee
IP5 Heads of Office and Industry Meeting
May 31, 2017
Thank you, President Battistelli. Why don’t I jump right into an update from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office?
The USPTO remains dedicated to carrying out its core mission – issuing the highest quality patents as quickly and efficiently as possible. Which is why I’m proud to report that we have reduced our backlog of unexamined patent applications by almost 30 percent from its peak in January 2009, despite a 32 percent increase in applications over this time. We have brought down our first action pendency by 43 percent — from 28 months in 2011 to 16 months today. Our total pendency is down by 26 percent – from 35 months in 2010 to 26 months. We were able to achieve this even though our utility, plant, and reissue filings increased more than 5% in fiscal year 2016 to over 650,000 applications. Our backlog of ex parte appeals – that’s not AIA proceedings, but our internal appeal process to the Board after the examiner issues her decision – has also gone down. We have reduced our inventory of ex parte appeals by 45 percent from a high of about 26,000 in 2012 to about 15,000 today. And, we have reduced the average pendency for appeals by 30 percent from 28 months in 2016 to 19 months. In short, our backlog and pendencies are now lower than they’ve been in more than a decade, and they will continue to go down.
Our shrinking backlog, along with greater finances, and strong support from the public, has allowed the agency to engage in an exceptional effort to enhance patent quality. Our Enhanced Patent Quality Initiative, or EPQI, was established in 2015 to provide dedicated resources to enhance overall patent quality. Based on feedback from internal and external stakeholders, we have launched 12 EPQI programs which can be grouped into four areas: Search and training, prosecution, post-examination, and evaluation.
Some of our recent efforts have focused on improving consistency across our over 8,000 examiners. We use a number of different means to identify examiners or areas that may not be applying our policies and procedures in a consistent manner. One such effort started in FY 2016. Each of our technology centers identified examiners employing best practices or having quality concerns with respect to reopenings of prosecution, rework of Office actions, and consistency of decision making. The technology centers performed a root-cause analysis involving the work of over 1,000 examiners. Main root causes of negative performance were identified to be 1) improper claim interpretation and 2) failure to identify/apply the most appropriate prior art. Some of the main best practices were 1) searching both the claimed invention and the inventive concept set forth in the specification and 2) identifying allowable subject matter early in prosecution. The technology centers are currently planning to conduct focused training for the examiners who were found to need that help, and developing further training based on the identified root causes and best practices. This particular effort is just one of the many different ones that we’re exploring in our effort to achieve further consistency in examination.