The office set up an accelerated program for applicants willing to simplify the number of their claims in order to get faster hearings. In the past fiscal year the office received 1,765 patents through that program, 173 percent more than last fiscal year when the program was launched. The program promises action within a year and had an average time to final action of 186 days.
"One application filed by Bose was allowed 17 days and issued 75 days after it was filed," said Doll. "People who want patents fast in the electronics industry are the primary ones using the program," he said.
The program requires applicants to conduct their own prior art searches and explain in writing how their innovation is different from past work. However, the process exposes applicants to legal challenges based on misinterpreting prior art, a fact that has kept the number of users of the program relatively very small.
The USPTO proposed streamlining the number of claims and extensions for a patent to speed the examination process. However, the effort has been blocked by a law suit case opposing the effort.
Meanwhile, the USPTO has been reaching out to patent offices in Europe and Asia to find ways to speed processing through collaboration. Several pilot programs with individual countries are now in the works.
"We are trying to share our searchers and examinations," said Doll.
The USPTO said patent quality is high based on two measures, one of them in use for more than 30 years, which Doll said are adequate. However, the office does not attempt to track the number of patent claims thrown out by challenges in court.
"That's an interesting idea," said Doll. "If a patent got litigated and claimed invalid we ought to look at why and see if it's a mistake from the examiner, but only a small number of patents get litigated," he added.
"The high tech industry has a strong concern about patent quality due to the patent thickets around most products," said Mike Mclean, vice president of professional services at Semiconductor Insights, a patent consulting firm, part of United Business Media, the publisher of EE Times.
"The general consensus is that the patent office still has a way to go to deliver the desired level of performance, but that it is moving in the right direction," said Mclean. "The USPTO leadership recognized there was an issue and has put programs in place in an effort to drive improvement. Personally, I like the thinking behind the accelerated examination program and increased collaboration with other patent offices," he added.