One wrinkle of the expedited process is that it would put restrictions on applications already in the works at an overseas patent office. That's because the patent office is also trying to strike collaborative arrangements with its counterparts overseas to reduce redundant applications.
The USPTO would take no action on an application already filed overseas until the agency receives a copy of the search report and first office action from the foreign office.
Over the past several years, the agency has struck collaboration agreements with patent offices in Japan, Korea and Europe. So far only about 1,000 patents have used the so-called Patent Prosecution Highway that lets different patent offices share information.
"I put a directive out to get that up to the range of 4,000 applications a year this year and double that next year and double it again the year after," said Kappos.
The U.S. patent office has two other pilot programs for accelerated patent reviews which are still small but showing promising results, Kappos said. A program to accelerate green tech applications attracted 1,000 applicants as of the end of 2009.
"I expect we will get another surge of applications as a result of listing the classification requirement" on the applications, Kappos said.
Overall, the agency believes the three track system could help it increase output using frees from the accelerated top track. The initiative also aims to maximize collaboration with foreign patent offices. In addition, the agency hopes some applicants will decide not to pursue patents that are initially filed to the bottom track, thus reducing the agency's overall workload.
Applicants from several industries have requested a way to file patents but then put the examinations on hold until the applicant decides whether it wants to pay for the exam, Kappos said. The third tier of the new proposal would provide such a service.
“We recognize that the traditional ‘one-size-fits-all’ examination timing may not work for all applicants,” said Kappos in a press statement. “By allowing applicants greater control over the timing of examination, the USPTO will be able to deploy its resources to better meet the needs of innovators," he said.
"We look forward to input from the public as we shape this proposal," he added.