June 3, 2002 10:30 AM PDT

Patent office looks to go electronic

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The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office wants to increase its use of computers, with the end goal that the entire process, from application to issuance, will take place electronically.

The office will revamp fees to encourage e-filings and work with patent offices in Europe and Japan to develop software to process applications, said James Rogan, Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property, during a telephone press conference Monday.

"Technology has become increasingly complex, and demands from customers for higher-quality products and services have escalated," Rogan said.

The revamp of the USPTO also calls for changes to the application and review processes.

Only about 2 or 3 percent of patent applications are filed electronically, Rogan said. And even those that are filed electronically are converted to paper while they're being processed.

"Paper filing slows down the process. It's time consuming; you can't do work sharing," he said. "You can't do 21st century (work) on 18th century technology."

Earlier plans had called for the USPTO to devise its own in-house system by 2006. But Rogan said that his office would also look at using "off the shelf" software and would consult with European and Japanese patent offices.

"(We don't want to) try to reinvent the wheel and develop our own system that would cost over $100 million and would not be compatible with Europe or Japan. (It) just seems to be a big waste of money and an undue burden on our major domestic filers," he said. "We're working on an agreement with them to use, develop and maintain (the technology) jointly. Our multiple vision is to have an e-filing system that an American filer could use here, in Europe or Japan with the click of a mouse."

The new goals are to have a back-end system in place for trademarks by Oct. 1, 2003, and for patents by Oct. 1, 2004.

The patent office has been working on other ways to modernize its operations. It's proposing eliminating paper records that the public can search, and instead have people search online. The patent office's examiners already did away with paper records, and now do their searches electronically.

 

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