New Patent Quality Examination Metrics Attempt Greater Balance

On October 7, 2010, the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) issued a press release announcing the adoption of new procedures for measuring the quality of patent examination that will be implemented during the start of the 2011 fiscal year. After requesting public comment in both the Federal Register and Official Gazette and holding two round table discussions, a joint USPTO-Patent Public Advisory Committee (PPAC) Task Force developed a new composite quality metric including seven factors, and an associated procedure for obtaining measurements, identifying systemic problems and providing remediation through examiner training.

Currently, the USPTO measures the quality of patent examination according to two factors: (1) the quality of the action setting forth allowance or final rejection of the application; and (2) the quality of the actions taken during the course of examination;. In the October 7 press release, USPTO describes these two factors as “useful but insufficient measurements of patent examination quality.”

Under the new procedures, the USPTO will use seven quality measurements, which are described in detail in the USPTO publication “Adoption of Metrics for the Enhancement of Patent Quality Fiscal Year 2011.” In addition to the two factors presently used, the new composite metric will also measure: (3) the use of best search practices in the examiner’s initial search for prior art; (4) the use of best examination practices in the first action on the merits; (5) trends in compact and efficient examination as reflected in aggregate USPTO data; (6) the perceptions of applicants and practitioners as measured by surveys; and (7) the perceptions of examiners as measured by surveys. While the USPTO presently measures the perceptions of applicants and practitioners, this factor was not previously incorporated within the composite metric.

As reported in the October 7 press release, the USPTO believes that in order to provide a “balanced approach to measurement of examination quality,” these measurements will “address errors and positive action taken in both allowance and rejection, as well as matters such as search and restriction.,” and will complement other activities including the USPTO’s pendency initiatives, Patent Examiner Technical Training Program, and proposed Three-Track Examination initiative.

The USPTO intends to report the composite quality metric as a component of its “Patent Dashboard.” It is expected that the metric will be reported to the public at the middle and end of each fiscal year, although some of the factors may be reported on a quarterly basis. It will be interesting to see what, if any, impact the new quality procedures will have, in particular in combination with the revisions made to the patent examiner count system adopted in September 2009. In the meantime, the USPTO encourages interested members of the public to comment on their experience with all of these initiatives via its “Feedback Channel” blog.

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