US Patent Office Changes Businesses Should be Aware of

The US Patent Office and Trademark Office (USPTO) is an agency of the US Department of Commerce that exists to grant patents for the protection of inventions and to register trademarks. Given the importance of intellectual property protection for all businesses, but especially those in the technology sector, keeping abreast of these past and future changes to the US Patent Office guidelines and processes in critical.

The Leahy-Smith America Invents Act

Four years ago, the United States enacted several changes to patent law under the provisions of the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act of 2011 (AIA). Anyone who is considering filing a patent should be familiar with these relatively recent changes to ensure that he or she is following proper protocol.

One such change is determining what qualifies as a definition of prior art. A person submitting a patent is likely to be denied if the work in question is used or known in this country or is described in any type of publication in another country. Prior art can also include anything that was patented in a foreign country at least one year prior to a person applying for a similar patent here.

The AIA also eliminated the penalty for false marking. This means that inventors have the ability to apply for a patent on a product that was previously covered by patent protection that has since expired. Additional broad changes include:

  • Revision and expansion of post-grant opposition procedures: This allows re-examination after a patent is issued by third parties, ex-partes, and inter-partes.  
  • Filing by another entity: The inventor can assign the right to file a patent on his or her behalf to an entity that has a vested financial interest in the idea or product under review for patenting. 
  • Best mode: Inventors are still required to submit the best method for producing the product, but the inability to do so is not a valid reason for rendering an approved patent unenforceable.

Patent Process Changes Currently Under Review

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is currently considering several changes in an effort to simplify the process of applying for a patent. The first of these changes involves the introduction of eCommerce Modernization, also known as eMod. The purpose of eMod is to improve the process of electronic patent application by upgrading the way applicants view and file their patent information. This is in response to the fact that 500,000 applications are currently pending.

The USPTO also intends to increase the quality of the patents it approves by streamlining the way that people apply. The new eMod system is significantly more user-friendly due to an improved interface and easier access to essential documents.

The proposed new system should also improve efficiency for employees who review patent applications. It allows workers to use structured text to make it simpler for them to communicate with patent applicants. Additionally, eMod will improve the accuracy of publication data and the ability to process applications in a timely, error-free manner. Before the USPTO releases these changes, it is seeking input from the public at through their website.

USPTO Fee Schedule

The USPTO charges fees for various aspects of the patent application process. These include:

  • Patent Application Filing Fees
  • Patent Search Fees
  • Patent Examination Fees
  • Patent Post-Allowance Fees
  • Patent Extension of Time Fees
  • Patent Maintenance Fees
  • Miscellaneous Patent Fees
  • Post-Issuance Fees
  • Patent Trial and Appeal Fees
  • Patent Petition Fees

The current USPTO Fee Schedule went into effect on January 1, 2014 and was last revised on July 1, 2015. Applicants may be able to reduce their fee amount by qualifying as a small entity or a micro entity.