Has this ever happened to you?  You pay your patent attorney a lot of money to draft and file a patent application covering your latest invention, only to sit around and wait…and wait…and wait for any response from the US Patent Office.  Any one who has filed a patent application with the United States Patent Office in the last decade knows the process of getting a patent application processed is painfully slow, about 3 years to process the average patent. 

The USPTO would be the first to admit that it needs to move applications through the process faster.  Ideally, the current Commissioner (like many before this one) would like all applications examined and a first Office Action sent out within 10 months of filing, but the question has always been how to do it, with fee divergence, the increasing number of filings, and not enough examiners, to name just a few of the issues facing the USPTO.  In fact, to underscore this point, one short-term initiative, as stated in a March 10, 2011 memorandum from the US Commissioner for Patents to all patent employees, is a program called “Clearing the Oldest Patent Applications” (COPA).  This is a concerted effort to eliminate the backlog of the oldest unexamined new applications —those with filing dates on or before June 7, 2009.  According to the memorandum, as of the end of February, there are still 233,780 applications in this category.    (That’s a lot of applications!)

In an effort to provide quicker, better service to its users, the United States Patent Office announced earlier this week that it will be accepting a limited number of requests for prioritized examination of patent applications in a program called Track One.  On May 4, 2011, for a $4,000 priority fee + filing fees, up to 10,000 applicants can request expedited examination, allowing inventors and businesses to have their patents processed within 12 months.  (The 10,000 limit is currently just for this fiscal year ending September 30, 2011.)

Track One is part of a proposed Three Track patent examination system.  Applications filed under Track Two would follow the current system.  Track Three would provide applicants with the option to delay examination for up to 30 months while paying reduced fees.  Track Three is anticipated to start some time before September 30, 2011.  More information on the three tracks can be found here.   http://www.uspto.gov/news/pr/2010/10_24.jsp

To read USPTO announcement of the implementation of the Track One program, go to: http://www.uspto.gov/news/pr/2011/11-24.jsp