PTO’s filing system is ready for the next step

For its e-government initiative, the Patent and Trademark Office is developing two workflow management systems to process applications.

In the works are Tools for Electronic Application Management for patents and the Trademark Information System for trademarks.

“We already have an electronic filing system where customers can create an application, package it up, encrypt it and send it to us in a highly secure environment over the Internet,” CIO Douglas J. Bourgeois said.

“TEAM will take it from that point and manage the workflow associated with that application through pre-exam, exam and postexam, and publication,” he said.

Patent applications pass through many hands, Bourgeois said. With TEAM, each submission will go through a queue, and as transactions are processed, the system will forward the application to the next person, he said.

“So, physically we don’t have to move it from here to there, and the application moves from person to person electronically,” he said.
Streamlining the system could offer dramatic benefits, given the amount of work the patent office processes. Last year, the office received 350,000 patent applications.

“That’s the universe you are talking about and oodles of pieces of paper with each application,” said Brigid Quinn, deputy director at PTO’s Office of Public Affairs.

“And then, in one step alone—say, that of classifying an application—we have thousands of classes, thousands of sub-classifications that inventions are categorized into,” she said.

Patent applications alone take up about 36,000 square feet of space at seven PTO offices in Arlington, Va. If paper processing continues, the documents are expected to take up to 46,000 square feet by 2005.
In addition to reducing storage problems, TEAM will make
communication with customers and data management easier, Bourgeois said. PTO workers will be able to correspond with customers via e-mail continuously to clarify claims they make in their applications, he said.

Speedier service

The improvements will likely increase the speed of patent processing. Quinn said processing a patent application takes about 25 months from the time it is filed to the release of the patent.

“But once TEAM is implemented, we hope to reduce the time by seven months, ideally,” she said, adding that the system also will cut the risk of losing papers.

The PTO public advisory committee in May gave the green light to accelerate TEAM’s deployment.

The office has requested $20 million from the Office of Management and Budget for fiscal 2003 for developing and implementing the system.
“There is a commitment to complete TEAM in the first half of calendar year 2004 and roll it out through the rest of the year,” Bourgeois said.

The Trademark Information System will put the process of registering a trademark online, Bourgeois said.

“We are taking that strategy to a point where we can tie five or six existing systems together in a very integrated fashion to make it electronic end-to-end,” Bourgeois said.

PTO expects the system to be online by 2004, he said, adding that it and TEAM will be developed in parallel.

“It’s a possibility that the projects could go to the same contractor,” he said.

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