USPTO tries form conversion

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office began testing a new system last week that enables the agency to convert paper patent applications to electronic format.

The prototype system is based on software developed by the European Patent Office and will help the USPTO get one step closer to having an all-electronic filing system for patents by the end of 2004.

The prototype system scans paper patent applications as images, including the drawings, specifications and examiner decisions associated with the application. All processing and examinations of the applications can then be conducted electronically.

In June, James Rogan, undersecretary of Commerce for intellectual property, released the agency's 21st-Century Strategic Plan, which laid out a goal to deliver a system to process patent applications electronically by Oct. 1, 2004, including electronically capturing all incoming and outgoing paper documents.

Also in June, the agency announced that it had awarded partnership contracts for the electronic filing of patent applications to five companies: Aspen Grove Inc., AutoDocs LLC, First to File Inc., LegalStar Inc. and LexisNexis.

The events in June were an effort to jump-start the agency's efforts to move to an electronic patent application process, according to a USPTO spokesman. From the prototype test begun last week, "we'll learn things. We will build on that experience," he said.

Currently, the amount of electronic filing of patent applications is small. Rogan said in June that only about 2 percent to 3 percent of U.S. patent applications are filed electronically.

About two years ago, the USPTO launched its electronic patent application filing system that allows anyone to file confidential patent application over the Internet.

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