USPTO expands signature options

Final rule changes to support the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's 21st Century Strategic Plan

U.S. Patent and Trademark Office officials issued a final rule today that would allow two alternatives to traditional signatures on patent documents.

The regulation includes 140 pages of policy changes meant to simplify patent filing procedures. Among other things, the rule not only permits electronic signatures for applications filed using USPTO's electronic filing system but also allows for s-signatures, in which the signature is typed between two forward slashes.

The policy change will make filing easier for patent applicants and their attorneys and will save paper, said Bob Spar, director of the Office of Patent Legal Administration. USPTO officials receive about 350,000 initial patent filings each year, but the correspondence related to those filings generates 2 million pieces of mail during the same period.

Although only 2 percent of the 350,000 applications are filed electronically, the lack of electronic signature capability until now is probably insufficient to explain the low online filing numbers, Spar said. USPTO officials plan to hold focus groups nationwide to explore ways they can increase the number of applications filed electronically, he said.

Because of the length and complexity of the new rule, agency officials expect to publish a PowerPoint slide presentation and a rule-by-rule summary on the USPTO Web site within a few days, Spar said.

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