25 Weeks To Go
This is an interesting week at USPTO. Way Better Patents has been monitoring the flow of Cooperative Patent Classification (CPC) data. We want to see what resources are evolving to enable a smooth transition to using the CPC by patent practitioners (people not working at USPTO) as USPTO's examiners switch to the new classification system. We are fans of the venerable USPC, maybe because we love its claim focused approach to classifying patents rather than the more broad tell us what it is in light of the claims approach used by the CPC. The claims are what inventors and the entities they work for spend all that money protecting. We want to see how or if the CPC improves the hunt for prior art and in turn the quality of patents being granted.
A Tipping Point?
Today's box scores raise important questions. Has USPTO has reached a tipping point on its migration to the CPC? Will the business operations of USPTO transition to use the CPC or will be we mired in multiple systems for the foreseeable future?
Back in February USPTO predicted that the backlog of unexamined patents would grow by 50,000 patents by June and not drop back down to the 600,000 point until the end of the fiscal year - September 2014. This growing backlog was big scary number if you are trying to build a business around protecting your inventions with patents. Lengthening examination timeframes could put a new product beyond the time you can be competitive in the market.
It looks like things won't be as bad as USPTO predicted. As of the end of June, the USPTO dashboard shows that the backlog of unexamined patent applications is 616,019. At the end of May it stood at 619,912. In the midst of its transition to the CPC, USPTO has managed to reduce the backlog by 3,893. That's a very pleasant improvement.
We are also seeing the volume of newly granted patents that have CPC data ticking up each week. This week it hit 23.5%. There are 25 weeks to go when all of the patents should have CPC data. It looks like USPTO needs to step up the pace at bit so that 100% of the patents have complete CPC data.
There are other interesting developments that are indicators of USPTO's transition to the CPC at least for newly granted patents (we are looking at the entire catalog of patents and patent applications separately, please stay tuned.)
As the chart below shows, the percentage of patents within each tech center that have CPC data relative to the number of patents granted each week.
We are also seeing examiners adding CPC data to the field of search information on the granted patents as well. This indicates the area where the examiner looked for prior art relating to the invention in a patent application. This is important to external practitioners who will need to expand their prior art searches to the CPC as USPTO expands its use in patent prosecution.
Progress in Other Areas?
There are a host of infrastructure transitions that need to take place. The public-facing information doesn't reflect changes that would indicate that the USPC is retired and the CPC is being used to run the business of patent prosecution.
CPC Notice of Change. One of the big selling points of the CPC was that it would be easier to maintain and easier to add more classifications as new technologies emerge in the patent system. The CPC Change Notices page doesn't reflect any updates since July 2013. But if you dig around you'll find another list of changes that aren't on that list like changes to the CPC to IPC Concordance It's not easy for the casual observer or dedicated patent geeks to find all the changes without an aggressive tour of lots of links at USPTO. For the CPC to be widely used and understand, the changes need to be easy to find, easy to understand, and easy to use.
Using the CPC for Business Operations. We haven't seen any of the Classes Arranged by Art Unit tables that reflect a transition from using USPC to CPC data for routing patents to examiners. We also haven't seen any breakdown of Technology Centers and Art Units that reflect organization based on the CPC vs. the USPC.
The Number of Classifications. We are still concerned about the sheer number of CPC patent classifications on patents versus the number of USPC classifications. There are more CPC classes, in some cases a lot more. There are also many more places to look when you use the statistical mapping between the USPC and the CPC. There is some question here on whether there is an under assignment of USPC classification data by USPTO's classification contractors to keep their quality numbers up.
Algorithms and Statistics. Older patents that have CPC data that appear to have been added to the patents algorithmically. Statistical mapping of USPC to CPC is pretty rugged to use for searching. The statistical, algorithmic may be a strategy that will work at the beginning of the process but over time, there needs to be a way to actively move things around, reclassify patents that seem to be in the wrong place, to maintain the quality of the system for internal and external searching. With the workload at USPTO, its questionable if this is doable. Patents that are misclassified are buried for good unless an examiner or patent pro knows of their existance.
Watch the Box Scores
We've added CPC monitoring to our box scores so you can monitor the progress.