As of today, three weeks into the new year, USPTO has made 1,347 corrections this year. Last year USPTO racked up 24,843 corrections. In 2013 it was 23,654. That means that in the last two years USPTO had to make administrative changes to 48,497 patents. USPTO is about 160 corrections away from hitting 50,000 corrections since January 2013.
This week the count was 491. 491 corrections to typos, assignees names, claims, which dependent claim points at which independent claim, and more, scientific notations, and chemical names. It is a panacea of documentary boo-boos and typo mania.
Corrections work like this — a patent owner or someone with a power of attorney requests a change. It is supposed to be material — substantial, important. The change is evaluated by USPTO that in turn creates a text document with the change information signed by the Director at USPTO. (Let's hope that these things are being machine-signed. The thought of the Director of USPTO sitting around signing 400+ documents a week is very scary.) That change document with the director's signature is then converted to a non-text accessible image which is then associated with and assembled with the images of the patent. The content of the full text database and the PDF version of the patent aren't edited to reflect the changes. There is just this random image added to the digital end of the patent document. It's not added to the full text or a corrected version of the PDF of the patent, it is simply associated with the images as the last page of the patent. So much for modern version control software.
We dug into the corrections over the last two weeks of 2014 just to see what was happening. One week a patent granted 14 years ago, in its twilight years, was corrected to change "lane" to "plane". (Patent litigation to follow….) Telcordia was fixing lots of typos and grammatical mistakes in a portfolio of wireless patents and patents focused on onboard vehicle technology. Telecordia and Intellectual Ventures have an agreement licensing its patents. Onboard wireless and wireless technology in general are hot.(Patent litigation to follow….)
A correction to Patent 6503446 contained the following statement,
In the Claims: Column 11, Line 17, delete "0.05% and insert -- 0.05% and 0.5% --Not particularly helpful when you are looking at the full text database. What's interesting is that Alcoa acquired Reynolds Metals in 2000. But the patent was granted in January 2003 and still showed the assignee as Reynolds Metals. There are oxford commas, changes from subscripts to superscripts, and more head exploding typos than you can absorb. But the classic was this one,
Col 10, line 36, claim 22, delete "claim 17" and insert --claim 16--This is not exactly an ensemble of IP novices. This change moved the dependent claim up the claim hierarchy to go from pointing another dependent claim to pointing to an independent claim. How did everyone in the patent prosecution food chain miss that one? Or was it one of those, "leave it along for now, it'll drive the honorable competition nuts" moments. Nobody reads anything anymore but this is an expensive process. The IP luminaries are getting a 20 year monopoly on their invention in exchange for the disclosue of their invention. If it's full of boo-boos, then did you really disclosre the invention? You'd think someone would engage in a little proof reading to protect their investment.
How Do You Know?
If you are lucky, there will be some indication on the face of the full text version of the patent that a change has been made so you can track it down. Sometimes it takes a while. So the average joe looking at patent may or may not realize that what they are spending their valuable time, may or may not be the most current version of the patent. Don't blame USPTO, it's statutory. If you are a patentista and you are being paid $300+ per hour, there is no problem reconstructing the content of the components of a patent by integrating all of the changes into a new presentation of the invention. But if you are a person with a day job, this just adds to the general "the patent system is broken" meme.
When we looked at the patent corrections in December we found three conditions:
- Corrections that had language indicating that there was a correction on the top of the full text version of the patent at USPTO.gov and the image indicating and explaining the change present with the rest of the patent images.
- An image present with the rest of the patent images but no indication of its presence on the full text version of the patent.
- The patent number was identified as having a correction in USPTO data but there was no indication that there was a change on the full text version of the patent and there was no image with the rest of the patents.
Statutory simply means that there are lots of rules about what can be changed and who can report and request a change. Statutory means that you or I can request a change on a patent we don't own. USPTO only lets the patent owner make changes to the patent. The sheer quantity of changes indicates that there are problems during the patent prosecution phase. USPTO, understandably wants to prosecute patents not get into battles with the patentistas at IP intense organizations over the validity of patents if there are typos in the content. And Examiners have enough to do and don't want to spend their time being editors in chiefs on a company's patent portfolio. The links on the right will take you to the USPTO rules on how corrections work.
So Now What?
USPTO needs support from the patent community. First, they need the funds to build in the types of quality controls that the Department of Commerce's kings of data, The Census Bureau, routinely uses when it collects data on its surveys. Things like validating the name of the city and state against the zip code during data entry. USPTO to invest in technology to improve the quality of at least the bibliographic data on patents and to provide incentives for patent applicants to make sure the patent applications are complete, accurate, and all of the i's are dotted and the t's crossed. USPTO needs the freedom to fix their data and to make its applicants, who are very smart people, to submit a quality application with complete and correct information.
Would the local Register of Deeds put up with this volume of corrections? Would Real Estate professionals put up with not having access to a complete accurate property deed every time they look for them? Can you imagine the chaos it would cause if the title search companies needed to hunt for "corrections" everytime someone wanted to transfer the title to a house? Patents are property deeds too. You wouldn't put up with errors in property deeds, why is it ok to have a relentless stream of corrections using up USPTO's resources?