By Donald Zuhn --
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office recently released its Performance and Accountability Report for Fiscal Year (FY) 2011. With respect to the Office's performance goals, the report indicates that four of five patent-related performance targets were met in FY 2011. Among the patent-related performance targets that the Office met were patent average total pendency (33.7 months actual versus 34.5 months target) and patent applications filed electronically (93.1% actual versus 90% target). The lone performance target that went unmet was patent average first action pendency (28 months actual versus 23 months target).
The FY 2011 report, like the FY 2010 report, identifies three strategic goals, each comprising several objectives:
1. Optimize patent quality and timeliness
2. Optimize trademark quality and timeliness
3. Provide domestic and global leadership to improve intellectual property policy, protection and enforcement worldwide
With regard to the first strategic goal, the report indicates that the Office met four of five objectives (see table below), up from a 40% success rate in FY 2010 (click on any table to expand).
[M]ade significant progress in FY 2011 in meeting our goal of providing timely and quality patents. While less-than-planned spending authority has greatly impacted the USPTO's ability to decrease patent pendency and the backlog, the Patent organization continued to respond to these challenges and obstacles by launching new and innovative initiatives to achieve its strategic goals. Despite budget constraints suspending routine programs such as examiner hiring, overtime, and training, the Patent organization succeeded in making progress by focusing on new methods and processes to increase efficiencies and strengthen effectiveness through collaboration, communication, and transparency.
The report notes that patent filings increased 5.2% for FY 2011, jumping from 510,060 in FY 2010 to 536,604 in FY 2011 (according to preliminary data). This follows a 4.8% increase in patent filings for FY 2010.
Despite accepting more than 500,000 patent applications for the second straight year, the number of applications awaiting action dropped from 726,331 in FY 2010 to 690,967 in FY 2011 (the first time the Office has been below 700,000 applications awaiting action since 2005). The total number of pending applications, however, was up slightly from 1,163,751 in FY 2010 to 1,168,928 in FY 2011.
Utility patent issuances were up significantly in FY 2011 (according to preliminary data), rising from 207,915 in FY 2010 to 221,350 in FY 2011. It was the second straight year that the Office set a record for utility patent issuances, and marked the fourth straight increase.
With respect to first action and total pendency, the report shows that the Office will have to be satisfied with a split. After dropping 0.1 months between FY 2009 and FY 2010, patent average first action pendency jumped 2.1 months to 28 months. Patent average total pendency, however, was down 1.6 months to 33.7 months, the lowest this measure has been since FY 2008.
The report states that the increase in patent average first action pendency "was expected due to the efforts focused on clearing up the oldest patent applications from the backlog through the COPA [Clearing the Oldest Patent Applications] initiative," and that "with sufficient funding and the ability to hire and utilize overtime, the USPTO is confident that it will not only meet but exceed its target goals for next year."
Participation in electronic filing continued to rise in FY 2011, with electronically-filed patent applications jumping from 89.5% in FY 2010 to 93.1% in FY 2011. Only five years ago, less than half of all patent applications were filed electronically.
For biotechnology and organic chemistry applicants, average first action pendency rose from 22.8 months in FY 2010 to 23.8 months in FY 2011, and total average pendency dropped from 36 months in FY 2010 to 33.6 months in FY 2011. Both pendency measures were below the Office's overall averages of 33.7 months and 28 months, respectively. No other Technology Center posted a better first action pendency than TC 1600, and only TC 2800 (semiconductor, electrical, optical systems & components) and TC 3600 (transportation, construction, agriculture & electronic commerce) posted better final action pendencies (as they did in FY 2010).
For additional information regarding this and other related topics, please see:
• "USPTO Releases 2010 Performance and Accountability Report," November 17, 2010
• "USPTO Announces 'Highest Performance Levels in Agency's History' in 2008," November 18, 2008
• "USPTO Announces 'Record Breaking' 2007 Performance," November 15, 2007
• "Patent Office Announces Record-Breaking Year," December 27, 2006