USPTO Scraps Sensitive Application Warning System in Favor of Public Scrutiny

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has ended a secret
program that they had operated for twenty years that aimed to “alert leadership
when a patent might issue on a sensitive matter.” The USPTO only recently
acknowledged the program’s existence.

For the past 20 years the program known as the Sensitive Application Warning
System placed a small percentage of patent applications (about .04 percent)
into an indefinite legal limbo that critics claim effectively stalled patents
from being approved. In the high stakes game of patent rights, having to wait
indefinitely to see if a patent is approved could cause a loss of funding and
increased competition.

Those applications that the SAWS program chose through the use of a vague
and over-encompassing list of criteria were twice as likely to be rejected,
according to a Yahoo news article.

The USPTO pointed out on their website that, “today, unlike when the
SAWS program was created, most applications are published eighteen months after
submission, exposing them to public scrutiny and the potential for third-party
submissions of prior art.”

Following an internal review of the USPTO’s SAWS program the USPTO said in a
statement on their website, “Upon careful consideration, the USPTO has
concluded that the SAWS program has only been marginally utilized and provides
minimal benefit.” After completing the review, the USPTO decided to retire the
SAWS program stating, ” Any applications currently in this program will now
proceed through prosecution absent any additional SAWS-related processing.”

In the statement the USPTO said, “the Agency will seek public input as
part of its ongoing Enhanced Patent Quality Initiative on whether there were
any quality-enhancing features of the SAWs program that are not already
captured through the typical examination and prosecution process.”

Law firm, Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP, representing several high
tech companies including Google and Apple, Twitter, and Oracle filed a Freedom
of Information request to get information about the criteria of the SAWS

The information that they got was 50 pages of criteria that included
everything from inventions that received unwanted publicity to inventions that
pertained to biological warfare.

Among the most perplexing of the criteria outlined over about 50
pages are “applications that are pioneering in scope.”

The USPTO seems to be saying in their statement that now that most patents
applications are open to public scrutiny after about 18 months, much of the
SAWS program is not necessary. The USPTO hopes that the public will come
forward as part of its Enhanced
Patent Quality Initiative
to suggest parts of the SAWS program that at are
not already captured through the typical examination and prosecution

What this means to the LED and LED lighting industry is unclear, but if it
means less time for patent approval or rejection while maintaining the quality of the patent system is probably a good thing.

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