The USPTO indicates that “excellence in work products” is one of the “pillars” of patent quality, but pursuing this objective has been difficult. First, the USPTO considers “work product” synonymous with the soundness of the examiner’s decision – without recognizing that the quality of the office action, as an expression of that decision, is a separate and equally crucial goal. Second, the USPTO struggles with its own perception that “quality” cannot be measured directly or specifically, and has relegated its metrics to satisfaction surveys, where reviewers rate work product quality “on a scale from 1 to 10.” The resulting metrics are so uninformative that even USPTO management declines to use them for anything except PR.
A different approach to quality assessment is available: data mining techniques can be applied to the contents of office actions, in order to identify patterns of examiner behavior that reflect problems with examination quality. Detecting and quantifying the occurrence of such behaviors – over the entire output of each examiner, as well as of art units and the USPTO as a whole – may yield specific, objective metrics of examiners’ compliance with examination policy and best practices.
Continue reading Measuring Examination Quality Through Data Mining of Office Actions
Patent quality is a hot topic at the USPTO – not only taking center stage on USPTO Director Lee’s radar, but also prompting a two-day Patent Quality Summit. However, this effort by the USPTO seems peculiar, because the issuing patent – as a work-product or deliverable – is entirely drafted by the applicant. After verifying that the application meets all of the requirements of 35 USC and 37 CFR, the USPTO’s actual contributions to the issuing patent are the Notice of Allowance – a one-page boilerplate form, occasionally with a cursory statement by the examiner that the claims are novel – and the provision of a serial number and a shiny ribbon.
Rather, the USPTO’s primary work product is the office action – a statement of reasons for allowing or rejecting or allowing particular claims. While the USPTO scrupulously monitors examiners’ output in terms of quantity and timeliness, remarkably little attention is paid to evaluating the quality of the content of office actions. And a detailed (or even cursory) evaluation of office actions will reveal abundant opportunities for improvement that the USPTO does not seem to appreciate.
This post is a call to action for Director Lee and USPTO officials: The USPTO can best contribute to the “patent quality” issue by closely evaluating and striving to improve the contents of office actions.
Continue reading Hey, USPTO: To Improve Patent Quality, Improve Office Action Quality