Monday, September 25, 2006

End of the USPTO's Document Disclosure Program?

Earlier this year the USPTO requested comments from the public on the proposed elimination of the Document Disclosure Program (DDP). The USPTO established the DDP in 1969 as a simple, low-cost way for inventors to document the date of conception of an invention as an alternative to the discredited practice of using a self-addressed envelope. (U.S. courts have never recognized a postmark as sufficient evidence of conception.)

This is the USPTO's second attempt to end the DDP. The previous attempt in 1998, although it received a number of favorable responses, was abandoned due to the lack of input from the independent inventor community. Opinions vary on the merits of the DDP. Some claim that it is open to abuse by unscrupulous Invention Promotion Companies (IPCs) and misuse by novice inventors. Others argue that is a safe and affordable way for first-time inventors to get their "feet wet" in the world of patents.

The most recent proposal, which was published in April in the Federal Register and in May in the Official Gazette of the USPTO, generated about two dozen comments from individuals and organizations.
The comments were generally split 50/50 in favor of eliminating the DDP; most were anecdotal and many acknowledged the lack of hard evidence to justify either course of action. (The lack of responses raises another question: where are all the independent inventors anyway? Could it be that young inventors aren't interested in the DDP? See the Sept. 9, 1999 issue of the New York Times for an article titled "Internet Connects Inventors to Information (and One Another).")

One of the most interesting responses was submitted by the United Inventors Association (UIA), an educational not-for-profit organization based in Rochester, New York whose mission is "to provide leadership, support and services to inventor support groups." The UIA letter, written by president Don Kelly, suggested that the USPTO had already decided to end the DDP and offered a counter-proposal: the "UIA is fully prepared to take on the management of the DDP." Will the USPTO accept the UIA's proposal and allow a private organization to manage the DDP, a program whose real value may be as a public relations tool?