Tuesday, October 26, 2010

EPO and USPTO Agree to Develop New Patent Classification

Yesterday the EPO and USPTO announced that they have agreed to jointly develop a patent classification system based on ECLA and the IPC. The press releases are here and here.

Both offices have yet to work out governance and operational details of the project, so changes to the USPC are not imminent. Some initial ground work has already been done. Since 2002 the USPTO has been establishing e-subclasses that correspond to classifications used by the EPO and JPO.

Why has the USPTO held onto its classification system long after most offices have adopted the IPC? One reason often cited by supporters is that the USPC is far more detailed, allowing inventions to be classified in about 150,000 subclasses as opposed to about 80,000 subclasses in the IPC. ECLA, which is based on the IPC, has about 130,000 subclasses. Others praise the USPC's detailed subclass definitions that guide patent searchers through the USPC's non-intuitive, complex and arcane structure.

The new EPO-USPTO classification will combine the best of both systems. It will be interesting to see what will happen to the sections of the USPC for design patents (Classes D1-D34, D99) and plant patents (Class PLT).

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Patent # 8,000,000 in 2011?

The USPTO is fast approaching another milestone... Patent number 8,000,000 might be less than a year away. The highest numbered utility patent (as of Oct. 19, 2010) is 7,818,816. At the current rate of about 60,000 patents per quarter, the USPTO could reach the 8 million mark as early as next August or September.

Patent 7,000,000 was issued on February 14, 2006 to American chemical company Dupont for a new type of polysaccharide fiber. Patent 7,500,000 was issued on March 3, 2009 to IBM.

Monday, October 18, 2010

How Complete is the USPTO Patent Database?

There was an interesting discussion last week on the Intellogist blog about the number of allegedly missing patent documents in the USPTO's PatFT database. Of course, this is an important question for anyone who uses the database, but especially for anyone who is doing legal or business research. (PatFT is by default the public patent database of record, although the USPTO does not make this claim.)

Determining the number of records that should be in the PatFT database is relatively easy. The USPTO assigns patent numbers in sequential order, as it has done since 1836. Let's take a closer look at utility patents issued from 1976 to the present. We know that the number of the first utility patent issued in 1976 is 3,930,271 and the highest patent number issued to date (as of Oct. 12, 2010) is 7,814,566. Subtract the latter from the former and add one and you get a total of 3,884,296. So the full-text collection in PatFT should contain 3,884,296 utility patent documents.

However, some of the numbers in the 3,930,271-7,814,566 range are unused because allowed applications (applications that are on the verge of being issued and have been assigned numbers) may be withdrawn from issue by the USPTO or the applicant. These numbers are withdrawn permanently and not reassigned to different applications. (The USPTO publishes lists of these withdrawn patent numbers each week in the Official Gazette.)

How many withdrawn patent numbers are there in our time frame? That's also easy to determine because the USPTO publishes an up-to-date list of withdrawn patent numbers. According to the list, there are 19,753 withdrawn patent numbers in the range 3,930,271-7,814,566. So we must subtract this number from the number above to get the total number of utility patents issued after Jan. 1, 1976 in the PatFT database.

"Potentially assigned patent numbers" - "withdrawn patent numbers" = "total issued patents"

3,884,296 - 19,753 = 3,864,543

We can check this number in PatFT by searching the "Application Type" field (APT) for patents coded "1" (utility patent applications).

apt/1 = 3,864,555

This search retrieves 3,864,555 hits, which is 12 *more* than the number we expected to see based on the calculation above. For a collection of almost 4 million documents, this is a very, very small discrepancy. I would expect similar results for other types of patent documents in the database, e.g. plants, designs, etc.

The reasonable conclusion is that there are no significant gaps in the USPTO's PatFT database, at least for the period after 1975. Of course, no database is perfect and there could be a few missing records in PatFT, but they are probably extremely rare.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

U.S. Patent Counts, Q3

The USPTO issued 63,859 patents from July 1 through Sept. 30, a fraction less than the previous quarter but a large increase over last year's Q3 total of 47,042. Published applications set another record with nearly 90,000 released, a 17 precent increase over the same period in 2009. At this rate, the USPTO is on track to publish between 550,000-600,000 patent documents in 2010.

Table 1. Quarterly Patent Document Counts*

2010 ..... Patents (B) .....PGPubs (A)..... Total (A + B)
Q1 ..... 55,488 ..... 77,520 ..... 133,008
Q2 ..... 64,037 ..... 84,919 ..... 143,069
Q3 ..... 63,859 ..... 88,984 ..... 152,843
Q1-Q3 ..... 183,384 ..... 251,423 ..... 428,920

*Based on preliminary weekly data from the USPTO website. Totals may change after the fact due to withdrawn patents and published applications.

Table 2. Number Ranges, Jan. 1 through Sept. 30, 2010

Utility patents ..... 7,640,598 - 7,805,766

Reissues ..... RE41,067 - RE41,788
PGPubs ..... 2010/0000001 - 2010/0251450
Designs ..... D607,176 - D624,725
Plants ...... PP20,622 - PP21,353
SIRs ..... H2,234 - H2,249

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

New Database of IP Case Studies

The WIPO has launched a new database that contains profiles of intellectual property case studies from around the world. The collection of 100+ cases cover patents, trade marks and copyright and could be an excellent source of material for presentations and programs.