Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Green Patent Conundrum

As a student of government policy and its impact on economics, I am always interested in seeing how government programs work and what their actual impact is.   Mike Bowman and I have been watching the USPTO Green Technology Program.   We looked at the Green Program as a way to accelerate patenting of worthy inventions despite the obvious political undertones as part of the Obama "all things green are good" agenda. Mike is interested in all matters clean and green being an environmental scientist as well as a patent geek.

What we found interesting about the program is that we worked with some folks who had technology that would have been an excellent fit for the accelerated examination process enabled by the Green Tech Program but the folks we worked with opted for the straight up provisional application followed by a non-provisional patent application a year later with the understanding it could take another 24-36 months before they got their patent.  This was fine with them.  We have patent pending status.  We have 30 months of quiet time before our competitors can figure out what we are up to (12 months for the provisional and 18 months before publication of the application.)  This made figuring out who was actually using the program even more interesting.

We also noticed that despite the benefits of accelerated examination, it seemed like USPTO was having a problem getting to the original 3,000 applications number and then added another 500 to the count bringing the total to 3,500.  So when we learned that the program was closed we were curious when the program actually closed and if they actually hit the 3,500 applications threshold.  Mike went on a mission to figure out what was up.  Here is his recap of what happened at USPTO.

Tripping Through La-La Land

The USPTO Green Tech Pilot Program has closed and is no longer accepting additional applications.

How do we know this? Because of the heading on what passes for the Program home page:

One can only assume that 3500 applications were accepted into the program, as the page does not explicitly state this, other than the ‘3500th’ highlighted in the graphic.

And what about knowing the date on which the Program closed? That information does not appear.

In an effort to track down this information, on February 25, 2012, I emailed the Office of Patent Legal Administration at the email address ( provided at the bottom of the Program home page, asking for the closing date and total number of applications accepted into the program. One would think that would be pretty simple to answer, as someone made a decision to close it. As of today (February 28), there’s been no reply.

So, I decided to call the phone number provided (571-272-7701). I spoke with a very pleasant young man who informed me that the Office of Patent Legal Administration really had nothing to do with the Green Technology Program (to his credit he was aware that it had closed, which I found out when he launched in to a soliloquy before I had even completed my initial question to him, and he assumed that they had received a lot of applications) and I needed to contact the Office of Petitions.

I called the Office of Petitions, and was swept in to their automated voice mail system. As I did not, thank you very much, want to press a lot of buttons, but wanted to speak with a live human-type person, I didn’t press any buttons on my phone, as directed, and then had to endure the hideous noise that passes for background music (note to USPTO voice mail system administrators — get a clue. The background noise is not helpful to your clients’ state of mind). After about 6-10 cycles (it probably only seemed liked 20-30), a pleasant operator answered the phone, and, in response to my question, informed me that I would need to speak with one of the Office attorneys.

Back in to voice mail perdition.

Finally, after finishing my cup of tea, a person (attorney??) answered. After succinctly describing the two (2) pieces of information I wanted, I was informed that “We don’t know, we really don’t do anything with that Program. You’ll need to speak with the Office of Patent Legal Administration, they are the ones that handle this.” I really was very kind (really) when I thanked her for her help.

The source code for the Green Tech Program home page shows the following:

We can therefore assume (and an assumption is all it is, as apparently no one in the known universe, or least the USPTO corner of it, really has the information) that the Green Technology Pilot Program closed on or about February 15, 2012 after receiving 3500 applications. I will have considerably more to say about the Program in the near future.

Looks like the project ended in a fizzle instead of with a big bang.  We'll have to keep an eye on the inventions that come out of the program and see where they take us on our Green, Clean agenda.