Patent office rolls out long-awaited examiner system

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The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office last week released a much-anticipated new system aimed at helping patent examiners more efficiently process applications, FedScoop has learned.

The Patents End-To-End system is a platform that provides one interface for examiners to perform a range of tasks while they’re evaluating applications. It replaces an older system that required examiners to run several separate programs.

“Our feedback was incredibly positive, even from some of the biggest naysayers,” John Owens, the patent office’s chief information officer, told FedScoop.

Owens said the 1,000 examiners who were involved in the new system’s beta testing are the first users. The agency will train staffers on the new system in groups of about 1,000 over the next several months. The patent office has more than 8,000 examiners.

“We have to roll it out in stages because there are only so many people to train” the examiners, Owens said.

The release comes as the patent office struggles to ease a bottleneck of nearly 600,000 pending applications, and as Congress and industry continue to search for a way to tighten controls on “patent trolls,” or companies whose priority is to use their patent portfolios to file suit against other firms.

Patents End-To-End, or PE2E, has been in development for several years. Late last year, a report from the 2014 Patent Public Advisory Committee noted that lower-than-expected fee revenues in past years have forced the agency to put development of IT — including PE2E— on hold. It urged the agency to continue to increase IT funding.

Owens has been an advocate for using agile development and DevOps, an industry concept referring to the continuous, automated deployment of new software, to put out the patent office’s new systems. And throughout development, the CIO office brought in the employees’ union early on to solicit feedback on PE2E, Owens said. IT staffers continuously used the responses to make improvements to the system.

The CIO’s office is continuing to take feedback, Owens said. By the end of the month, the agency plans to issue another release to fix bugs that initial users detect.

“We plan on releasing new features, after the new release, about once a quarter,” he said.

PE2E is one of several IT projects the patent office has in the works.

Recently, the agency released a new version of its public website. And looking ahead, Owens said the office plans to issue the first release of Trademarks Next Generation, a system for trademark examiners, in June or July. It will also release a replacement to its current fee-collection-and-processing system, called Fee Processing Next Generation, in June.

“Lots of stuff [is] being released,” he said.

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Commerce Department, Departments, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
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