On Friday, the USPTO announced that the first "accelerated examination application" issued as US Patent No. 7,188,939 after only 5 months, 12 days. Here's a quick play-by-play of the examination highlights:
- 09/29/06: Application gets filed, with petition for AE
- 11/13/06: PTO grants petition
- 12/14/06: First Examiner Interview
- 12/15/06: Second Examiner Interview
- 12/15/06: Third Examiner Interview
- 01/09/07: Preliminary amendment w/ arguments
- 01/29/07: Notice of Allowance
Not bad (the issuing of the patent took almost as long as the examination itself).
However, many in-house attorneys are skeptical of the accelerated examination process. In a recent interview, Micron maintains it is not convinced:
The issues of cost and inequitable conduct continue to be primary concerns for many patent filers (only 236 accelerated requests have been made since August 2006). While there are some issues with the current process, you can't argue with this result. Let's see how long the PTO can keep it up . . .
"It substantially increases our costs and the risk of the application being invalidated in court," said Russ Slifer, chief patent counsel at Micron Technology Inc., which has received more than 14,000 U.S. patents in the last 10 years but has yet to apply under the new accelerated program.
The Boise-based company, which makes computer memory chips, is worried because courts have the authority to invalidate patents based on findings of "inequitable conduct." That happens when applicants and their patent attorneys fail to submit all known relevant information, or "prior art," used to assess if an invention is patent-worthy.
If a Patent Office examiner's mistakes are revealed in court proceedings, there are no legal consequences, Slifer said, "but if an applicant does that ... it appears they lied to the patent office."