Lat week the USPTO announced that it is expanding its First Action Interview Pilot Program, where an applicant is entitled to an interview with the patent examiner prior to the first office action on the merits in a new utility application.
Previously, the program was limited to two computer-related technology areas, but now includes additional technology areas for a six-month period beginning on October 1, 2009. According to the USPTO, the initial pilot program showed that
[T]he patent process benefits when interaction between the applicant and the examiner are enhanced at the beginning of examination because patentability issues can be resolved early when the applicant and the examiner discuss them one-on-one. For the applications involved in the initial pilot, the First-Action Allowance rate increased six-fold when compared to applications from the same technology area not involved in the pilot.
Currently, an applicant may request an interview prior to a first action. However, granting of an interview is within the discretion of the examiner who has not yet reviewed the case, and the applicant may be required to identify relevant documents and explain how the invention is patentable over these documents.
Under the expanded pilot program, the examiner will conduct a prior art search and provide the applicant a pre-interview communication, which is a condensed preview of objections or rejections proposed against the claims. Within 30 days from the issue date of the pre-interview communication, the applicant must either choose not to have a first action interview with the examiner, or schedule the interview and file a proposed amendment or remarks (arguments).
Should the applicant choose not to have a first action interview, a First Action Interview office action will be promptly issued and the applicant will have one month or 30 days, whichever is longer, to reply. If an interview is scheduled, the applicant must be prepared to discuss issues related to the patentability of the claims. In this interview, if the applicant and the examiner reach agreement on all claims in regards to patentability, a notice of allowance and fees due will be issued. If agreement is not reached on all claims in regards to patentability, the applicant will be given a First Action Interview office action setting forth any requirements, objections and rejections to which the applicant will be given one month or 30 days, whichever is longer, to reply, with limited extensions of time. It is this First Action Interview office action that is considered the first action on the merits in the application.
There have been several improvements made to the program since the initial pilot. For example, the response period to reply to the pre-interview communication can now be extended by 30 days. Also, the applicant can now waive receipt of the First Action Interview office action during the interview with the examiner, convert the previously-submitted draft amendment to a formal amendment and proceed directly to the second substantive examination. This may be preferable to those who would prefer not to wait for the First Action Interview office action and refile the proposed amendment formally.
Read the USPTO press release here (link)
- Generally, an applicant's request to participate in the program must be filed during the six month life of the program and at least one day before a first Office action on the merits of the application appears in the Patent Application Information Retrieval (PAIR) system.
- The request to enter the Pilot Program must be made via EFS-Web