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RealTime IT News

Coming of Age at the Patent Office

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is outsourcing a new feature for the agency that will allow for electronic filing of patent applications.

It's all part of a plan to go from a tradition-bound, paper-based application process to one that is both more appropriate and more efficient for the Internet age.

The agency, a unit of the Commerce Department, awarded "partnership contracts" to five companies today -- Aspen Grove, AutoDocs, First to File, LegalStar and LexisNexis.

The partnerships are "no cost contracts," which means that the companies will be providing their services to Patent Office customers at no cost to the agency, according to James E. Rogan, the under secretary of commerce for intellectual property and director of the Patent Office.

Of course, that doesn't mean at no cost to users of the services.

Rogan earlier this month released a "21st Century Strategic Plan" aimed at transforming the Patent Office "from a one-size-fits-all government bureaucracy into a quality-focused, responsive, market-driven intellectual property system."

Under the plan, trademark operations will transition so that paper is no longer used in any internal processing by Oct. 1, 2003. The goal is for patent operations to be paperless by the end of 2004.

The office also is planning to alter its fee structure to encourage electronic filings and will work with patent offices in Europe and Japan to develop software to process applications.

"This endeavor ... supports President Bush's e-commerce goals by utilizing the private sector's business expertise to provide better, more efficient and less costly government services ..." Rogan said.

Each of the five companies will integrate its technology for providing customers with simple, convenient and secure electronic submission mechanisms. The new systems will supplement the current Electronic Filing System at the Patent Office, which Rogan said proved the viability of the electronic filing concept.

Electronic filing clearly will be a boon both to patent office employees and to inventors and companies seeking faster protection of their ideas.

The agency gets about two million documents yearly, including 340,000 patent applications. About 190,000 patents are expected to be granted this year. But it currently takes over two years to get a patent.

The postal facility that occupies one of the 18 Patent Office buildings in Crystal City, Va., is reportedly the world's largest recipient of express mail. The system's library houses 30 million paper documents.