Patent Office Proposes Electronic Patents
February 11th, 2022
The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is proposing to implement the electronic issuance of patents.
As the Federal Register explains,
Currently, the USPTO issues “letters patent” (hereafter, patents) as paper patents under the seal of the USPTO, by virtue of being bound with a cover sheet that has both an embossed seal and the signature of the USPTO Director.
Under the proposed change, patents would no longer be issued on paper (suitable for framing). Instead, they’d be issued electronically and could be viewed via the patent document viewing system: Patent Center and Patent Application Image Retrieval (PAIR)).
Since there will no longer be a need to print, assemble, and mail out paper patents, this change would allow patents to be available sooner, and the patentee could view and print the issued patent as soon as it’s issued. This also eliminates the risk of a patent certificate being lost in the mail.
Under the new system, patents would be issued about a week after the patent number is assigned. This is about two weeks earlier than under the current system.
Patentees would continue to have the option of ordering paper copies of patents if they want, as well as printing as many copies as they want on their own. The “fancy” official copies with an embossed gold seal and the director’s signature will cost $25 each.
Since the USPTO issued 388,900 patents in 2020, switching from paper to electronic patents might also save a few trees.
A patent is a legal right – not a piece of paper. As the Federal Register explains,
Patentees may exercise the legal rights granted by the patent without physical possession of it because the patent right exists independently of the physical possession of the patent.
The paper copy of the patent is considered “merely commemorative.”
People can comment on the proposed change until February 14, 2021 via the Federal eRulemaking Portal at www.regulations.gov.
The USPTO has been gradually moving toward paperless process for issuing patents. In 2001, it introduced an electronic filing system. In 2007, it initiated the e-Office Action Program, which provides electronic notifications of some outgoing correspondence.
The USPTO web site provides free electronic copies of issued patents and patent applications as TIFF (graphic) documents. US and foreign patents are also available on https://patents.google.com/ and other free and commercial sites.
The Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO) launched electronic patent issuance in early 2021. The Chinese IP office stopped issuing paper patent certificates in 2020.
One major implication of this proposed rule is that the time to file a child case (e.g., a continuation application, continuation-in-part application, and/or a divisional application) will be reduced by about two-three weeks as the patents will now issue within one week after the USPTO assigns a patent number. A best practice moving forward will be for applicants to file a child case as early as possible, e.g., before the payment of the issue fee.