Patent Data, Prior Art, and Operational Transparency at the USPTO

Patent Office Director David Kappos and his management team are slowly pushing the Office toward more transparency in both operations and decision making. This article discusses three interrelated USPTO transparency initiatives and considers their impact on the day-to-day practice of patent law.

The Patent Office was once thought of as a bastion of secrecy. Although issued patents were public documents, pending applications – and therefore the day-to-day activities of patent examiners – were kept secret. The statutory mandate for secrecy was largely eliminated ten years ago, but the Office has been slow to provide meaningful data on its internal operations.1 The delay could be ex-plained by both the internal cultural shift necessary to become a transparent government agency and the lack of available resources necessary for the transition. Of course, with a more than two billion dollar annual budget at its disposal, delays in operational changes can hardly be viewed as anything other than intentional and deliberate.2 Perhaps more than anything, the USPTO simply did not set operational transparency as an important goal to be achieved.

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