By Scott Nyman
In December 2009, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) introduced their Green Technology Pilot Program. This program accords special status to inventors filing patent applications related to green technologies, resulting in an accelerated patent examination. More specifically, the pilot program expedites the examination of patent applications relating to the development of renewable energy sources or the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. This past December, USPTO Director David Kappos announced the extension of the Green Technology Pilot Program through December 31, 2011. The USPTO has also expanded eligibility to include applications filed on or after December 8, 2009, in addition to the applications filed before December 8, 2009 permitted under the original program.
The Green Technology Pilot Program does, however, include some limitations. This program is limited to the first 3000 petitions accepted into the pilot program. Additionally, the inventive technology areas that can benefit from the Green Technology Pilot Program are limited to greenhouse gas reduction, environmental quality, energy conservation, and development of renewable energy resources. To qualify, an inventor must file a petition with the USPTO stating the basis of special status. Also, the patent application may contain no more than three independent claims and no more than twenty total claims. The claims of a patent application define the scope of inventive rights granted to the inventor upon allowance of the patent – similar to a property description in a real estate transaction.
As of January 17, 2011, roughly half of the 2236 petitions filed under the Green Technology Pilot Program have resulted in examination with special status, with 1145 petitions approved and 176 pending. After approval, the USPTO has generally issued its first Office Action within of 49 days. An Office Action is a decision on patentability made by an Examiner, a significant improvement over the 2-3 year delay to receive a first Office Action from the USPTO otherwise. In some instances, patent applications filed under the Green Technology Pilot Program have resulted in an allowed patent in under a year – a level of efficiency that the USPTO has not seen in years.
The USPTO anticipates that accelerating these applications through the examination process will help to stimulate growth in the green technology industries, provide additional jobs, and assist in the preservation of our environment. While I agree that the Green Technology Pilot Program will be beneficial to expediting the development and implementation of much needed green technologies, I wonder what other applications the USTPO is pushing aside to accommodate the pilot program.