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Expediting Prosecution: Comparing Track 1 Prioritized Examination, Accelerated Examination, the Patent Prosecution Highway, and Petitions to Make Special Based on Age 

Track 1 examination appears to be significantly faster on average than the USPTO’s other programs for expediting examination. Surprisingly, and especially for small entity applicants, prosecuting a Track 1 application may cost less than prosecuting an AE application even accounting for the large fee for participating in the Track 1 program.[1]  Read below for more details.

The USPTO’s new Track 1 Prioritized Examination program allows an applicant to reach final disposition (allowance, final rejection, abandonment) within 12 months of filing. To qualify for this program, an applicant must file a simple, one-page petition and a $4800 petition fee ($2400 for small entities). According to the USPTO’s Track 1 website, the current pendency to final disposition is just over 5 months.[2]  But how does Track 1 compare to the USPTO’s other programs for expediting examination?

Right now, the USPTO offers three other programs for expediting examination of utility applications: Accelerated Examination (AE), the Patent Prosecution Highway (PPH), and Petitions to Make Special based on an applicant’s age or health. Like Track 1, AE’s goal is to reach final disposition within 12 months of filing. Unlike Track 1, an applicant pays only a nominal petitions fee, but must conduct a search and submit an accelerated examination support document characterizing the search results. The PPH, in contrast, does not require a fee or a support document; rather, the applicant files a PPH request based on an allowance or favorable search report from a corresponding foreign or PCT application (if necessary, the U.S. claims must be amended to “sufficiently correspond” to the allowable foreign claims.)  According to the USPTO, examination of a PPH case should begin about 2–3 months after the PPH request is granted.[3]  And unlike the Track 1 and AE petitions, which must be filed with the application, a PPH request can be filed any time before examination begins. Petitions to Make Special based on an applicant’s age or health are free, but apply only to those applicants older than 65 or in very poor health.

Which of these programs is the best?  To answer that question, approximately 350 applications filed in these programs since 2006 (the Track 1 applications date only from that program’s institution on September 26, 2011) were reviewed.  Then the average and median times from effective filing date to date of allowance for the allowed applications in our sample, plus the standard deviation in these times was determined as follows:

Days from Effective Filing Date to Allowance

Program

Mean

Median

Standard Deviation

Track 1 Prioritized Examination

 184

207

101

Accelerated Exam (AE)

 317

248

292

Patent Prosecution Highway (PPH)

 565

543

215

Petition to Make Special Based on Age

 806

675

575

As can be seen, the Track 1 applications were allowed on average 184 days after the application’s effective filing date, compared to 317 days for AE, 565 days for the PPH, and 806 days for applications made special based on an applicant’s age.[4] For reference, the average application pendency across non-expedited applications in 2011 was about 1240 days (1022 days when counting RCEs as new filings).[5] The data were clear: for the allowed applications in our sample, Track 1 was the fastest.

But that is not the whole story.  Despite its relatively high up-front cost, Track 1 applications may also be the least expensive to prosecute, especially for small entities.  To estimate prosecution costs, the mean number of office actions for the allowed applications in our sample was tabulated.  Multiplying the mean number of office actions by an estimated cost to the applicant for preparing and filing a response and adding the extra petition costs, if any, yields an “expectation cost” for each program.  The RCE costs  was not account for because there were less than 3 office actions, on average, per application in each program.

I was found that, on average, there were only 1.2 office actions to allowance for the Track 1 applications, 1.3 office actions for PPH applications, 1.7 office actions for AE applications, and 2.2 office actions for applications made special based on an applicant’s age. (For reference, the USPTO averages about 2.7 office actions per final disposal for other cases.[6]) If the cost of responding to an office action is about $2600 per recent AIPLA data,[7] then the expectation cost of filing and prosecuting a Track 1 application at large entity rates is $7920 (i.e., 1.2 × 2600 + 4800). In contrast, the expectation cost of filing and prosecuting an AE application is about $4420 plus the cost of conducting the pre-examination search and preparing the AE support document. If the cost of conducting the search and preparing the support document exceeds $3500, then filing and prosecuting a Track 1 application should, on average, cost less than filing and prosecuting an AE application.

In fact, the benefit of Track 1 for small entities may be even greater. At small entity rates, the expectation cost of filing and prosecuting a Track 1 application is only $5520. This means that Track 1 should be less expensive, on average, than AE if the cost of the search and the support documents (which does not change with entity size) is more than $1100 (the difference between the $5520 Track 1 expectation cost for small entities and the $4420 expectation cost for prosecuting an AE application). According to the AIPLA 2011 Economic Survey, a novelty search is about $2000, which suggests that Track 1 may be less expensive on average than AE for small entities.

For small entities, a Track 1 application has a good chance of being cheaper to prosecute than a regular application. Assuming 2.7 office actions on the normal track at a cost to the applicant of $2600 per office action, the expectation cost of prosecuting a normal application is $7020. Conversely, the expectation cost of prosecuting a Track 1 application for a small entity is only $5520—including the Track 1 petition fee.  Of course, the applicant should expect to incur all of the costs for a Track 1 application within 12 months (or less) instead of over 2–3 years (or more) as would be the case with a normal application.

In sum, Track 1 examination appears to be significantly faster on average than the USPTO’s other programs for expediting examination. Surprisingly, prosecuting a Track 1 application may cost less than prosecuting an AE application even accounting for the large fee for participating in the Track 1 program.



[1] This article is  provided as educational background information intended for the reader to investigate, and is not intended to be or replace any legal advice.

[4] For comparison purposes, current Director Kappos recently quoted an average of 153 days to “final disposition” for Track 1 cases, with an allowance rate of about 50%.  The term “final disposition”, of course, includes a variety of actions other than the allowances in our study.

[7] The AIPLA 2011 Economic Survey gives response costs, in 2010, of $3000 for relatively complex electrical, computer, biotech and chemical cases; $2500 for relatively complex mechanical cases; and $1850 for minimally complex cases.



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Legal Notice: None of the information provided in this website should be construed as or used as legal advice. The information provided here is for educational purposes only, in order to help inventors learn background information before consulting a practitioner. Since the best course of action in any specific matter will depend on the specific facts of the matter, NOTHING on this site can provide a substitute for the advice of competent legal counsel. Consult with a professional for specific advice regarding your particular situation.

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