03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

USPTO Accelerates Green Patent Applications

From December 8, 2009, the US Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) is running a year-long pilot program to expedite green technology-based patent applications by advancing them to examination out of turn. These types of applications include technologies directed to improvement of environmental quality, energy conservation, development of renewable energy resources or greenhouse gas emission reduction. Normally, a patent application can take 24-60 months to proceed through the USPTO examination process.

From the press release:

"American competitiveness depends on innovation and innovation depends on creative Americans developing new technology," U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said. "By ensuring that many new products will receive patent protection more quickly, we can encourage our brightest innovators to invest needed resources in developing new technologies and help bring those technologies to market more quickly."

Locke announced the USPTO pilot program at a press conference with U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu today at the Commerce Department's headquarters.

"Every day an important green tech innovation is hindered from coming to market is another day we harm our planet and another day lost in creating green businesses and green jobs," Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO David Kappos said. "Applications in this pilot program will see a significant savings in pendency, which will help bring green innovations to market more quickly."

This program is available to both pending applications and future applications; however, the USPTO will only accept the first 3000 petitions for current pending applications. Therefore, if you own a green technology-based business, it is important to review your patent portfolio immediately to determine if one or more of your patent applications meets this criteria. For future applications, they must be filed by December 8, 2010 in order to take advantage of this pilot program.

Additional requirements include:

1. The application must be a non-reissue, non-provisional utility application or an international applicaiton that has entered the national stage,
2. The application must be classified in one of the green technologies considered acceptable by the USPTO,
3. The application must contain 3 or fewer independent claims and twenty or fewer total claims,
4. The claims must be directed to a single invention,
5. The petition must be electronically filed,
6. The petition must be filed before the first office action on the merits is issued, and
7. The petition must be accompanied by a request for early publication and a fee of $300.

This step by the USPTO represents a significant change in approach to examining patents in key areas of important innovation. Recently, the USPTO opened up the Patent Prosecution Highway for patent applications filed in the US and other countries, in order to expedite corresponding applications. The USPTO also allows a patent applicant to expedite an application under certain circumstances, which include the filing of an examination support document (ESD). Applicants do not need to file an ESD under the Green Technology Pilot Program.

This pilot program may be extended beyond December 2010, but at this point, the program is designated to end in one year. Therefore, it is important to take advantage of this opportunity as quickly as possible, especially if you already have a pending green-technology patent application.