Intellectual Property:

Enhancements Needed in Computing and Reporting Patent Examination Statistics

RCED-96-190: Published: Jul 15, 1996. Publicly Released: Jul 23, 1996.

Additional Materials:


James E. Wells, Jr
(202) 512-6877


Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Patent and Trademark Office's (PTO) operations, focusing on: (1) patent pendency; (2) PTO allocation of resources among its patent and trademark processes, dissemination of information, and executive direction and administration; and (3) a comparison of PTO workload and examination processes with those of other industrialized nations.

GAO found that: (1) PTO computation and reporting of patent pendency is inadequate; (2) PTO does not provide separate statistics on patents issued, abandoned applications, or applications still in process in its pendency calculations; (3) PTO does not report variations in pendency among individual applications or measure pendency from the original filing date in accordance with patent law; (4) PTO does not determine how much of pendency is due to the patent examination process or applicant delays; (5) applicant delays may constitute as much as 36 percent of the average pendency period; (6) PTO has consistently committed most of its resources to its patent process, which in fiscal year (FY) 1995 constituted three-quarters of its funds and staff; (7) funding and staffing for the trademark process, executive direction and administration, and information dissemination also increased from FY 1986 through FY 1995; (8) during the same period, the PTO patent workload increased significantly while average pendency decreased by about 2.9 months; (9) it is difficult to compare the PTO patent examination process and pendency with those of Japan and Europe, which are the other two primary patent-granting entities; (10) Japan and Europe require an additional request for examination before starting the examination process, which may delay examination for months or years after an applicant's initial filing; and (11) Japan and Europe include applications in-process in their pendency computations.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: PTO now reports patent pendency statistics separately for issued patents, abandoned applications, and applications still under examination. PTO also reports the pendency of applications from original filing date and from the most recent filing date. However, because PTO has reorganized its group structure to industry sectors, it reports patent pendency by industry rather than by examination group. PTO now reports cycle time (the amount of time PTO actually spends on the examination) by industry sector.

    Recommendation: To improve the information on patent pendency for use by applicants, PTO, and decisionmakers, the Secretary of Commerce should direct the Assistant Secretary of Commence and Commissioner of Patents and Trademarks to compute and report patent pendency statistics that will separately identify issued patents, abandoned applications, and applications still under examination. These statistics should: (1) be further divided by examination group; (2) allow for comparisons of pendency using both the original and most recent application filing dates; and (3) separate the examination time attributable to both PTO and the applicant.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce


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