Despite statistics on the USPTO’s Patents Dashboard indicating that the average time from a Request for Continued Examination (RCE) to the next Office Action is 3.8 months, I continue to experience much more significant delays of 9-12 months or longer. When I telephone examiners to check on the status of my applicaitons, they are sympathetic but note that they have a long “special new” docket and are focusing on even older applications under the USPTO’s COPA (Clearing Oldest Patent Applications) program. For a few extreme cases I have used the USPTO Ombudsman program to see if the Ombudsmen have any ideas.
The USPTO recently launched an “Ombudsman Program” to give applicants an alternative mechanism for addressing problems encountered during prosecution when the normal channels (such as discussions with the examiner and supervisor) have not been helpful. I recently had an opportunity to use this program, and am pleased to report that it was a success.
To use the program, the applicant’s representative fills out a simple form on the Ombudsman page of the USPTO website. The form asks you to indicate the Technology Center where you need assistance and provide your name, email address, telephone number, and best time to be reached. The USPTO promises that "[w]ithin one business day, you will receive a phone call from the TC Ombudsman representative who will ask for further details regarding the problem for which you are requesting assistance."
I was faced with a situation where I thought an objective USPTO representative might be helpful, so I decided to give the Ombudsman Program a try. I provided the required information and, as promised, received a call back the next business day. The TC Ombudsman representative was polite, professional, and agreed to look into the situation. He called me again promptly after his investigation, and reported that he was able to reach a resolution with the relevant Supervisory Patent Examiner. A few days later, the promised action was taken.
The USPTO has indicated that it will review issues raised in the Ombudsman Program, and "look for trends within the examination process that may indicate additional training needs." Thus, the program promises to improve patent examination quality not only for applicants who call on an Ombudsman, but also for applicants across the board. Director Kappos should be applauded for rolling out this creative solution, and for providing applicants with a direct line to obtain assistance with patent prosecution issues.