The quickest patent issued in 2008: U.S. Patent No. 7,408,364 is assigned to Advanced Sensor Technologies, Inc. (King of Prussia, PA). When ASTi filed its application on a sensor for measuring moisture and salinity in May 2008, it included an accelerated examination petition, a statement of pre-examination search, and a set of examination support documents. Three weeks later, the PTO granted ASTi's petition for accelerated examination. On June 19, the Examiner began his examination, and issued a notice of allowance for the single claim on June 20. The patent issued on August 5, 2008 – 76 days after the application was originally filed. ASTi has filed multiple continuations – at least one of which has already issued. The patent was prosecuted by longtime patent attorney Mike Catania. The median pendency for the art unit (2831) during the past year was 2.2 years – more than ten-times longer than it took ASTi to get its patent. The median pendency for the primary examiner handling the case during the same period was 2.7 years.
ASTi’s examination support documents include a discussion of nine prior art references. Catania steps through each of the cited references and explains what claim elements are missing from the references. This discussion very much parallels what an attorney would have written in an office action response. The document also discusses nonobviousness and asserts that a prima facie case of obviousness cannot be made because several claim elements are not found in any of the cited prior art references. The document then goes through each claim element and points to particular disclosure in the specification that describes and/or enables the element.
Inequitable Conduct & Cost: The two knocks against the accelerated examination system are the potential for inequitable conduct and the cost of the procedure. I have heard patent attorneys say they would never use the process because of the inherent risk. Part of the vehement reaction is historic. Before the accelerated examination process was created in August 2006, it was much easier for an applicant to put an application on the accelerated examination track through the process then known only as a petition to make special.
Inequitable conduct fears are related to potential charges of failure to conduct a proper search or misrepresentation of the prior art. Both of those are legitimate. Here, however, Catania explained the exact search terms used and the databases searched. This organized and transparent approach coupled with a competent search is unlikely to create inequitable conduct. Regarding discussion of the prior art, Catania's write-up looks like a response to an office action. Almost every case includes at least one response to an obviousness rejection. Most cases include multiple such responses. It is difficult to tell how this strategy is more problematic than the standard approach. In fact, by providing the opening volley, Catania seems to have set the stage in a way that reduced further need to respond. The cost is certainly more because it requires a well done prior art search, search report and a discussion of the references in relation to the claims. The search & report should run under $1,000 and the discussion should be about the same cost as responding to a well reasoned office action. Although, the attorney will not need to step through the sometimes painful process of amending claims. Almost certainly, prosecution of this case was cheaper than the typical case that is allowed after an RCE and amendment. Of course, the process has a learning curve [Mike - can you tell us how much did this cost here, and who did the search?].
What's the Benefit: The greatest benefit of accelerated examination practice is that the patent issues much more quickly. For some clients early issuance is strategically important. From anecdotal evidence - such as this case - it appears that the PTO is more willing to immediately allow cases rather than going through the rejection churn. I believe that the PTO is assigning accelerated examination cases to primary examiners who are already more likely to allow cases quickly, without amendment, and without the notice of allowance being withdrawn because of a second-pair-of-eyes review.
For some firms, there may also be a benefit of getting the work done and paid for up front when the client is excited about the technology and the inventor still works at the company - rather than three years later when the traditional response to an office action would be done.
File Attachment: Petition and Support Documents (1730 KB) (downloaded from PAIR)