May 032010
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The USPTO has fast-tracked only one third of requests made to its Green Technology Pilot Program

It’s been a slow start for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s (USPTO) pilot program to fast-track the evaluation of patent applications for so-called green technology, with the agency approving about one third of the requests it has received. Only 316 of the 925 applications filed under the agency’s Green Technology Pilot Program launched in December have qualified to jump to the front of the patent-examination line. This has led to mixed reviews from tech companies and even the patent office itself.

The program’s acceptance rate is “less than I would have expected,” says Bob Stoll, the agency’s commissioner for patents. Forty-one requests have been denied outright whereas another 488 requests have been dismissed (80 are still awaiting a decision). Applicants have been “aggressive” in their hopes of taking advantage of the patent-evaluation fast-track program without necessarily meeting the program’s requirements, he adds.

The USPTO defined these requirements in the December 8, 2009, Federal Register [pdf], in which the agency stated it is looking for inventions that fit into a number of broad buckets—addressing environmental quality, energy conservation, development of renewable energy and greenhouse gas emission reduction.

In addition to these broad categories, the Register lists 79 very specific classifications for the program, stating: “In order to be eligible for the Green Technology Pilot Program, the application must be classified in one of the U.S. patent classifications (“USPCs”) listed below at the time of examination.” These classifications cover a large swath of technologies designed to help wean the U.S. off its dependence on fossil fuels for energy, including biofuel, fuel cells and solar cells. Stoll acknowledges, however, that if the office is approving only one-third of applications, “maybe we need to eliminate the class and subclass designations to open up the definition for green tech.”

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