A defect in Patentcenter — Examiner lookups don’t work like they do in PAIR

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(Update in December of 2023:  the developers have made changes to the Examiner lookup in Patent Center that fix some, but not all, of the defects that we reported to the USPTO in 2020.  See parenthetical updates below.)

One of the core design principles for Patentcenter, USPTO has said from the beginning, is that each feature of PAIR and each feature of EFS-Web will be replicated in Patentcenter.   The idea is that once the USPTO manages to replicate each and every feature of PAIR and EFS-Web into Patentcenter, and manages to get all of the programming mistakes fixed, and manages to get it to scale well under load, then USPTO will shut down PAIR and EFS-Web.  This blog article describes yet another defect, this time the Examiner lookup feature for an application in your workbench. Continue reading “A defect in Patentcenter — Examiner lookups don’t work like they do in PAIR”

Poorly designed “outgoing correspondence” default setting in Patentcenter

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(This is Patentcenter trouble ticket CP31.)

The designers of Patentcenter got it seriously wrong when they picked the default setting for the display of “Outgoing Correspondence”.  The result for practitioners who until now have been accustomed to the default setting in EFS-Web is that the “Outgoing Correspondence” feature of Patentcenter is a trap for the unwary. Continue reading “Poorly designed “outgoing correspondence” default setting in Patentcenter”

Patentcenter fails to complain promptly about lack of document description

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(This is trouble ticket CP28.)

When you upload a document in Patentcenter as part of an e-filing task, sometimes Patentcenter will make a guess as to the document description that makes sense.  Other times, Patentcenter will quietly offer a hint that maybe you should provide a document description.  That hint is communicated by a text-free rectangle as shown at right.  At this point you are on the “upload documents” page of Patentcenter.  Suppose you click “continue”?  What will happen next?

Of course what should happen next is that the “continue” button should be grayed out.  It should not even be possible to click “continue”.   Patentcenter should politely decline to move on to the next page. 

Or, if the designers failed to gray out the “continue” button, then what should happen next is that Patentcenter should put a big red border around this “hint” rectangle, and provide some words on the screen to communicate that a document description is going to be required before Patentcenter will allow you to move on to the next page.

But the designers of Patentcenter got this one wrong.  What happens next is that the “continue” button just works the way it always does.  Patentcenter moves on to the next page, which is the first of two “calculate fees” pages.  Suppose you click “continue”?  What will happen next?  What happens next is that Patentcenter moves on to the second of two “calculate fees” pages.  (Why is the “calculate fees” function spread out over two separate screens?  The developers have argued that this is somehow a feature, not a bug.  The developers say that this somehow saves time and trouble for filers.  For me, since many of my e-filing tasks do not involve paying money, all this does is frequently waste my valuable time as I sit through through two screen-loads and mouse-clicks and hourglasses.)  

Suppose you click “continue”?  What will happen next?  What happens next is that Patentcenter moves on to the next page, which is the “submit” page.  Note that nowhere on this “submit” page is there any warning that anything is amiss about a document description. 

Note that in any competent user interface design, the “submit” button should be grayed out right now, given that the document description is missing.  But the “submit” button is not grayed out.

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Suppose you click “submit”?  What will happen next?  Yes, three screens too late, Patentcenter finally gets around to mentioning that it feels you need to provide a document description for the uploaded PDF file.  You can see this tardy error message quoted at right.

It is easy to see what the developers of Patentcenter need to do to fix this.  Patentcenter needs to gripe promptly, right there on the “upload documents” page, and the “continue” button on that “upload documents” page should be grayed out until such time as the needed document description is provided.

What’s particularly sad about this is that I first reported this defect in Patentcenter (saving up a real or imagined defect regarding an uploaded document and springing it on the filer only three screens later when he or she tries to click “submit”) in my role as an alpha tester in January of 2019.  I reported it in Ideascale, that place where suggestions and trouble reports go if they wish to be ignored.  In other words, USPTO has known about this defect in Patentcenter for more than a year now and has not fixed it.

Patentcenter converts perfectly good PDF into blank piece of paper

(This is trouble ticket CP27.)

When we e-file a document in EFS-Web or in Patentcenter, our habit is go to later into Private PAIR or Patentcenter to look in IFW to see what is actually there.  The goal is to compare what is actually there with what we think we e-filed.  In an ideal world “going later to look in IFW” would not even be needed because the USPTO systems would always faithfully store exactly what we uploaded.  But regrettably often, what is in IFW diverges from what we uploaded.  The divergences if you use EFS-Web are familiar and frequent users of EFS-Web usually know what to expect, for example any image containing color or gray scale will get ruined by USPTO’s ill-conceived halftoning.

But if the user is using Patentcenter for the e-filing, there are scary ways that IFW can diverge from what the filer uploaded.  One way is that entire documents are often missing.  In one of our new applications that we e-filed yesterday in Patentcenter, what should have appeared in IFW were eighteen documents.  Instead, shortly after filing, only four documents appeared in IFW.  Even now, some twelve hours later, fourteen documents are missing from IFW.  

And of course Patentcenter does not have “last 40 ack receipts” like EFS-Web, so there is no way for the filer who used Patentcenter to prove that the filer really e-filed fourteen documents, unless the filer was so paranoid as to download and preserve the Patentcenter ack receipts at the time of filing.  In this particular case I am not very worried because among the missing fourteen documents was a fee payment, and the fees do show up in the “fees” tab as having been paid.  

But what is very scary is Patentcenter converting a perfectly good PDF file into a blank sheet of paper.

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In this case what I uploaded was a PDF file that was one page in length.  The PDF had dimensions of 8.26 by 10.59 inches as may be seen at right.  (The way this PDF came into existence is that a human being scanned a physical paper document on a Brother MFC printer-scanner into an emailed PDF file.)  When I uploaded it into Patentcenter, the validation message was “the page size is too large … the page should be 8½ by 11 or A4 … the page will be resized”.  I did not mind at all if Patentcenter were to resize the page.  This would simply mean enlarging it by about three percent, or maybe tacking on a few pixels around the edges to pad it out to 8½ by 11.  No problem.  So I clicked “submit” in Patentcenter.  

Here is the scary part.  What you now see in IFW is a blank page.  Perfectly blank.  

I did some image analysis on the blank-page PDF that Patentcenter stuffed into IFW instead of my normal-looking scanned PDF that had lots of ink on the page.  The blank-page PDF is one bit per pixel, which is perfectly normal for IFW.  And the PDF metadata say that its dimensions are 8½ by 11 which is normal for IFW.  But the pixel count is 2482 by 3179, which is not at all normal.  At 300 dots per inch, an 8½ by 11 inch page should be 2550 by 3300 pixels.  

Yes, the alert reader will realize that the pixel count of 2482 by 3179 is a telltale.  At 300 dots per inch, this pixel count translates to … wait for it … 8.27 by 10.59 inches.  Yes, Patentcenter “resized” the PDF but only by tampering with meta-data, not by actually resizing the document.

In my case, yes I saw that this mistake in the design of Patentcenter had led to a perfectly good PDF getting converted to a blank page.  So I went back to the original PDF and printed it to CutePDF, using the “fit to page” option to resize it to 8½ by 11.  I then e-filed the resulting PDF file in Patentcenter and it now appears in IFW and it looks perfectly normal, with ink on the page.

But the filer who simply trusts that Patentcenter will faithfully load each PDF file accurately into IFW could get burned by this sort of flaw in Patentcenter.  There is unfortunately no substitute for going and looking in IFW each time you e-file something in Patentcenter, just to see whether something got changed to a blank page.  Or to see whether fourteen out of eighteen pages got lost.

Today is the day for Mexico and the Hague system

Yes, today is the big day for Mexico and the Hague system.  In my blog article of March 6, 2020 I told you this was imminent.  And now is the day — design filers in Mexico can file international design applications using the Hague system.  And design filers in many countries around the world can designate Mexico in their international design applications.  You can see the announcement on the WIPO web site here.

Mexico joined the Patent Cooperation Treaty on January 1, 1995 and joined the Madrid Protocol on February 19, 2013.  Thus, with today’s participation Mexico achieves the trifecta of participation in all three international e-filing systems (patents, trademarks, and designs). 

All USPTO systems are broken

(Updated to include link to USPTO’s 411 page.)

It seems that all USPTO systems are broken.

Members of the EFS-Web listserv, the Patentcenter listserv, and the e-Trademarks listserv (each of which you should join if you have not done so already) are reporting that all USPTO systems are broken just now.  

Here is the link to USPTO’s 411 page:  https://www.uspto.gov/blog/system411/ .  Right now it says:

USPTO is experiencing an enterprise wide issue. Users are reporting being unable to connect to the USPTO network and receiving the error “revocation status of the smartcard could not be determined”. Support groups are troubleshooting this situation, but other impacts include share drive mapping issues, SharePoint access issues, and other applications may have impacts as a result of this situation. Users are advised not to contact the Service Desk at this time. Due to the High Call Volume that the OCIO Service Desk is experiencing, there are reports of some users receiving busy signals when calling.