Yet another oddity in USPTO’s handling of a DOCX patent application file … this DOCX file is now displayed in “Display References”. Not only that, it is displayed in two different places in “Display References”. Continue reading
USPTO has made it plain that it really wants filers to file their US patent applications in Microsoft Word format, not as PDFs. (USPTO expresses this wish by saying it wants patent applications to be filed in “DOCX” format, but of course there is no single “DOCX” format, there are many variants of DOCX and the only variant that USPTO handles correctly is the variant that Microsoft Word generates.) There are many drawbacks to the way that the USPTO has implemented its handling of patent applications filed in a DOCX format, and one of them is that this can result in a long delay in the visibility of the newly filed patent application in IFW. It is yet another reason to simply file in PDF format. Continue reading
A colleague today noted that by now more than a month has passed since the last time I griped about USPTO’s DOCX activities in this blog. He wondered if perhaps my silence was an indication that I feel the USPTO people have somehow addressed my concerns about the DOCX situation.
Just so that there is no risk of any misunderstanding about this, no, it is not the case that anything that anyone at the USPTO has done has alleviated in any way my concerns about USPTO’s DOCX plans. Continue reading
Today I am working on getting ready to file a PCT patent application and I am filing it in DOCX and it reminds me how wrong-headed USPTO’s approach is. Folks, if you have not filed DOCX at the RO/IB, I invite you to try it so that you can see that there is a correct way to do DOCX. It’s just that the USPTO does not do it that way. Continue reading
What should the the USPTO do so that patent applicants and practitioners will be less reluctant to try filing with DOCX files?
The problem of course is that the e-filing regime which USPTO presently imposes is that when the filer uploads a DOCX file, the USPTO e-filing system (EFS-Web or Patentcenter) then renders the DOCX file into a PDF using USPTO’s own proprietary rendering engine. The e-filing system then displays the PDF and presents an adhesion contract for a click-wrap signature by the filer. The filer is required to irrevocably agree that whatever appears in the PDF as rendered by the USPTO will control for all later purposes.
This e-filing regime is often played out at a time of day that is only a few hours or even just a few minutes prior to midnight on the day that the filer absolutely must get the patent application filed. Under such circumstances it is wholly unacceptable for USPTO to require that the filer proofread the entire PDF from the top to the bottom to see whether the USPTO’s proprietary rendering engine might have rendered something incorrectly.
This e-filing regime presents an unacceptable malpractice risk for the patent practitioner.
This e-filing regime puts the patent practitioner in an untenable position regarding inventor workflow. The inventor is asked to review a draft patent application and to sign an inventor’s oath or declaration based upon that draft patent application. The document reviewed by the inventor might be a word processor file in a format that is commonly understood by the inventor and the practitioner. Alternatively the document reviewed by the inventor might be a PDF file that was rendered by the practitioner. But later, at e-filing time, the practitioner uploads a DOCX file and the USPTO uses its proprietary rendering engine to render the DOCX file into a PDF file. And it is this PDF file which is the subject of the click-wrap adhesion contract. It is this PDF file, which almost certainly is non-identical to the PDF or word processor rendering that was reviewed by the inventor, that USPTO intends will control.
What is untenable is that the practitioner is in the position of filing at the USPTO an inventor declaration that refers to a document or rendering that is known to be non-identical to the patent application actually being filed with that inventor declaration.
Everybody agrees that of course there are goals common to the applicant and to the patent office that are advanced whenever characters are provided rather than mere images.
For many years now, the patent community has suggested several ways to the USPTO by which the USPTO could greatly reduce or even eliminate these profound problems and risks from the existing DOCX e-filing regime. What is regrettable is that USPTO has ignored them all. For example many years ago the patent community pointed out to the USPTO the solution that had been arrived at in the PCT community, namely the filing of a “document in pre-conversion format”. You can read about this in Section 706 of the Administrative Instructions. This approach of course has the profound drawback of being “not invented here” from USPTO’s point of view.
The patent community has also pointed out that most patent applicants have for years been e-filing patent applications as PDF files that do contain characters. USPTO regrettably flattens such PDFs into pure-image TIF files when loading those PDFs into its IFW system. USPTO actively discards those characters. USPTO could get 80% of the way toward its character-capture goal simply by not discarding those characters.
As I say, these two approaches, the “pre-conversion format” approach and the “don’t discard the characters in the PDF” approach, have fallen on deaf ears at the USPTO. So today’s blog article offers yet another suggestion how USPTO could largely eliminate the risks and problems with USPTO’s DOCX e-filing regime.
The chief concern is the mistaken impression that there is some single unambiguous way that everyone in the world renders DOCX into human-viewable images, for example as PDF files. This mistaken impression is communicated by the oxymoron phrase “DOCX standard”. There is no “DOCX standard”. (The USPTO disingenuously and falsely refers to a “DOCX standard” but there is no such thing.)
This lack of any single unambiguous way that everyone in the world renders DOCX into human-viewable images only becomes a problem if a government agency selects some particular proprietary rendering engine and sets up a filing regime in which the rendering takes place at e-filing time and in which the user is required to agree at e-filing time to an adhesion contract that the images rendered by that proprietary engine control for later purposes. The combination of a rendering shortly before midnight on filing day, with an adhesion contract that the rendered images control, is absolutely unacceptable to applicants or to practitioners.
The single best way to eliminate this problem is for USPTO to publish the source code for its rendering engine. It’s as simple as that. Locate that body of source code, and with one or two mouse clicks, publish it on USPTO’s web site. That’s it. Then the problems all go away.
If for some reason the USPTO feels it cannot or will not publish that particular source code, then USPTO should scrap that rendering engine and adopt an open-source rendering engine. Such an open-source rendering engine is available for example in the Libre Office software development platform.
If the rendering engine code is public, then applicants can see for themselves exactly how particular tags and markup will be rendered and in particular can see this well in advance of filing day.
Ten years later in litigation, there would not be any opportunity for dueling experts to pretend to hold different views as to how a particular tag or markup would or would not have been rendered on filing day, because the open-source rendering engine would have been documented and date-stamped in the relevant software development platform.
So there’s the answer, presented in this open letter to the Commissioner for Patents. Publish the source code for your DOCX-to-PDF rendering engine. Do that, and I can promise you that the patent filing community will join you in moving this DOCX e-filing initiative forward.
A member of the EFS-Web listserv asks if he can hear from people who used USPTO’s XML patent application authoring and e-filing system back in 2002. Yes our firm was among the beta-testers of that system. This prompts the following blog article. Continue reading
I just received a Notice to File Corrected Application Papers telling me that the PDF claims in IFW for my newly filed patent application don’t have the right line spacing. The Notice says that I have to reprint the claims and send them in again. But get this — I filed those claims as a DOCX file — a character-based file. Would you like to make a guess who it is that converted that DOCX file into a PDF file? Yes. It was the USPTO that did the conversion to PDF. Not me. So it’s the USPTO that got the line spacing wrong. Continue reading
USPTO published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking some months ago, proposing to hit the filer with a $400 if the filer files a patent application in a format other than Microsoft Word word processor format. (USPTO says “DOCX” but realistically the only way a filer can get USPTO’s system to work accurately is to generate the word processor file with Microsoft Word, and even then, only with Microsoft Word for Windows, in a very recent version of the software.)
I published two comments (here and here) explaining some of the reasons why I feel the USPTO got it wrong on this. And I joined seventy-two other patent practitioners in signing a comment that explored in quite some detail some of the things that USPTO got wrong on this.
I imagine most of us nowadays have started at least trying to e-file in DOCX, just to try to find out how bad it is so that we can get ready for how bad it will be when USPTO starts charging the $400 penalty. And recently I realized that there is a very interesting fact pattern that I am quite confident that no one at the USPTO thought about at all when it promulgated this Rule — the fact pattern where the initial filing is in a non-English language. Continue reading
Every now and then we receive a notice like this after paying an Issue Fee. It is a Notice to File Corrected Application Papers (“NTFCAP”), and it tells us that our case will go abandoned if we fail to hand in a Substitute Specification, identical to what is already in the file except that it has to have page numbers added. Continue reading
About forty-six comments have been filed in response to USPTO’s recent notice of proposed rulemaking regarding patent fees. One of the comments is filed by “Seventy-three patent practitioners”. Here is the opening paragraph of their letter:
We write as patent practitioners to comment on a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), Setting and Adjusting Patent Fees During Fiscal Year 2020. The signatories are members of several email listserv groups, a community of patent practitioners. The signatories taken together filed about 20,000 patent applications at the PTO during the past ten years, and paid about $50 million in fees to the PTO in the past ten years.
I am honored to be among the signers of that letter.
On a quick skim, it appears that every comment to this NPRM (including the comment cited above) that touches in any way on the non-DOCX surcharge is critical of USPTO’s effort to try to force applicants to file patent applications in DOCX format through imposition of a $400 penalty for failure to do so.
In future blog articles I will try to excerpt and summarize some of the views expressed in the comments.