Back in the early days of EFS-Web and Private PAIR, I could e-file a new patent application and within just a few minutes, I could look in IFW (Image File Wrapper) and see what the USPTO had received. If there had been some problem, say an illegible drawing, then this would permit doing a corrective filing the same day.
And in those early days, if I were to e-file a follow-on document (for example a response to an office action), the newly filed document would be visible immediately in IFW.
All of this was consistent with USPTO’s stated performance standard for IFW which was (and is) that a newly e-filed document should be visible in IFW no later than one hour from when it was e-filed.
But not nowadays. Very often, USPTO comes nowhere close to meeting its own stated performance standard. I will describe some typical examples of performance failures for IFW.
A first example of a performance failure comes when I file a new patent application. If I file the new patent application on a Friday afternoon, it is commonplace for the newly filed patent application to be missing from Private PAIR until the following Monday. And even then it is only visible after I have gone to the trouble to contact the EBC (Electronic Business Center) to ask why the application is not visible in PAIR.
A second related failure mode for a newly filed patent application is that maybe the application will be somewhat visible in PAIR, but there is no IFW tab for that application. And again what often happens (if I have filed the application on a Friday) is that the IFW tab only becomes visible on the following Monday, and then only after I ask the EBC to look into the matter.
A third failure mode relates to follow-on filings. For example it is commonplace that I will pay an Issue Fee and the issue fee payment documents are not visible in IFW until twelve or fifteen hours later. Or I will file an IDS and the IDS will not be visible in IFW until the next day.
This performance failure for IFW harms filers in at least two different ways.
One way that this performance failure harms filers is that it denies the filer the opportunity to review what USPTO received and to file a same-day corrective filing if needed.
A second way that this performance failure harms filers is that it makes it impossible for us to give a full and timely same-day report to a client or foreign patent firm as to what exactly the USPTO received. Instead we are forced to break up the report into at least two distinct emails — a first email that simply says “we did something, details to follow” and a second email that is at least a day later, that provides a copy of what the USPTO actually received.
I estimate that the internal cost to our firm to set and clear a docket is around $50. Every time the USPTO’s IFW system fails like this, we are are forced to set a docket to check for the newly filed document eventually becoming visible in IFW. Only when the document is visible in IFW can we clear that docket. So each of these IFW failures forces our firm to incur a non-negligible internal cost relating to docketing.
It’s also a bit disappointing how the EBC handles reports of failure of the IFW system. Even though the published service standard is that the newly filed document should be visible in IFW within one hour, EBC refuses to help until after four hours have passed. Here is a quotation from a recent email from the EBC:
We must allow a time period of four hours to pass from the time of submission for the Image File Wrapper to be generated for the submitted documents. If after this time period has passed the documents still do not appear in the Image File Wrapper, please contact us at the Electronic Business Center and we will escalate the issue.
What this means, on a practical level, is that if I file something after 8PM Eastern (6PM Mountain) on a Friday, the four hours will not run out until past midnight, and the EBC shuts down at midnight. And remains shut down all day Saturday and all day Sunday and several hours on Monday morning. When IFW fails on a Friday evening (as it does quite often) then I am stuck waiting until Monday to get someone at the EBC to try to help.
There’s a similar problem if I file something after 6PM on a Monday through Thursday. Again when IFW fails the EBC will refuse to help on that same day. And I am stuck waiting until the next day to try to get help from the EBC.
USPTO needs to repair IFW so that newly e-filed documents will consistently be visible promptly in IFW. And between now and when USPTO repairs IFW, USPTO needs to direct the EBC to take trouble reports after a delay of an hour, rather than putting off the customer for four hours (which in many cases puts off the customer until the next day or even the next Monday).
How bad are the worst IFW delays that you have encountered? Please post a comment with your experience.