An encouraging step with Patentcenter

Readers will recall my recent sense of discouragement with USPTO’s handling of its Patentcenter rollout.  But yesterday there was an encouraging event.   I think there is some reason for guarded optimism that USPTO may do better going forward in its handling of its Patentcenter rollout.

The executive summary is that yesterday, some USPTO people met with some members of the Patentcenter listserv, and discussed some of the bug reports and feature requests for Patentcenter.  I have updated the trouble ticket list and the feature request list to show the results of the meeting.  There is even a chance, I think, that going forward USPTO people will be be responsive to more of the outstanding bug reports and feature requests.

Here are details.

To illustrate how encouraging yesterday’s event was, I need to provide some background.

On April 20, 2020, the USPTO released Patentcenter for everybody to participate in beta testing.  But there were bugs and design defects that had been reported to the USPTO by alpha testers in autumn of 2018 that USPTO had not yet fixed!  See for example this page which listed bugs which I had reported in September of 2018 as an alpha tester, many of which had still not been fixed by April of 2020.

And unfortunately as of April 20, 2020 USPTO’s official position was that there were only three permitted ways for users to report problems with Patentcenter:

  • Ideascale
  • Reporting problems to the EBC (Electronic Business Center)
  • sending emails to eMod@uspto.gov

The reality was that from September of 2018 to the present, none of these three mechanisms really worked, or at least not very well.

As for Ideascale, that had come to be understood by its users as “the place where good ideas go to die”.  (Blog article.)  USPTO’s failure to take meaningful action on the bug reports and feature requests that alpha testers had submitted to Ideascale during the year and a half of alpha testing had gotten so embarrassing, I think, that this was probably the explanation for USPTO’s decision to “disappear” that entire section of the Ideascale postings.  I had to do a FOIA request just to get the USPTO to give me back a copy of all of my postings to Ideascale as an alpha tester of Patentcenter.

As for reporting problems to the EBC, this also did not work.  The people who work at the EBC are very nice, and they are very well intentioned, and they open trouble tickets for Patentcenter whenever anybody asks them to.  But once the trouble tickets get opened, that is the end of it.  No user ever hears back from the USPTO about any trouble ticket that got opened by the EBC.  Our listserv members have EBC trouble tickets going back six months or even eighteen months for which bugs were reported in Patentcenter, and the bugs have not been fixed, and we have never heard back from the USPTO about the trouble tickets.

It’s the same or worse for emails to eMod@uspto.gov.

By May 9, 2020 the Patentcenter listserv trouble ticket list had grown to some twenty-two items.  I had made a number of informal pleas to various people within the USPTO to see whether it might be possible to get some sort of official USPTO cooperation with the Patentcenter listserv, to no avail.  So I contacted Drew Hirshfeld, the Commissioner for Patents, asking for help.  I asked if he could please ask his Patentcenter people to open some communications with the Patentcenter listserv.

The eventual result was yesterday’s meeting (which took place by means of videoconference).  In attendance from the USPTO were:

  • Greg Vidovich, Associate Commissioner for Office of Patent Information Management
  • Tyeshia McIntyre-Bray, Director, Office of Patent Automation
  • Huong Esposo, IT Project Manager
  • Jeffrey Wong, IT Project Manager
  • Rich Fernandez, IT Project Manager

In attendance from the Patentcenter listserv were:

  • Ronni Jillions
  • Katherine Koenig
  • Rick Neifeld
  • Carl Oppedahl 
  • Dai Phipps
  • Richard Schafer
  • Suzannah Sundby

From the point of view of the Patentcenter listserv, one of our goals  was to do some screen-sharing so that we could help the USPTO people appreciate some of the bugs and some of the feature requests.  We had selected more or less at random three of the thirty or so outstanding bugs (see list) as of yesterday, and we had selected three of the nineteen or so outstanding feature requests (see list) as of yesterday.  The presenters were Richard and Katherine and me.

USPTO had made 30 minutes available, eventually extended to 35 minutes.  We were able to get through all but one of our topics.

Here’s a summary of topics that got presented, and feedback that happened.

Bug report 1.  EPO and other regional patent offices missing from Patentcenter’s web-based ADS (bug number CP9).  We are told this will get fixed in a mid-July update to Patentcenter.

Bug report 2.  If a document gets uploaded and no document description indicated, Patentcenter fails to say anything about this until three screens later when the user clicks the “submit” button (bug number CP28).  I had reported this as an EBC trouble ticket number 1618708586 in September of 2018 as an alpha tester.  I was gobsmacked to learn during our meeting that USPTO considers this to be a feature, not a bug.  Of course this being so, what should have happened is that somebody should have gotten back to me on the EBC trouble ticket to tell me this.  I should not have to contact the Commissioner for Patents and demand a meeting with high-up USPTO people to get an update on an EBC trouble ticket from September of 2018.  But anyway, that turns out to be the answer.  We are told USPTO is going to provide some sort of warning on the upload screen so that users are told right away that they will eventually have no choice but to provide a document description.

Bug report 3.  It is impossible to e-file any document in any application having a series code of “35”.  This is bug number CP22.  It was nice to see that within a few minutes after our meeting had finished yesterday, USPTO had updated its “known issues” page to acknowledge this as a known issue.  USPTO says that a future release of Patentcenter will fix this.

Feature request 1.  This was actually feature requests FR3, FR10, FR11, and FR12.  

Feature request 2.  This is feature requests FR1, FR2, and FR17.  I think we received at least an informal commitment that these features are now on an implementation list at the USPTO.

Of course this leaves dozens of bug reports outstanding and over a dozen feature requests outstanding.  And nothing in yesterday’s meeting directly addressed the problem that USPTO’s three legacy problem-reporting paths (Ideascale, EBC, emails to eMod) have not come anywhere close to serving users’ needs.  

The overall goal of course is to help the USPTO to make Patentcenter into a world-class system.  Yesterday’s meeting helped a little.  It was left that we would provide to Mr. Vidovich by email a list of outstanding issues.  With a bit of luck, hopefully some formal ongoing communications mechanism can get set up between some of the Patentcenter people and the listserv.  Or, failing that, maybe at least some sporadic or informal communication can take place that will help at least a little.

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