If only the Patentcenter developers had looked at ePCT

Back in autumn of 2018, the alpha testers of Patentcenter told the Patentcenter developers, over and over again, please go and look at ePCT to see how they do it.  Please look at the feature list for ePCT, said the alpha testers, and design your database structures so that you can implement the same features as in ePCT when the time comes.  

It is now summer of 2020.  Strikingly often, what we see is that twenty months later, a bug or missing feature that got reported to the USPTO in autumn of 2018 is still outstanding, and part of the bug report or missing feature report are words along the lines of “… and by the way a similar feature works correctly in ePCT.”

Many of the beta testers of Patentcenter who belong to the Patentcenter listserv are people who in past lives worked as computer programmers, or have degrees in computer science, or otherwise know a thing or two about how to design systems like Patentcenter.  And there are discouraging signs of places where our best guess is that USPTO implemented this part or that part of Patentcenter as a “flat file”, rather than as a relational database or a linked list that would have been able to avoid some bug or would have been able to implement some feature.  Such flat-file decisions in database design lead some of the beta testers to be rather pessimistic as to whether some limitations of Patentcenter are by now in 2020 so fundamental, so “baked in”, that it will never be possible to overcome the limitations.  Some of the beta testers feel disappointment that the Patentcenter developers manifestly declined in the early stages of Patentcenter to look at all at ePCT for any guidance or inspiration.  

If you were to skim through the feature requests listed on the Feature Request page, you would see that perhaps half of the requested features include words along the lines of “see the similar feature in ePCT” or “during alpha test we asked that this feature from ePCT be included in Patentcenter” or “this feature works in ePCT but it does not work correctly in Patentcenter” or “this feature works in ePCT and it is supposed to work in Patentcenter but it is broken in Patentcenter”.

Here are examples of what happens when someone uses ePCT for the first time:

Until about 2 years ago, I used PCT Safe/Easy and refused to use ePCT.  I reluctantly started using ePCT because eventually PCT Safe/Easy is going to be retired and no longer supported … and primarily because (1) I got tired of having to check for updates and update PCT Safe/Easy every single time I filed a PCT (which one really must do), (2) ePCT checks the priority claim (at least the date) and I think a few other things, and (3) it never gets the page number count wrong (which your page numbers will be wrong if you forget to “recalculate” when using PCT Safe/Easy).

The first time, I used ePCT, it was scary, but was super easy.

The second time, I wasn’t as scared, and it was super easy.

By the third time, I had no fears, and it was still super easy.

I’ve now prepared the PCT papers and zip file using ePCT for 20 PCT applications (19 filed the US/RO via EFS-web and one filed with the IB (my 4th time using ePCT) as the RO, when EFS-Web was broken … and have to say that using ePCT hasn’t become any easier because it was already as easy as easy can be.  That is, it can’t get any easier to use.

Also, one need not bother getting an ePCT code to then plug into the software to have the application associated with your WIPO account/workbench.

Just try it.  You’ll be glad you did.

This unsolicited testimonial came from one PCT user to another.  The person who wrote this is a very smart, and very skeptical, patent practitioner who is never shy if she thinks there is something wrong with a software product or user interface design.  In response, another PCT user wrote:

Same here.  ePCT is the way software should be done.  From the first time I used it.  (Is anyone in Alexandria paying attention? Anyone? Yoohoo?)

This comment came from another very smart patent practitioner who is never shy if he thinks there is something wrong with a software product or user interface design.  (These comments are drawn from the PCT listserv, which of course you should join if you have not already done so.)

Although it is far too late to do as much good as it could have done, it is not too late for the Patentcenter developers to look at ePCT to see how to do things right.  That’s one of the things the Patentcenter developers should do right now.

One thought on “If only the Patentcenter developers had looked at ePCT

  1. So, what is the purpose of Patent Center again?
    I’m supposed to be taking a USPTO session on its’ beta-testing/training within the coming week.
    From all of the comments I’ve seen about PatentCenter, just wondering it this will be an effort in futility.

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