Every beta tester of Patentcenter has run into instances where you click to pay money, and Patentcenter crashes, or pops over to the screen that you use for logging in at Patentcenter (the implication being that somehow you got logged out from Patentcenter during the split second after you clicked the button to pay the money). You then click around in Patentcenter and in Private PAIR and in Financial Manager, hoping to arrive at some clear sense of whether or not the payment actually succeeded. Nope. Nowhere in any USPTO system is there anything that you could ever use as proof that you paid the money. And of course Patentcenter still fails to provide “last 40 ack receipts” even though the alpha testers of Patentcenter griped about the lack of “last 40 ack receipts” back in autumn of 2018.
Just now this happened to me yet again, maybe the tenth time in two weeks. Just now I clicked to pay money, and instead of displaying an ack receipt for the money, Patentcenter popped over to the screen where I am invited to log in at Patentcenter. Of course that’s what I did. I logged back in at Patentcenter. At which point I looked in all of the usual places hoping to find some way to know what the chances are that the USPTO would later play dumb and say I never clicked to pay, the other risk being that eventually I might pay again and then have the USPTO say “aha you paid twice” and then I would have to file a refund request, and set a docket to see if the USPTO ever got around to refunding the duplicate payment, and so on. Nope. Nothing in Private PAIR, nothing in FM, nothing in Patentcenter itself could be found that would amount to the USPTO taking a position one way or the other as to whether I had or had not successfully paid the money.
Oh and of course this was one of those instances where the documents that I had e-filed were nowhere to be seen in IFW.
With a a couple of clicks of the browser “back” button in Patentcenter, I eventually once again reached a page that invited me to select a payment mechanism, although the amount of money that the page was going to have me pay was “zero”.
With a couple more clicks of the browser “back” button in Patentcenter, I reached a screen that invited me to pay money, and then proceeding forward in the click path I once again had the opportunity to actually pay the fee that I had tried to pay a quarter of an hour earlier. So I selected a payment mechanism and then clicked to pay. And here’s the thing that prompted this blog article. What popped up next on my screen was a warning (quoted at the top of this blog article). The warning said:
This appears to be a duplicate payment
You already submitted a payment for the same reference number(s), fee code(s) and quantity within the past hour.
If you paid using a stored payment method, you can access Financial Manager to confirm the previous payment was successfully processed (note: wait at least 15 minutes). You can also confirm credit/debit card transactions via the card issuer’s website.
If you are filing another request that is different from the previous submission, select the “Yes, submit payment” button.
Are you sure you want to pay again?
Yes, submit payment No, cancel payment
So at this point I figured maybe the USPTO really did receive my money. And indeed about an hour later, after logging out of Patentcenter and logging back in I was able to look in the fee tab for this application and sure enough, the fee that I had just tried to pay was listed as having been paid.
But even after the passage of an hour, the documents that I e-filed are still missing from IFW.
Now of course what we all wish is that Patentcenter would not be so flaky about whether or not you count as being a “logged in” user. We all wish that Patentcenter would not for example pop over to the “please log in” screen in response to your clicking the “submit” button. We all wish that Patentcenter would not randomly display this very sad pink banner message when you click to move from one page to the next:
The system is temporarily unable to process your request. Please try again later. If you have questions, please contact the Patent Electronic Business Center at 866-217-9197 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
But if we cannot get any of these wishes about Patentcenter to be granted, we can at least be glad that some hidden-away bit of software inside of Patentcenter is looking at some kind of payment log to see whether the fee that we are just now getting ready to pay happens to match the application number and fee code and quantity of a payment that we already made within the past hour. This little snippet of code should not actually be needed, because Patentcenter should not be crashing all the time and “forgetting” that you are a logged-in user and randomly being “temporarily unable to process your request”. But just now this snippet of code saved me from paying a fee twice, which is nice.
I guess the metaphor for this would be if a company that makes tennis shoes had found that its shoes have the unfortunate habit of catching fire at random times as you walk around while wearing the shoes. Common sense tells you the company really ought to figure out why the shoes keep catching fire and make it so that this does not happen nearly so often. But if the company provides an extremely effective pocket-sized fire extinguisher with each pair of shoes at no extra charge, at least maybe you can use it to put out the fire before it spreads to your trousers.
Thank you, Patentcenter developers, for providing the fire extinguisher!
Now having spent who knows how much money designing and implementing the fire extinguisher, please don’t lose sight of the need to figure out how and why Patentcenter keeps crashing all the time and “forgetting” that I am a logged-in user and randomly being “temporarily unable to process my request”. Please fix those things as well.
We have been reporting this problem since at least as long ago as August 1, 2020. See bug report CP35. which we copied over as Ideascale idea number 599. See my August 1, 2020 blog article about this. More than two months have passed with not a word back from anyone at the USPTO about this.
But yes, thank you for designing and implementing the fire extinguisher.