USPTO seems to be of two minds about PDF layers and it wastes everybody’s time

When Adobe started to create the Acrobat PDF standard in 1992, it began as a fairly simple standard.  As the years passed, the PDF standard grew and grew, so that all manner of weird and poorly understood things could be tucked away inside a PDF file.  By now in 2021, a PDF file might contain multimedia content.  It might have a hyperlink to launch a web browser or email client or a VOIP telephone calling client.  It might be “locked” with a password to prevent editing.  It might contain metadata indicating who created or edited the PDF, or the type of software that generated the PDF.  I used to joke that Adobe had a defined datatype for embedding scents in PDF files and then was astonished to learn that this had actually been proposed some years ago in some PDF working group.  I gather that scent embedding in PDFs did not actually get implemented.

In the world of USPTO patent e-filing, the chief way that the inner workings of the PDF standard become challenging is that the programmers at the USPTO profess to be unable to handle certain kinds of “fonts”.  (In a separate blog article I will elaborate on this “font” challenge which is a completely artificial challenge that exists only because the USPTO programmers cause it to exist.)

The other way that the inner workings of the PDF standard are challenging in the world of USPTO patent e-filing is that the programmers at the USPTO (along with their colleagues who draft policy documents and their colleagues who carry out day-to-day work) cannot quite make up their minds about whether “layers” in a PDF file are a problem or not.  And that is the focus of this blog article.  This lack of clarity in the minds of USPTO people leads to wasted time for people at the USPTO and wasted time for patent practitioners and applicants, as I will describe.

Continue reading “USPTO seems to be of two minds about PDF layers and it wastes everybody’s time”

How it is going with feature requests and enhancements for Patentcenter

In a previous blog article I reviewed USPTO’s progress with fixing known bugs in Patentcenter.  In this blog article I now review USPTO’s progress in implementing feature requests and enhancements that beta users have asked USPTO to provide in Patentcenter.

By way of comparison, patent practitioners are accustomed to the responsiveness of WIPO when users suggest improvements and enhancements to the ePCT system.  It is commonplace to see user-friendly features that get added to ePCT specifically because users have asked for them.  WIPO personnel are subscribed to all of the relevant listservs and user groups for PCT users, and frequently it will be seen that a bug will get fixed or a feature will get added specifically because a WIPO person will have responded to a question or a comment in a listserv or in a discussion group.

If you have not already done so, you should join the PCT listserv and the Patentcenter listserv.

With this background, one might hope that USPTO would from time to time respond to suggestions and feature requests from user groups by implementing requested features or enhancements in Patentcenter.  It is this hope that prompted me to carry out a review recently of the Patentcenter feature request list to see what progress USPTO has made.  This blog article summarizes my findings.  Continue reading “How it is going with feature requests and enhancements for Patentcenter”

How things are going with bug fixes in USPTO’s Patentcenter

Patentcenter is still nominally in beta test, but USPTO seems to be plowing ahead with its plans to force all applicants to e-file patent applications in Microsoft Word format (the Microsoft Word dialect of DOCX) and has long ago stopped any development or feature enhancements for EFS-Web or PAIR.  USPTO has said it will shut down EFS-Web and PAIR and users will have no choice but to use Patentcenter to do the things that have in the past been done through EFS-Web and PAIR.  So what is the progress at the USPTO with fixing the known bugs in Patentcenter

There is a Patentcenter beta tester user community, tied together by the Patentcenter listserv.  (Interested persons should join that listserv.)  A committee from the listserv met last autumn with some USPTO developers and it was hoped that this might lead to some progress with fixing some of the bugs in Patentcenter.  It was also hoped that USPTO would listen to users and implement some of the enhancements and features requested by users.  

About four months ago, it was explored that the committee might meet again with USPTO people to review the bug list and to see what progress USPTO had been made with the bug list.  Some time has passed and the meeting had not yet happened.  So to save time, I have prepared this report that summarizes my best assessment of USPTO’s progress with the bug list.  Maybe some time soon the meeting will be able to take place and there will be an opportunity for further dialog.  In the mean time, this blog article reviews USPTO’s progress in this area.  (Preview:  things look grim.) 

In a subsequent blog article I will review USPTO’s progress with the list of requested feature enhancements for Patentcenter.  (Preview:  things look grim in that area as well.)

Continue reading “How things are going with bug fixes in USPTO’s Patentcenter”

Patentcenter fails to tell you what application you are filing in

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One category of recurring task in any e-filing system is what might be termed a “follow-on submission” or a “subsequently filed document”.  With such a task, you somehow indicate the application number of the application in which you wish to file your document.  Clearly one of the most important user interface goals is to help the user avoid an undesired result of inadvertently filing a document in the wrong application.   EFS-Web gets this right.  WIPO’s ePCT system gets this right.  But Patentcenter fails, as may be seen from the screen shot at right.  Continue reading “Patentcenter fails to tell you what application you are filing in”

How to overcome the login defects in Patentcenter

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It can be very difficult to log in at Patentcenter, which is the system that USPTO intends will replace Private PAIR and EFS-Web.  Given that USPTO plans to shut down both Private PAIR and EFS-Web in the near future, what follows from this is that the USPTO needs to fix the many design flaws and software bugs in Patentcenter.  Many of the flaws and bugs in Patentcenter have been outstanding since its alpha-test launch more than two years ago, and have not been fixed even after more than two years.  Today’s blog article talks about a trick that often helps with the login defects in Patentcenter. Continue reading “How to overcome the login defects in Patentcenter”

A nice new feature in Patentcenter

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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 ebc@uspto.gov.

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.

“We’re unable to reproduce this issue” say the Patentcenter developers

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Sorry folks but it’s like trench warfare in World War I to make even micro-progress with getting the Patentcenter developers to fix seemingly simple defects in Patentcenter.

Regular readers of my blog are used to the idea that often I will put an image at the top right of my blog article.  The image is intended to catch your attention and motivate you to click the “continue reading” link to read the rest of the article.  This image shows you the blank page that you might later see to your horror in IFW after you upload a perfectly good PDF file to Patentcenter.   

I’ve been engaged in what seems like trench warfare for months now to try to get the Patentcenter developers to fix this.  Today’s blog article provides an actual PDF file that anybody who wishes to, can use to reproduce this issue.  Continue reading ““We’re unable to reproduce this issue” say the Patentcenter developers”

Dozens of bugs in Patentcenter remain unattended-to

When the USPTO made Patentcenter available for alpha testing about two years ago, I was one of the alpha testers.  As an alpha tester, I reported bug after bug to the USPTO.   But I did not criticize the USPTO publicly.  I was a good alpha tester, reporting the bugs only privately to the USPTO.

This went on for a year, and then USPTO quietly shifted from alpha testing to beta testing, and it meant that more users got added to the pool of testers.  The beta testing was also a closed environment, just like the alpha testing.  I was a good beta tester, continuing to report bugs only privately to the USPTO.

I think it is possible that my firm was the most diligent and prolific alpha- and beta-tester of Patentcenter during the closed alpha and closed beta testing phases.  What makes me think this is:

  • It appears that by the end of 2019, my firm had filed fully half of all of the entries into the US national phase from a PCT application that anybody had filed in Patentcenter (blog article).
  • It appears that by April of 2020, my firm had filed at least eight percent of all of the utility patent applications that anybody had filed in Patentcenter (blog article).
  • It appears that by April of 2020, my firm had filed at least half of all of the design patent applications that anybody had filed in Patentcenter (blog article).

To the USPTO’s credit, it did fix perhaps one-third of the bugs that alpha- and beta-testers reported.  But even now, two years later, many bugs that alpha- and beta-testers have reported to the USPTO have not gotten fixed.

This would not be so bad except that a few months ago the USPTO decided to release Patentcenter for beta testing by the general public.  Anybody who wishes may now make use of Patentcenter.

And so as of that time I felt there is no need to keep bug reports private.   I set up the Patentcenter listserv, which is an email discussion group for beta testers of Patentcenter.  I set up the Patentcenter trouble ticket web site.

What is disappointing is that many Patentcenter bugs that have been reported to the USPTO since it released Patentcenter for beta testing by the public have not been fixed.  What is even more disappointing is that many Patentcenter bugs reported a year ago or even two years ago by beta- and alpha-testers have not been fixed.

Here is one example among dozens.

When you upload a PDF as part of your e-filing activity, your natural expectation about it might be:

If you upload it, and if you preview it in the e-filing system, and if it looks the way it is supposed to look, then you can safely click “submit” and it will look that way in IFW.

In ePCT, this is indeed how it works.  If it is going to get degraded when you click “submit”, then the preview will show you what the degraded file would look like.  This gives you fair warning.  You can then set to work trying to figure out what to do differently so that the file will not get degraded so badly.

In Patentcenter, this is not how it works.  A file containing gray scale might look perfectly normal to the human eye when previewed in Patentcenter.  But it will get degraded badly after you click “submit”, and it might get degraded to the point of being unreadable.

Not only that, Patentcenter might convert it into blank pages.

I am not making this up.  Blank pages.  The preview will show normal pages that are not blank.  And when you click “submit”, what will later turn up in IFW might be blank pages.

One thing that this means is that to protect yourself from malpractice liability when using Patentcenter, you have no choice but to go into IFW after you have e-filed a document, to view it and to see whether it has gotten converted into blank pages.  And to see whether it has gotten blurred or degraded, perhaps to the point of unreadability.

This is not easy to do if, as has very often happened in recent weeks, you cannot see it at all in IFW until a day or two after the day that you e-filed it.

Which brings me to my disappointment at USPTO’s failure to attend to bugs that are being reported these days by the listserv community.   Take a look at bug number CP27 .  This bug is the problem of Patentcenter converting a perfectly readable PDF file into blank pages.  This bug got reported to the USPTO on June 8, 2020.  I blogged about it on June 8, 2020.  Three weeks passed with no corrective action by the USPTO, so one of the listserv volunteers (Richard Schafer) cross-posted the bug report into Ideascale (direct link) on July 4, 2020.  Nobody from USPTO has responded in any way to this posting in Ideascale.

What prompted this blog posting today is a disappointing thing that happened yesterday when I e-filed a new patent application in Patentcenter.  This time I got lucky and I was able to see the newly filed application in IFW right away instead of having to wait several days for it to be visible in IFW.  And I was astonished to see that the USPTO had still not corrected the defect in Patentcenter that Patentcenter sometimes converts a PDF into blank pages.

Months have passed since this extremely serious bug got reported to the USPTO, and it has not been attended to even now.

As I say, in this case I got lucky.  Instead of having to wait several days for the newly filed application to be visible in IFW, I was able to see this application right away in IFW.  I clicked through the 120 or so pages of what I just e-filed, to see what damage Patentcenter had done to the various files that I had uploaded.  Yes, many files were degraded but most of the degradations were modest enough to permit the pages to continue to be human readable.  But three pages had gotten converted to blank pages.  I then located the source PDF document and printed it to CutePDF and uploaded it and e-filed it again.  This time Patentcenter did not convert it to blank pages.  Because I was able to deal with this malfunction in Patentcenter on the same day that Patentcenter malfunctioned, I did not need to worry about losing a filing date due to the malfunction in Patentcenter.

But what is so very disappointing is that USPTO has seemingly paid no attention to this extremely serious bug report, even after some three months.  

Yet more Patentcenter bugs – the e-signature block

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37 CFR § 1.4(d)(2)(i) says exactly what a virgule signature (the USPTO calls it an “S-signature”) is supposed to look like.  The Rule says that what the signer must type between the two virgules (the two “slashes”) is at least one letter or Arabic numeral.  Notably the Rule does not say that what must appear between the two virgules is the signer’s name.  The signer is only required to provide his or her name “in printed or typed form preferably immediately below or adjacent the S-signature”.  Which means that the USPTO got it wrong in the web-based issue fee payment form in Patentcenter, quoted at right. Continue reading “Yet more Patentcenter bugs – the e-signature block”