Three years later, USPTO developers repeat a coding mistake

It is astonishing to see the USPTO developers repeating a mistake now in 2023 that they made in 2020.  Back in 2020, it took the developers more than six months to fix it.  One wonders how long it will take this time.  The mistake was to assume (incorrectly) that “patent offices” are the same thing as “places that you can send mail to”.  I am not making this up!

Back in 2020, the USPTO developers were bringing forward the web-based ADS function from EFS-Web into Patent Center.  This function worked just fine in EFS-Web.  In particular there was a place in the EFS-Web ADS where the filer could select a priority patent office from a drop-down list, to create a priority claim.

One would assume the coders who were coding this function of Patent Center in 2020 would follow standard practice which is to look at the EFS-Web or PAIR code for the function.  Nope.   Instead the coders paid no attention to the fact that what was needed was … wait for it … a list of patent offices.  Instead, the coders lazily grabbed some public-domain list of countries.  This meant that one of the biggest patent offices in the world, the European Patent Office, was missing from the drop-down list.  And ARIPO and OAPI and the Eurasian Patent Office were missing from the drop-down list.

This got reported to the Patent Center developers on April 23, 2020 as CP9 and by this blog article.  After six months of foot-dragging, the Patent Center developers fixed the mistake (blog article).

So what one would sort of assume is that in 2020, the members of the coding team would share with each other the realization that “list of patent offices” is not the same thing as “list of countries”.  And what one would sort of assume is that the coding team would realize that yes, when they are coding some particular function in Patent Center, part of the standard procedure should be to go back and look at the code that was used for the same function in EFS-Web or PAIR.

But it seems that if one were to assume either of these things, one would be mistaken.  Now, in 2023, the Patent Center developers have repeated this blunder.  The time came to bring the Third Party Submission function forward from EFS-Web into Patent Center, and they blew it again.

In the “third party submission” section of Patent Center, the filer picks a citation type of “foreign patent document”.  The filer is then unable to proceed unless the filer selects a patent office from what purports to be a drop-down list of patent offices.  But many patent offices are missing from the list, including EPO, ARIPO, Eurasian Patent Office, and OAPI.  Weirdly, the drop-down list includes many places that do not even have a patent office, for example the Holy See (the Vatican) and the Aland Islands and Wallis and Fortuna and the French Southern Territories.  See the screen shot above, where the EPO is conspicuously absent, while the filer is invited to pick (for example) the Faroe Islands, which is a place that does not even have a patent office.

It means the filer is unable to complete the task if the patent office of the third party submission reference has the bad luck to be EPO.

This is CP204.

Actually the blunder is worse than what I just described.  The coders actually grabbed some public-domain list of places where you can send mail.  So it includes lots of places that are not even countries, but are mere protectorates or territories of other countries.  The Faroe Islands, for example, are not a country at all, but are a territory of Denmark.  But the Patent Center developers invite you to say that your foreign patent document was filed in the (non-existent) patent office of the Faroe Islands.

How does this sort of mistake get repeated?  One assumes that part of the explanation is complete loss of all institutional memory among the Patent Center developers, due to complete staff turnover between 2020 and 2023.  And yes, one assumes that the coders who are coding functions in Patent Center even now routinely fail to do the standard procedure of looking to see how the function was coded in EFS-Web or PAIR.

Update on January 4, 2024:   USPTO took five days to admit this bug, but did eventually admit this bug in the “Third-Party Submission” system on January 4, 2023, saying:  “The Foreign patent Citation type is missing some country codes from the dropdown menu.   Please use the Non-Patent Literature section of the Citation type menu instead of the Foreign patent section.”   

Regrettably, the USPTO admission mischaracterizes the nature of the bug by calling the missing selections “country codes”.  What are missing are not “country codes” but ” patent office codes”.

The USPTO admission of the bug does not mention any planned date for correcting the bug.

4 Replies to “Three years later, USPTO developers repeat a coding mistake”

  1. I suspect the coders who are doing this don’t have access to the EFS or PAIR code. They’re simply working from some instructions to create a feature and have no idea how the process worked in the old software. And, of course, none of them know how the patenting process works or how applicants or practitioners are likely to interact with the software.

  2. This isn’t a developer mistake – this is a product management failure.

    Good product management would have had a requirement that says: “The user shall be able to select from a list of patent offices.”

    The test cases and QA plan, ideally based off the requirements, should be aware that some countries have patent offices, some countries don’t have patent offices, and some patent offices aren’t tied (specifically) to countries.

    The developers don’t need to know the specifics of patent filings and patent process, but someone at the PTO should have laid this out for them.

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