USPTO begins to crawl out from under its mountain of paper

Last Wednesday, May 14, was a day when USPTO’s main patent-related e-commerce systems all crashed.  As I mentioned in my blog posting about the crash, the practical consequence for thousands of patent practitioners was the need to carry out paper and postal service filings, following Rule 8 and Rule 10 as we all used to do back before there was an Internet.  Now the chickens are coming home to roost.  USPTO is under a mountain of paper.

On a normal day, the number of applicants filing (non-provisional) patent applications in the USPTO by non-electronic means is very small — a dozen or two.   That’s because such a filing incurs a $400 penalty as compared with e-filing.

But last Wednesday the USPTO’s patent e-filing system, called EFS-Web, crashed.  And USPTO did not get it working again until way past midnight that night.  So practitioners were forced to file on paper.  Such filings were done by Express Mail (now “Priority Mail Express”) and by hand-carrying to the night window at the USPTO.  The number of such filings was in the thousands.

This means that the number of paper filings on May 14 was maybe a hundred times bigger than usual.  Most of the paper-filed patent applications arrived at the USPTO on Friday, May 16.  (We tracked our filing and indeed it got delivered that day.)

One interesting question is how long it will take the USPTO to crawl out from under the mountain of paper.  Those who (like me) were practicing before the Internet happened will recall that back then, it was clear that USPTO had a two-step process for handling incoming mail:

  1. rifle through all of the envelopes looking for money, and grab the money right away;  and
  2. when time permits, handle the rest of whatever was in the envelope.

Well, I can report that USPTO still has this two-step process.  For our new application which we filed last Wednesday May 14 by Express Mail, I can report that today, Tuesday May 20, USPTO has managed to charge our credit card for the filing fee.  (This was paid by means of Form PTO-2038.)  We see this in Financial Profile.  (See “Best Practice: using USPTO’s Financial Profile system“.)  One of the nice things about FP is that it tells us the application number.  So as of today we know our application number.

USPTO has carried out step 1.  But then we looked in Private PAIR and plugged in this application number.  And it came up “no such application number”.   So USPTO has not yet carried out step 2.  I predict it will take USPTO at least two weeks to get around to carrying out step 2.

We also filed an RCE last Wednesday.  We did that using Rule 8 (First-Class Mail, actually “Priority Mail”).  Of course we tracked the envelope.  The Postal Service reports that since Saturday, May 17, the envelope has been sitting in the Alexandria post office with a status of “available for pickup”.  Today is Tuesday May 20 and the USPTO has not gotten around to “picking it up”.  The Postal Service still lists the envelope as not yet having been delivered.

I envision some corner of the Alexandria post office with fifty or eighty large wheeled baskets full of Rule 8 envelopes that are waiting until USPTO gets around to picking up that mail.

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