On February 4, 2011, the White House released its "Strategy for American Innovation," (http://slideshare.net/whitehouse/a-strategy-for-american-innovation). In an effort to reduce the backlog of pending patent applications in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the Strategy supports a Three-Track Examination initiative.
Patent applications currently face an average wait of 35 months from filing to issuance. This delay is due in part to the backlog of more than 700,000 applications in 2010. The goal of the initiative is to reduce the delay to 20 months by 2015, while improving the quality of issued patents.
The Three-Track initiative will allow applicants to prioritize applications, enabling the most valuable patents to issue within 12 months of being filed. Under the initiative, applicants pay a premium in Track 1 to secure an accelerated examination. Track 2 allows for traditional examination under the current procedure. Track 3 is the slowest and least expensive track, delaying examination as much as 30 months longer.
The initiative allows the USPTO to retain Track 1 fees in order to fund internal improvements and upgrades that would allow it to fast-track the designated applications. In addition, the USPTO plans to hire an additional 1,000 examiners over the next two years. To improve patent quality, the Strategy describes a post-grant review procedure.
If the USPTO rolls out its Three-Track Examination initiative, the patent backlog will be reduced as well as the average examination time. Companies can accelerate the time it takes to build their respective patent portfolios, as well as have more flexibility to control the costs of obtaining patents.