The United States Patent and Trademark Office published an important change to its Green Patent program this morning which should expand the number of patent applications that qualify for the program.
The revision, which comes after industry complaints, removes a requirement that applications fall into certain technological classifications, such as solar cells or electric vehicles, in order to qualify for the program.
The green patents program allows environmentally beneficial patent applications to get expedited review by the Patent Office, potentially shaving months or even years off the time it takes to get an invention patented.
But under the old rules, even if an invention met the Patent office’s broader definition of an environmentally beneficial technology, if it did not fit in one of the approved classifications it could not qualify for fast-track status.
As a result, about 80 percent of applications to the program were rejected, according to Blain Copenheaver, a green technology operational lead at the USPTO.
Eric Lane, a patent attorney and author of the Green Patent Blog, called the change “a major improvement.” Lane said it would also make the process easier and less expensive for applicants by removing the need to shoehorn patent applications into a specific eligible category of technology.
Below is the relevant text from the Federal Register, published Friday morning:
The USPTO is hereby eliminating the classification requirement for any petitions that are decided on or after the publication date of this notice. This will permit more applications to qualify for the program, thereby allowing more inventions related to green technologies to be advanced out of turn for examination and reviewed earlier.
The Green Patents program was created as part of the Obama’s administration’s efforts to expand the green business sector. But given the hurdles to qualify it had gained a reputation as little more than a “political gesture” according to Eric Raciti, a partner at Finnegan, a patent law firm in Boston.
Another complaint about the program is that only patents that were already pending in December 2009 are eligible. Today’s change does not affect that rule, but Copenheaver said “when this pilot is over, or even 3000 applications are reached, we will be giving some consideration to how we can expand the program without hurting the goals of the patent office.”
So far 343 have been granted expedited status, filling only a little more than 10 percent of the 3000 available slots. Twelve patents have actually been issued under the program.