The USPTO recently announced through the publishing of a new Federal Register final rule (88 Fed. Reg. 12560) that effective Tuesday, April 18, 2023 all newly issued patents will be issued electronically. Electronically issued patents will bear the digital signature of the USPTO director, and the corresponding patent cover sheet will be nearly identical to current cover sheets; however, they will include the seal and Director’s signature in digital form. As an additional update the new official USPTO digital seal will serve as authentication of the patent, and will include an encrypted digital signature embedded within the seal.
Eventually patents will no longer be issued in paper form and will be digital only, however there will be a yet-to-be determined transition period where a paper copy of the electronic patent will be provided as a courtesy. The courtesy copy will be mailed to the correspondence address of record. After the transition period ceremonial copies or presentation copies (certified copy of the front page that can be used for display) will be available for nominal fees. Advance copies of issued patents however will no longer be available for purchase.
Moving to electronic Patent grants will, according to the office, reduce pendency of patent applications, foster a green economy by reducing paper waste, and permit issued patents to be viewed and printed by applicants and the public immediately upon issuance in patent center. As a practical matter, the move to electronic grants will have some impact on patent practice, particularly with regards to continuation practice. Under the current system there is typically a delay of several weeks between the mailing of the issue notice and the actual issue date of the patent. Under the electronic patent process, the Office notes that patents will issue “shortly after the patent number and issue date are assigned, which will result in the reduction of pendency for allowed patent applications.” This means Applicants will have less time between the payment of the issue fee and grant, and therefore less time to file continuations, quick path Information Disclosure Statements, or petitions to withdraw an application from issue under 37 CFR 1.313(c). In line with this change the Patent Office recommends that going forward all these filings should be done as early as possible, and particularly with respect to continuations should be preferably done before the payment of the issue fee.
The above rule is just one of many steps the Patent Office has taken towards digitizing their processes. For example, the Patent Office also finalized another rule (88 Fed. Reg. 13028) the same week as the above which establishes that effective May 1, 2023 all “patent term extension (PTE) applications, interim PTE applications, and any related submission to the USPTO must be submitted electronically via the USPTO patent electronic filing system”. Professional and knowledgeable patent counsel are more important than ever to help clients navigate the ever changing and advancing systems of the USPTO.