United States: How Long Does It Take For The USPTO To Issue A Patent Or Register A Trademark? (2016 Edition)

At the end of each fiscal year, the USPTO releases a Performance and Accountability Report,  with statistics about patent and trademark allowance rates, average pendency, and other details. The USPTO recently released its Performance and Accountability Report for Fiscal Year 2016. This means that it's time for IP Spotlight's annual review of the question:  "how long does it take to receive a patent or trademark registration?"

To answer that question, here are a few highlights from the USPTO's FY 2016 report:

Patents:  The USPTO continued a five-year trend of reducing overall patent application pendency in FY 2016. The average time between filing and first office action was 16.2 months, down from 17.3 months in FY 2015 and 18.4 months in FY 2014.  Average total pendency also decreased to 25.3 months (from 26.7 months in FY 2015). These numbers are especially interesting when compared to those from only five years ago:  in FY 2011 the average wait times were 28 months to first action and 33.7 months total. It is clear that the USPTO has made significant strides toward reducing overall wait time for patent applications in recent years.

The wait times vary depending on the technology involved. Patent applications for computer architecture and mechanical engineering inventions generally experienced the longest waits, while applications in the biotech and organic chemistry fields moved relatively quickly. In particular, patent applications involving:

  • biotechnology and organic chemistry (USPTO Technology Center 1600) had an average wait time of 12.9 months to first action, and an average total pendency of 24.9 months;
  • chemical and materials engineering (USPTO Technology Center 1700) had an average wait time of 18.2 months to first action, and an average total pendency of 28.4 months;
  • computer architecture (USPTO Technology Center 2100) had an average wait time of 19.6 months to first action, and an average total pendency of 29.5 months;
  • networks, multiplexing, cable and security (USPTO Technology Center 2400) generally waited 16.5 months to first action, and have an average total pendency of 28.0 months;
  • communications technologies (USPTO Technology Center 2600) had an average wait time of 13.4 months to first action, and an average total pendency of 23.6 months;
  • methods relating to transportation, construction, agriculture and e-commerce (USPTO Technology Center 3600, which typically handles inventions in the "business methods" are) had an average wait time of 16.6 months to first action, and an average total pendency of 25.3 months; and
  • mechanical engineering products (USPTO Technology Center 3700) had an average wait time of 19.2 months to first action, and an average total pendency of 30.0 months.

The overall patent allowance rate was 53.3% – a slight from from FY 2015's 54.1% allowance rate.

After a brief one-year drop in new patent filings, the number of patent applications filed in FY 2016 increased to just over 650,000 — a 5.4% increase as compared to FY 2015 filings. Of these applications, approximately 608,000 were utility filings and 168,000 were provisional filings. The other patent applications were design, plant, or reissue filings.

The FY 2016 report also includes statistics about patent maintenance. To maintain a patent in effect after it grants, the patent holder must pay a maintenance fee every four years. The amount of the fee increases at each stage, with the third stage fee currently set at $7,400 for large entities and $3,700 for small entities. In FY 2016 patent holders maintained:

  • 85% of patents that had a first maintenance fee due (i.e., patents granted in 2012);
  • 66.4% of patents that had a second maintenance fee due (i.e., patents granted in 2008); and
  • 47% of patents that had a thirdmaintenance fee due (i.e., patents granted in 2004).

Trademarks:  In FY 2016 the average time from filing to first Office Action in a trademark application slightly increased to 3.1 months.  Average total pendency slightly dropped to 9.8 months. Overall, these numbers are very similar to the USPTO's trademark statistics for each of the the past five years.

The total number of trademark applications filed was 530,270, a 5.4% increase over the previous year.

To maintain a trademark registration in effect, the owner must pay a renewal fee and demonstrate continued use by the 10-year anniversary of the trademark registration date. U.S. trademark owners renewed only 32% of trademark registrations that were eligible for renewal in 2016.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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