In 2021 the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) developed an Artificial Intelligence (AI) based prototype search system for use by examiners during examination of patent applications. As previously discussed by Mintz, the AI search system aimed to help identify relevant documents and provide suggestions to examiners for additional areas to search. The USPTO found searching success with the prototype, for the USPTO just launched an AI-based "Similarity Search" in the Patents End-to-End (PE2E) prior art search suite for patents examiners.
As explained by the USPTO, a patent examiner provides input, including a patent specification, to the "Similarity Search" feature. The feature then uses AI models to identify and, within seconds, output U.S. and foreign patent references similar to the patent application being examined. Examiners can refine the results using classification information to focus the similarity search on particular aspects of the input patent specification. While the "Similarity Search" feature is for patent examiner use, its implementation will not go unnoticed by applicants. In the launch announcement, the USPTO says that "[w]hen a search is performed using Similarity Search, it will be reflected in the search history recorded in the file wrapper."
The recently implemented AI "Similarity Search" technology, especially in combination with the previously launched "More Like This Document" feature of PE2E, should increase the probability that relevant prior art is located quickly by patent examiners and as early in prosecution as possible. Applicants could therefore experience shorter times between the start of substantive prosecution and allowance with the most relevant art addressed early in prosecution. Additionally, the newly implemented search system should result in higher patent quality since the AI search system may allow for examiners and applicants to consider prior art in prosecution that may otherwise not have been located.
The USPTO has recognized the importance that AI could play in patent application examination. The launch of "Similarity Search" further demonstrates that recognition and could be a sign that AI will be further incorporated into various USPTO activities. Stay tuned!
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