Back in the mid-1960s, the Patent Office introduced the practice of “compact prosecution.” These days it’s entombed in MPEP § 2106(II). Says that section of the Manual of Patent Examining Procedure:
It is essential that patent applicants obtain a prompt yet complete examination of their applications. Under the principles of compact prosecution, each claim should be reviewed for compliance with every statutory requirement for patentability in the initial review of the application, even if one or more claims are found to be deficient with respect to some statutory requirement. Thus, USPTO personnel should state all reasons and bases for rejecting claims in the first Office action. Deficiencies should be explained clearly, particularly when they serve as a basis for a rejection. Whenever practicable, USPTO personnel should indicate how rejections may be overcome and how problems may be resolved. A failure to follow this approach can lead to unnecessary delays in the prosecution of the application.
But in our experience and according to reports we’ve read and heard from other practitioners, in the past few years, “compact prosecution” has been more honored in the breach than the observance. You can read about a bad example from two years ago. We’ve had similar experiences recently.
But hopefully, it looks like the winds of change are blowing back to the future. Today Dennis Crouch’s renowned and authoritative Patently-O blog reports that the PTO’s new director, David Kappos, has sent an email to examiners reading in part:
One key is to expeditiously identify and resolve issues of patentability—that is getting efficiently to the issues that matter to patentability in each case, and working with applicants to find the patentable subject matter and get it clearly expressed in claims that can be allowed. The examiner and the applicant share the responsibility for the success of this process.
On the subject of quality, there has been speculation in the IP community that examiners are being encouraged to reject applications because a lower allowance rate equals higher quality. Let’s be clear: patent quality does not equal rejection. In some cases this requires us to reject all the claims when no patentable subject matter has been presented. It is our duty to be candid with the applicant and protect the interests of the public. In other cases this means granting broad claims when they present allowable subject matter. In all cases it means engaging with the applicant to get to the real issues efficiently—what we all know as compact prosecution.
When a claimed invention meets all patentability requirements, the application should be allowed expeditiously. … [B]y engaging with applicants early on, we certainly can get to the point more quickly, and efficiently allow those claims that are entitled to patent protection.