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JAYETTA Z. HECKER, Director, Resources, Community and Economic Development Information Systems, GAO
I appreciate this opportunity to testify on GAO's review of the Patent and Trademark Office's (PTO) Automated Patent System (APS), program. This review is being conducted at this Subcommittee's request. Since we have not yet completed our review, our observations are preliminary. We will provide more details and our recommendations in a subsequent report.
In 1983, PTO began a long-term program to automate its files, and patent processes. PTO estimates that by October 1992 they will have spent $417 million on APS. Another $555 million will be spent over the next 10 years.
Although PTO is making progress, much remains to be done. By October 1997, PTO plans to complete initial versions of most information technology and computer applications that make up the APS. These will be available to examiners using workstations located in common work areas. An electronic application filing and management system is to be available in 1999. PTO plans call for having APS completed by 2002.
GAO has identified four issues that may affect future APS development, which warrant additional review.
COST AND DEVELOPMENT ESTIMATES
Over the last several months, PTO has provided GAO with various documents showing cost and development schedules that vary widely. During the next stage of our review, we will work to gain an understanding of the reasonableness of APS cost estimates and development schedule as well as the causes for their volatility.
In March 1992, PTO issued its Long-Range Plan: Fiscal Years 1993-1997. This plan identifies critical issues facing the agency over the next 5 years. We will review PTO actions to ensure that its automation activities are compatible with its long-range business plan.
PTO is creating a unique methodology to oversee the APS program. This methodology poses a challenge because there are no federal standards to guide PTO in developing and practicing this approach. GAO is focusing on understanding how PTO's state-of-the-art methodology will affect APS development, operations, and maintenance.
ADDRESSING USERS CONCERNS ABOUT IMPACT
PTO's examiner corps as well as external users have expressed concern regarding APS' benefit to them. The only rigorous and documented study evaluating the impact of APS on patent operations was done in 1988. The results of the study were inconclusive. In October 1991, PTO created an Office of Search and Information Resources, which is responsible for testing and evaluating the effect of the APS on patent operations. We will continue to explore the impact of APS with other interested users and examine the results of any studies issued by the Office of Search and Information Resources during our review.
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:
I appreciate this opportunity to testify on our ongoing review of the Patent and Trademark Office's (PTO) effort to develop its Automated Patent System (APS). At your request, we are assessing whether PTO's automation program is meeting the agency's stated goals. In particular, we are examining the approach PTO is using to oversee the development and acquisition of the APS. Since we have not yet completed our review, our observations today are preliminary. We will provide more details and our recommendations in a subsequent report.
My statement will focus on (1) a brief overview of the APS program, (2) what PTO has accomplished through its automation effort, and (3) what remains to be done. In addition, I will discuss issues we intend to address during the next phase of our review.
PTO maintains the largest single source of information on technology in retrievable form anywhere in the world. PTO's files contain about 32 million documents, including 16.5 million U.S. patents,' 14.2 million foreign patents, and 1.2 million technical documents. Data stored in the agency's files are accessed and updated when inventors make inquiries or file patent applications, or when new information is obtained on foreign patents and related technical literature.
'This file contains over 5.4 million original U.S. patents cross-referenced three times.
In 1991, PTO received and processed about 168,000 patent applications and issued over 105,000 patents. The office estimates that this work load will grow at an annual rate of 4 percent. This work load is largely managed by over 1,800 examiners in 17 examining groups.
Although inventors and patent attorneys are the principal clients of the patent system, many users depend on the information maintained by PTO, including investors, corporations, and researchers. These clients use the information disclosed in patents to make investment decisions, allocate research and development resources, develop new products, and identify research trends. The importance of patent information to the nation is underscored by an American Intellectual Property Law Association estimate showing that about 70 percent of information on emerging technologies is disclosed only in patent applications.2
In 1983, PTO began a long-term program to automate the agency's paper files, along with patent application, examination, and dissemination processes. PTO estimates that by October 1992 they will have spent $417 million on APS. PTO also estimates that $555 million will be spent on the system over the next 10 years-- $213 million to complete the system and $342 million for operations and maintenance.
BACKGROUND INFORMATION ON THE APS PROGRAM
The primary goals in automating the agency's patent information and processes are to improve PTO's internal processes, improve patent quality, and facilitate public access to patent information. PTO's automation objectives include
2 A "Searching" Examination of USPTO, JPO, and Commercial Data Bases, Stephen L. Noe and Alvin J. Riddles, American Intellectual Property Law Association, 1990.
replacing paper files and paper-handling operations with computer-
using automation technology rather than conventional mail to
communicate with applicants and other constituents; and
automating the application, examination, and classification processes.
When complete, the APS will consist of five integrated computer applications--an application management system; an image search system; a classification system; a text search system; and a patent sales system. PTO designations for the five systems are as follows: the application management system is called the Patent Application Management (PAM) system; the image search system is known as the Classified Search and Image Retrieval (CSIR) system; the classification system is called the Classification Data System (CDS); the text search system is called the APS Text Search or the Messenger system; and the patent sales system is called the Patent and Trademark Copy Sales (PTCS) system. Figure 1 shows an overview of the APS system.