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The application management system is designed to fully automate patent application and management, by allowing applicants to electronically file applications and by replacing the paper-based application folder with an electronic folder.

The image search system relies on advanced imaging and optical storage technology to scan and retrieve images of documents stored on high speed optical drives. Also, linkages between the image and text search systems allow examiners to display images of the patents identified during the text search. The system allows examiners to

perform searches by class and to retrieve, display, and print the images of U.S. patents. PTO plans to deploy image search workstations to centrally located work areas called casinos, then to smaller common work areas called clusters, and finally to examiners' desks.

The classification system helps examiners classify patents. It is also designed to support the image and text search functions.

The text search system allows examiners to search the text of U.S. patents granted since 1971. The system also provides access to selected abstracts of foreign patents. Text search allows examiners to find appropriate patent references and provides them with full-text searching of the entire technology database..

The remaining system is the patent sales systems. This system is designed to support on-demand printing of copies of patents and trademarks.


Of the five systems that make up the APS only one--the full-text searching system--is available to the entire examiner corps. Since 1986, all 1,800 PTO examiners have had access to the full-text search of all U.S. patents issued since 1971 and a limited number of foreign patents. The classified search and image retrieval capabilities have been deployed to 2 of PTO's 17 examining groups and to some examiners in a third examining group. As a result, approximately 270 examiners can access the images and text of the patents specific to their individual groups. In addition, the patent sales system is partially automated. PTO can now print copies of all 5.4 million U.S. patents stored electronically on APS storage devices.



Although PTO is making progress in automating its paper files and manual processes, much remains to be done if the agency is to achieve its objective of having the APS completed by 2002. Between now and October 1997 PTO plans to have initial versions of the image search, classification, and first page summary of foreign patents available to all examiners. In addition, PTO plans to upgrade the initial versions of the text search and patent copy sales systems that are already available. To use the APS, examiners will have to go to common work areas where APS workstations will be located. By 2002, PTO plans to have final versions of all APS deployed, an initial version of the full foreign patent and text data base, and a workstation on each examiner's desk that can access these systems. Table 1 shows what remains to be accomplished to achieve PTO's near-term and long-term objectives for the APS program.

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Deploy image searching of foreign patents--First Page Summary


Deploy image search capability to a common examiner area


Have image search capability in all examining groups


Have fully functional APS available to all examiners

Complete Patent Application Management system development
Complete foreign patent image file



after 2002

The schedule shown in table 1 is based on the assumption PTO used in developing its fiscal year 1993 funding request. PTO assumes that the APS program will be funded at the rate of $55 million a year for each of the next 10 years. Since 1990, PTO has been funded by applicant fees. As a result, funding for APS fluctuates with the volume of applications received and the amount of fees charged. The level funding approach that PTO's current schedule is based on assumes that patent filings between fiscal year 1993 and fiscal year 2002 will be lower than previously forecasted.


Mr. Chairman, we have identified four issues that may affect future APS development: PTO's cost and development schedules--PTO's long-range business plan, the APS system development methodology, and the benefits of APS to its users. We plan to explore these issues further as part of our ongoing work.

Table 1 represents PTO's latest APS development estimates, provided to us just a few days ago. Over the last several months, PTO has provided documents showing cost and development schedules that vary widely from those shown in the table. During the next stage of our review, we will work with PTO to gain an understanding of the causes for the volatility in the APS cost and development schedules, as well as their reasonableness.

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. The plan recognizes that PTO needs to rethink the way it does business, considering recent changes in the agency's mission and operating environment. For example, the plan recognizes the need to emphasize the dissemination of patent information and improved sharing of

patent information among the European, Japanese, and U.S. patent offices. As part of our continuing assessment of the APS program, we plan to review PTO's actions to ensure that its automation activities are compatible with its recently issued long-range business plan.

In 1987 the Department of Commerce convened a panel of industry experts to review the APS program. The panel recommended that PTO adopt a state-of-the-art evolutionary approach to developing APS. The approach PTO selected uses an iterative method for developing solutions to the agency's automation needs. PTO believes that the new methodology it is developing is extremely important to PTO and the government in general. PTO expects to have a draft of the methodology complete in September 1992.

This approach poses a challenge because there are no federal information processing standards to guide PTO in developing and practicing its state-of-the-art approach. Further, this methodology is not widely practiced in either the public or private sector. We support and encourage this type of pioneering effort. To help PTO define its evolutionary methodology and ensure its value to other government agencies, PTO should consider having system development experts from other government agencies, industry, and academia review and comment on the approach it is developing. In the next phase of our work we will focus on understanding how PTO's approach will affect APS development, operations, and maintenance.

APS is intended to serve PTO's examiner corps, as well as external users such as applicants and inventors. Both user groups have expressed concerns regarding APS' benefit to them. The patent examiners' union, the Patent Office Professional

Association, believes that the currently projected cost of APS far exceeds the value of

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