Not according to SMU Dedman School of Law’s Sarah Tran. In her recent article, Expediting Innovation: The Quest for a New Sputnik Moment, Prof. Tran takes the position that the USPTO’s GreenTech Pilot Program is not as green as it looks. The program’s stated purpose is to promote green innovation by sending patent applications for green technology to the top of the pile, but it is rarely used by patent applicants, and Prof. Tran argues that the program is not serving the purpose for which it was implemented.
The article includes a discussion of the initial term of the program, which was hampered by having been limited only to particular technology groups believed to be the ones that would encompass green technology. Of course, the truth is that green technology is incredibly diverse and can fall into almost any of the USPTO’s art groups. That restriction has since been removed. Another cited problem with the program is that it limits the number of claims in a candidate application, although that restriction also has applied to the non-green accelerated examination program.
Prof. Tran also maintains that the USPTO has overstated the benefits of the program, and that it is a rational decision on the part of applicants to not undertake the additional costs and labor of meeting the program’s requirements in exchange for shaving perhaps only a few months from the pendency time of their applications. According to an anonymous PTO representative interviewed by Tran, the program is so restrictive because it is designed to not be too attractive to applicants, because if it were attractive, it is feared that the volume of applications would overwhelm the already-backlogged USPTO’s ability to examine them. Of course, that raises some questions, like “Why have a program that you do not want people to use?” and “How can the USPTO effectively promote green innovation under any program if it lacks the funding and Examiner bandwith to handle the applications that will come in?”
Tran suggests that the program can be improved by eliminating most of the eligibility requirements, including the restriction on the number and type of claims, by examining green patent applications fast enough to make it worthwhile to take the trouble to file them as green, and through active collaboration with other agencies to define what constitutes a green invention so that the program can be focused on those areas.
The theme of the article is that we find ourselves at a point in time where there must be a concerted national effort towards technological process in eco-friendly technologies to meet the the environmental threat, much like the effort that was put forth to propel the U.S. into space after the Soviet launch of Sputnik. But the question remains, how do we get that done?