Wednesday, September 22, 2004

PAIR and IFW at Patent Office

PAIR is the Patent Application Information Retrieval system that displays information regarding patent application status. There is both a PUBLIC and PRIVATE side to PAIR.

--> “ Public PAIR ” only displays issued or published application status. To access Public PAIR, you need only have a patent, application, or publication number that you wish to search.

--> “Private PAIR” is the Patent Application Information Retrieval system developed to provide secure access for customers who want to view current patent application status electronically via the Internet. Private PAIR provides secure real-time access to pending application status and history using digital certificates issued from the USPTO's Public Key Infrastructure. Private PAIR provides real-time status information for all action taken by the USPTO for a given application. Private PAIR allows the customer to have access to USPTO's internal database (PALM); therefore, the customer can view the information as soon as it is posted. To access Private PAIR, you must

be a registered patent attorney/agent or an Independent Inventor,
have a customer number,
have a digital PKI certificate to secure the transmission of the application to the USPTO,
have downloaded the software to your PC.

--> PAIR and IFW (image file wrapper): To maintain general availability of USPTO information and services provided on the Internet, any activity or operation by a third party that has the potential to cause a denial or diminution (decrease) of services to other customers, whether generated automatically or manually, will result in the Office’s denying access to the Office Internet resources to that third party.

Contact the Patent Electronic Business Center (EBC) for assistance with IFW images in PAIR. The Patent EBC is a complete customer service center that supports all Patent e-business products and service applications, and can be reached at 703-305-3028 or toll-free at 866-217-9197 between the hours of 6 am and 12 midnight Monday through Friday ET, or by e-mail to


-->from text by Kevin Flynn:

Because patent rights are like laws, it has been always been possible to find all issued patents through various hard-copy and electronic search methods, just as any other public record. The PTO has maintained public databases facilitating searches for US Patents, but the databases did not include the important file wrapper material. Until relatively recently, there really was no way to search for or learn about pending applications. After a patent was issued, anyone interested could order the contents of the file wrapper (also called the "prosecution history"), and after paying several hundred dollars and waiting a week or two, a copy of its contents of the file wrapper on the issued patent would be provided. Before issuance, however, patent applications were hidden from all but the inventor, his attorney and the patent examiner.

A recent change to the patent laws calls for most patent applications to be published approximately eighteen months after entering into the process. This is useful as most applications take more than three years to get through the process--and unfortunately, many patent applications take substantially longer than three years. This publication rule is a major improvement to reduce the number of patent applications that are hidden in the patent application pipeline. Without the implementation of Public PAIR, however, this process would take on far less significance. Now there is no waiting period and no cost to be able to see details on most pending applications (there are some patent applications that are not published, but this is a small percentage).

The new big picture is that patent attorneys and anyone who cares to look can easily and at no cost look at pending patent applications well before the application is either issued as a patent or abandoned. Added to search capabilities for issued patents, the interested public now has a set of very powerful tools available to it.

How does this change the patent landscape?

While not everyone is going to want to learn how to access the information in Public PAIR, many people other than the patent applicant and its attorney have a legitimate interest in knowing what is happening within the patent process on various patents.

Many businesses routinely check the PTO databases to see if new invention on which they are working are truly different from the patent applications already on file at the PTO. The result of being able to obtain detailed information about potentially important patent applications owned by competitors, allows uncertainly to be removed for certain business decisions and can sometime provide early indications of the competitor's future product offerings.

Further, the patent application process, as it can now be viewed, allows a preview of the process that shapes the scope of the claims. Access to the information in the IFW even before the patent issues allows careful analysis and a prediction as to what may or may not be permitted in competition if the patent does issue. While judges deciding infringement issues have access to this information after the fact, the early release of and easy access to the information allows analysis of the claims at the time they are being evaluated and shaped by the patent examiner. It is a step forward to make it easier for companies to see the shape of legal prohibitions in time for the company to reshape its product plans.


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