This post is one part of a multi-part series on web sites helpful in patent work. It will be updated with links to other parts, as they become available.
Are you evaluating whether an innovation is patentable? Then you need access to prior art and a way to search for it. Need to monitor a competitor’s patent portfolio? Then you need a field-based search, usually global, for patents worldwide. Need to investigate the progress of an application through the PTO, or find out why a patent was granted? Then you need an in-depth look at the actual papers exchanged by the PTO and the applicant. Simply need a copy of a patent, maybe a foreign patent? Then you need a site that provides copies and translations.
No one site provides it all, although many are quite comprehensive.
Today, we look at a site that provides an in-depth look at the actual papers exchanged between the PTO and the applicant: the USPTO’s public PAIR page at http://portal.uspto.gov/pair/PublicPair. “PAIR” stands for “Patent Application Information Retrieval”, and “public” means that any member of the public can use it. Moreover, use is anonymous, without any login or registration requirements. This site works only for patents and pending patent applications here in the U.S., but that’s usually a great starting place anyway.
A Walk-About at PAIR
The starting point is the base address, at http://portal.uspto.gov/pair/PublicPair, which requires an image-based CAPTCHA. That leads you to the opening screen, as follows:
Enter the information that you know. If you know the application number, great, but typically you do not. Instead, you probably know the publication number or the patent number. Check off the appropriate radio button, and then enter the number. Omit commas and slashes; sometimes the PTO allows them and sometimes not, so it’s best just to omit.
For purposes of explanation, we will look at an arbitrary patent, Apple’s slide-to-unlock patent, U.S. Patent No. 8,046,721, whose formal title is “Unlocking a device by performing gestures on an unlock image”. From the opening screen, click the “patent number” radio button and type in the patent number. Bibliographic information is displayed on the resulting screen:
A series of tabs organizes this page, such as Application Data, Transaction History, Image File Wrapper and so forth.
Image File Wrapper
The Image File Wrapper will show us a copy of all papers exchanged between the PTO and the Applicant, so let’s start by selecting the Image File Wrapper tab:
There’s an extensive list of all papers in the back-and-forth negotiation that ultimately resulted in issuance of Apple’s patent. For this patent there are 129 separate entries. Download the entire package by checking the check box at the top and then selecting the “PDF” button.
How much of this is interesting naturally depends on what you’re looking for. Here, the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, in (mistakenly) invalidating Apple’s patent, focused on statements from the originally-filed application, to the effect that the patent applies broadly to the notion of transitioning between user interface states, and not strictly for unlocking a cell phone. Read the decision here. Note: The Federal Circuit reversed itself a few months later, and upheld the validity of Apple’s patent.
Also of interest is the tab labeled Continuity Data. Displaying that page will list all prior applications from which priority is claimed, as well as all applications that claim priority (if any). Let’s look at the Apple patent:
Here we see that the patent claims benefit from an application filed back in 2005.
We also see that the application has been well-used, in the sense that Apple has filed eight (8) additional applications claiming priority. Seven of those have already been patented, and the eighth is still pending. The links to those applications are live, and clicking them will bring you to the same kind of PAIR page for each of those applications.
The Assignments tab provides an abstract of any recorded assignment information. Note that only an abstract is provided. It’s a simple matter to obtain a pdf copy of the recorded assignment, but you can’t do so from the PAIR page. Instead, go to https://assignment.uspto.gov/patent/index.html#/patent/search
Practice pointer: It’s common to record an Assignment only against the earliest parent application, and not all subsequently-filed child applications. If you can’t find Assignment information for the case you’re investigating, check in the Continuity tab to see if there is a parent. If there is a parent, then see if the Assignment can be found there.
Other tabs merit some attention. For example, the Published Documents tab provides some nice links to the published application and to the issued patent, if any.
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