Starting today, November 1, 2018, the USPTO will implement a targeted release of its Access to Relevant Prior Art Initiative. The program intends to simplify and speed up patent application examination by automating the disclosure process between related applications.

An applicant must disclose information they are aware that believe is relevant to the patentability of their invention. Failure to do so can have dire consequences for the applicant, the application (or a patent that issues from the application) and the applicant’s attorney.

Typically, when there are multiple related applications, either foreign or domestically, the applicant must report prior art that is identified during the examination of one application to all the related applications. The new initiative seeks to automate this process by pulling in citations from related applications.

The rollout of the program will be slow initially. Only one art unit will be using the program to start and then only certain applications within that art unit. The program plans to expand so additional art units by January. Throughout the expansion, the USPTO will adjust how the initiative operates based on feedback from applicants. One addition on the horizon is the use of the system to pull foreign citations cited by foreign patent offices in related applications.

If an application is entered into the program, the applicant will be notified. As with any automated process, it will need oversight by the applicant or applicant’s patent attorney to ensure that all required disclosures are being made and are correct. Anyone familiar with the USPTO knows that on the tech side of things, issues are common.

The initiative is a welcome addition to a number of programs implements by the Patent Office over recent years that have accelerated the application process.