October 01, 2005

The USPTO Still Sucks

Back in 2000 I had an idea nutty enough to warrant filing a Preliminary Patent Application (PPA) with the US Patent and Trademark office (USPTO) to protect it. At the time, the USPTO had just started allowing electronic submissions of patents in addition to the usual paper submissions. After learning all of the hoops you had to jump through with a set of completely borken custom software tools that the USPTO had commissioned, I decided against doing an electronic submission and instead went with good ol' paper.
Now it's 2005 and the USPTO is now urgently pushing electronic submissions because they're completely drowning in patent paperwork. (For everyone who hasn't been following the news on this: the rate of US patent submissions has been growing exponentially every year.) If you go to the USPTO website, it's actually very difficult now to find information on doing paper submissions.
Well, the more things change, the more they stay the same. I decided to go ahead and try their new electronic submission system to see how it worked. I started by downloading their three separate (?) tools for creating the electronic submission, all of which seem to be cobbled together from chewing gum and spit, but with flashy US Dept. of Commerce logos splashed all over them. I have three main complaints about these tools:
  1. The UI is poorly designed. I could rant forever about specifics, but trust me, I've been using and building software for over a decade, and this stuff sucks in the worst possible way.
  2. They're Microsoft platform-dependent. You literally need Windows and Microsoft Word to create and submit an electronic patent application.
  3. They don't work, or if they do work, you'd never know it. They create a cryptic, complicated set of about 50 PDF, XML, XSL, and DTD output files, none of which really make sense...nor is is clear why multiple files are needed. The obscure "verification" functions in the tools, that allow you to view the resulting files, don't work.
Well, after I did finally manage to create all the requisite files (it took about a day, starting with what was a fully ready printable application), I went to submit them to the USPTO using their ePave tool (great name!)....and, the one and only USPTO server capable of accepting US electronic patent applications is down. And it's been down for two days now. Posted by todd at October 1, 2005 08:35 AM