The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has announced a series of rule changes aimed at aligning the U.S. patent process more closely with those of the Patent Law Treaty’s various international signatories. The rule changes will also aid in the United States’ switch to a “first-to-file” patent system.

The most notable of the rule changes affects the rules surrounding obtaining a filing date for a newly filed patent application. The new regulations relax the requirements regarding the filing date, which provides applicants the ability to quickly have a pending application while determining the overall scope of the invention. Under the current USPTO regulations, at least one claim is required for filing, while under the new regulations there will be no such requirement. Also, an applicant will be allowed to file an application by merely referencing a previously filed application.

Cory Myers, an associate in Leydig’s Washington, D.C., office, says that relaxing filing date regulations is a positive development for those seeking patents.

“One of the more significant changes surrounds the filing date,” says Myers. “Under the new first-to-file system, it’s important to preserve an earlier filing date. The patent office has relaxed the rules and made it easier for an applicant to receive a filing date, which is important for clients who are going to trade shows, for example, and are seeking the security of having an application on file in advance of the show.”

Additionally, the rule changes provide for reducing the term length of a patent. The purpose of this new rule is to prevent applicants from intentionally slowing down the application process by use of the less stringent filing requirements. Specifically, the USPTO is seeking to have all applicants comply with traditional filing requirements within eight months of filing a patent application.

“If your application isn’t ready for examination within eight months of filing, e.g., in the event that an applicant files a new patent application without a claim or isn’t otherwise fully complete upon filing, the rule changes provide that the length of an applicant’s patent term will be decreased accordingly,” Myers says.

These changes to the USPTO regulations went into effect on December 18, 2013.