The USPTO’s Patents Ombudsman program is available to help applicants before, during, and after the patent examination process. The Patents Ombudsman program initially started as a pilot program in April 2010 and now is an established program supported by the USPTO. The program ensures that an applicant, attorney, or agent gets the assistance they need when the normal channels have not yielded that assistance.
The Patents Ombudsman program does not take over prosecution of an application and does not collect data concerning particular patent examiners. Instead, their focus is on the application process and applications that get stalled in the process. Common issues where an Ombudsman may be of assistance include applicant status inquires, filing questions, application prosecution concerns, provisional applications, and general questions such as clarity and consistency of examination practice.
Each technology center (TC) has an Ombudsman and to contact one for a specific application, there is an electronic form for submission on the USPTO’s website. According to the program websiteone can expect to receive a call from the TC Ombudsman representative concerning the request for assistance within one business day. With the installation of the regional offices, service hours are from 8:30 AM to 8:00 PM ET. The Patents Ombudsman can be contacted at 855.559.8589 (toll free) or 571.272.555 or by email at OmbudsmanProgram@uspto.gov.
Since its inception in 2010, the number of inquiries has exponentially increased. For example, in 2011, the program fielded about 372 total inquiries and in 2015, the program fielded about 4,859 total inquiries. The Patents Ombudsman program focuses on the process and is not pro-Office or pro-customer. It is not a replacement for an Appeal or Petition and is best utilized when there is a bottleneck in the prosecution process.
On Tuesday, October 11, 2016, the Patents Ombudsman program was the subject of a 2016 Patent Quality Chat. The slide presentation and video from that chat are posted on the USPTO’s website under the 2016 Patent Quality Chats and can be accessed here.