On January 16, 2007, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and the European Patent Office (EPO) implemented a new service to allow certified copies of patent application priority documents to be exchanged between the two offices electronically. This service will eliminate the need for an applicant to submit paper copies of prior, foreign-filed application(s), thus saving the Applicant both time and costs associated with obtaining and filing certified paper copies of documents.

When a new patent application is filed in one office and claims priority to an application filed in another office, a copy of the foreign-filed priority application must be submitted with the new application in order to receive the benefit of the earlier filing date. For instance, upon filing a new application in the USPTO claiming priority to an earlier application filed in the EPO, the Applicant is no longer required to submit papers copies of the priority application. Instead, the Applicant can complete standard Office forms that authorize the USPTO office to obtain an electronic copy of the priority EPO application, free of charge. Likewise, for an application filed in the EPO claiming priority to an application previously filed in USPTO, the Applicant need only authorize the EPO to obtain an electronic copy of the US application, rather than filing a paper copy of the priority document. The new service is the result of a 2005 agreement between the USPTO and the European Patent Office, and will obviate the need to submit paper copies of the earlier-filed application.

In order for Applicants filing in the US to avail themselves of the electronic document exchange service, the Applicant, or an authorized agent, must submit two USPTO forms: 1) Request to Retrieve Electronic Priority Forms (PTO/SB/38); and 2) Authorization to Permit Access to Application By Participating Offices (PTO/SB/39). The forms are available on the USPTO's Web site: http://www.uspto.gov/web/forms/index.html#patent . Preparations for priority document exchange between the USPTO and the Japan Patent Office (JPO) are expected later this year.