The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) recently announced an extension of the Green Technology Pilot Program until December 31, 2011. The pilot program provides for expedited processing of patent applications pertaining to environmental quality, energy conservation, development of renewable energy resources, or greenhouse gas emission reduction.

Earlier patenting of green inventions can assist inventors in securing funding, starting businesses, and marketing their products sooner. Expedited processing can shave a considerable amount of time off the pendency of a patent application. For example, as of the USPTO’s November 10 announcement, the average time from approval of a green technology petition to the first action by the Patent Office was a mere 49 days. The USPTO also reported that some patent applications in the pilot program have issued within a year of the filing date.

In addition, the pilot program is now open to green technology related patent applications filed on or after December 8, 2009. Previously, the Green Technology Pilot program was open only to patent applications filed before December 8, 2009, and the program had been set to expire this December. As a result, patent applications directed toward green technology that are filed after December 8, 2009 are eligible for the pilot program.

In addition to the possibility of earlier patenting, potential participants should carefully consider the requirements of the program before entering. To enroll in the program, a patent applicant must agree to earlier publication of their patent application – exposing their technology to the public earlier than would otherwise be required. The application is also limited in the number of claims which may be presented. Lastly, patent applicants will incur the costs of patent prosecution sooner, because examination occurs earlier. Companies should weigh the benefits of obtaining patent protection sooner against the earlier disclosure requirement and cost outlays.