The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has issued a proposed rule that will allow applicants speedier patent processing in exchange for a $4,000 fee. The proposal details “Track I” of a “3-Track” patent processing program, first published for public comment in June 2010, to enable applicants to choose the speed at which their applications are processed. After receiving much public support, Track I, also known as the Prioritized Examination Track, has been slated by USPTO for immediate implementation. USPTO requests comments by March 7, 2011.

Track I’s proposals include (i) giving applicants “the opportunity for prioritized examination of a patent within 12 months of its filing date for a proposed fee of $4,000,” (ii) limiting claims to four independent claims and 30 total claims, and (iii) filing through USPTO’s electronic filing system. USPTO also plans to limit the number of applications to 10,000 in the program’s first year and to complete “nearly all of the 313,000 oldest backlog applications” by the end of 2011. Only new applications will be eligible for the proposed fast-track program.

USPTO also plans to offer to “smaller entities” a 50-percent discount on Track I filing fees. “The patent reform legislation recently introduced in the U.S. Senate would enable the USPTO to set its own fees and thereby extend this discount to small entity applicants,” according to the agency. “The Patent and Trademark Office plays a key role in promoting innovation and entrepreneurship,” U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke was quoted as saying. “This new system will bring the most valuable patents, as determined by inventors, to market faster and will help shrink the backlog by catering to the business needs of America’s innovators.” See USPTO Press Release, February 2, 2011; Federal Register, February 4, 2011.