For my non-American readers, Rip Van Winkle, written by Washington Irving, is an American folk tale in which a man wakes up after sleeping for 20 years.
Last Thursday (Feb. 27, 2014), I submitted 4 patent applications to the US Patent and Trademarks Office (USPTO). I will soon (in the next two weeks) post all 4 of them (plus supporting software and its documentation) at my website. They cover what I have referred to in previous blog posts as Operation Lisbeth, or the goldfish with the dragon tattoo. They deal with the use of quantum computers to do artificial intelligence and big data. I won’t say any more about them here, in this blog post. I’ll do that in future blog posts over the next few weeks. Instead, I’d like to use this blog post to praise effusively the Patent Office for the enormous strides it has made in modernizing its online submission systems.
According to this article, the USPTO first launched its EFS (electronic filing system) in March 2006. Last Thursday, I had the pleasure of using it for the first time, and it worked flawlessly and painlessly for me. I love it.
I was able to do everything I needed to do for my 4 patent applications, file all necessary documents and pay all fees, completely electronically and online, without ever using any paper copies or snail-mail.
Basically, as long as you can turn a document into pdf or txt format, you can submit it (with some minor exceptions). I typed all my documents in LaTex and turned that into pdf using the windows application WinEdt. I drew all my figures using the application InkScape, which allows you to save your drawings as pdf.
In the past, to submit an appendix containing computer source code, you had to mail the Patent Office a CD (Compact Disc) with the stuff. Now you can create a single txt file containing all your source code and send them that electronically. Vast improvement. (I used a free application called TXTcollector to create the required single text file from all my separate .java files)
In the past, for what is called the Information Disclosure Statement, you had to mail to the Patent Office a paper copy of each of your references. Now you can just send them electronically a pdf copy of your references. Much, much easier.
It’s easy nowadays to convince oneself that the US government is declining dangerously. So I find some solace in the fact that the Patent Office appears to have bucked that trend and improved significantly in the past 7 years or so. An institution like Rip Van Winkle, that is waking up after being deeply asleep and behind the times for many years.
I have only one minor quibble. They still don’t allow LaTex submissions and generate the pdf themselves from that, the way arXiv does. This means that they still retype the patent from its pdf version. If they allowed LaTex submissions, they could do what most physics and engineering journals have done for the last 15 years: add a few reformatting commands to the LaTex and publish that, without any need to ask a human to retype things, which is boring for the re-typist and introduces a lot of typos. Of course adding this LaTex capability to their EFS is still possible, and would be a natural next step in their path towards improvement.