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Inventors and companies looking to acquire patent rights for inventions related to wind and other renewable and clean energy technologies have a rare and limited opportunity to take advantage of incentives recently offered by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

Specifically, effective Nov. 10, the USPTO has made significant changes to the Green Technology Pilot Program (GTPP), which was enacted to expedite the patent application process for clean and renewable technologies.

Expediting the patent application process leads to significant benefits for applicants and assignees seeking to protect patent rights. The benefits that stem from a patent (e.g., the exclusive right to make, use, sell or license a product covered by the patent) only come into play once the patent is granted by the USPTO.

In other words, from the time an applicant submits an application for a patent to the USPTO until the time that a patent actually issues, any benefits are either not available to the owner of the rights to the patent or very limited in scope. Because this process takes years (over three years on average for applications related to green technologies), a lot of money is at stake. In fact, a recent study by London Economics estimates that the global impact of the delay in obtaining patents is approximately $11.7 billion a year.

The GTPP was initially launched on Dec. 8, 2009, to promote the development of green technologies. After limited interest in the program, the USPTO enacted changes to the GTPP on May 21, principally to increase the scope of technologies that would be considered for the program.

The USPTO enacted even more significant changes to the program on Nov. 10. For example, prior to Nov. 10, the GTPP was only available for patent applications that were filed prior to Dec. 10, 2009. However, under the new changes, patent applications filed at any time are now eligible for inclusion in the GTPP.

Also, a petition will be considered for the program if the technology of the invention relates to the development of renewable energy resources, energy conservation or greenhouse-gas reduction. Originally, only petitions of patent applications assigned to specific classifications would be considered for the GTPP. However, this requirement proved to exclude a number of petitions that arguably should have been considered.

The classification requirement was eliminated as a part of the changes to the GTPP enacted on May 21.

With the recent changes, the GTPP will close either at the earlier of Dec. 31, 2011 or with the acceptance of the 3,000th petition to the program. Previously, the end date for the program was Dec. 8, 2010.

As of Nov. 16, the USPTO received 1,665 petitions for consideration for the GTPP, but less than half of those petitions were granted. Of the granted petitions, 106 have already been issued as patents.

With the recent changes to the GTPP, the USPTO will reconsider petitions that were previously rejected. Further, any such petitions submitted for reconsideration before Dec. 10, 2010, shall be given processing priority as of the date the applicant filed their original petition.

The changes to the GTPP were made by the USPTO so that the program would be fully subscribed before the end of 2011.

Because of the broader scope of the GTPP, it is likely that there will be a sharp increase in the number of petitions filed and accepted under the program. As such, because of the limited number of petitions allowed under the GTPP, the window for participation in the program is expected to close rapidly.

Author's note: Tim Smith and Aly Dossa are patent attorneys at Osha Liang, a Houston-based firm specializing in intellectual-property law.


Photo courtesy of Bruce MacGregor Photography

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