How Long Do I Wait for a First Office Action

DSC002151Based on the USPTO’s most recent numbers on examination, I created an updated table of the average delay until a first office action is mailed from the PTO. These numbers reflect an average for each technology center as it operates today.  The 3.8 year delay in Electronic Commerce (TC 3620) means that the applications receiving first office actions during the past three months were filed 3.8 years ago on average — taking us back to early 2003.  The numbers do not necessarily reflect how long it would take for an application filed today to make it through. (Although it is perhaps one of the better estimates that we have on hand.).

Average Time After Filing Before First Office Action
Tech Center Description Mths   Yrs
3620 Electronic Commerce 45.4   3.8
2140 Computer networks 40.0   3.3
2130 Cryptography security 36.4   3.0
2190 Interprocess communications 35.9   3.0
2160 Database and file management/ 35.0   2.9
2620 Television and TV Recording 33.5   2.8
2610 Digital Communications General 32.7   2.7
1740 Metallurgy 30.2   2.5
1610 Pharmaceutical formulations 29.9   2.5
1760 Food technology 28.9   2.4
2120 Miscellaneous computer 28.5   2.4
3730 Medical instruments 28.5   2.4
1640 Immunology receptor/ligands 27.5   2.3
2180 Computer architecture 26.9   2.2
2110 Computer architecture 26.6   2.2
1630 Molecular biology 25.9   2.2
3760 Body treatment 24.8   2.1
1620 Organic chemistry 24.1   2.0
3680 Machine elements 24.0   2.0
1710 Synthetic resins 23.5   2.0
3710 Amusement and 23.5   2.0
1750 Chemical products and 23.1   1.9
3630 Static structures 22.8   1.9
1650 Fermentation microbiology 22.8   1.9
1770 Stock materials and 22.2   1.8
3650 Material handling and 22.2   1.8
3750 Fluid handling and 22.0   1.8
1720 Fluid separation and 21.9   1.8
2890 Semiconductor Electrical 20.4   1.7
3660 Computerized vehicle 20.4   1.7
3720 Manufacturing devices 20.0   1.7
3610 Surface transportation 19.9   1.7
2820 Semiconductors and 19.7   1.6
3740 Thermal and 19.6   1.6
2830 Power generation and 19.4   1.6
2810 Semiconductors and 19.2   1.6
3670 Wells earth boring/ 19.2   1.6
2870 Liquid crystals 19.1   1.6
2950 Photocopying 18.8   1.6
3640 Aeronautics 17.8   1.5
1660 Plants 16.8   1.4
1730 Glass and paper making 16.0   1.3
2900 Designs 15.0   1.2

14 thoughts on “How Long Do I Wait for a First Office Action

  1. I know this is an old posting, but where on the USPTO web site can such data (“most recent numbers on examination”) be obtained?

  2. Maybe the USPTO should simply defer all software patents, which are already much slower on average than others, until after they’ve handled all pending legitimate patents. ;-)

  3. Stepback, a case is what it is. You can’t call a divisional a continuation or vice versa. Of course, if you did call your divisional a continuation, a wise examiner would give you the fastest office action you’ve ever received. He/she would open that case, realise it’s a “continuation” that is claiming a different invention than the parent, issue an election by original presentation, withdraw all the claims for not reading on the elected invention and give you your office action.

    Grant M, I doubt anyone who reads this blog wants to read your nutty liberal rants.

  4. Isn’t is obvious, no pun intended, that the entrenched big players don’t want to be bothered with pesky innovation, start ups and patents? The Bush admin just views this as good constituent services. BTW, this admin proves the old saw about republicans – they run on a platform that big government does not work, get elected , then prove it. See,

    link to

  5. Dennis,
    Where exactly did you locate this info within the USPTO. If on their website, can you provide a link to this data and any other pertinent information you have on the topic. Thanks…

  6. *** These numbers are derived directly from those REPORTED by the PTO. *** Thus, it is entirely possible (as CaveMan suggests) that the numbers have some ‘optimism.’

  7. Dennis, did you get these numbers based on actual data for cases in which first actions have been received, or based on, for example, estimates provided by the Tech Centers? I ask because often times the TC estimates for time to first action are quite optimistic. Individual cases may vary widely.

  8. Stepback:
    I can’t speak for everyone and how they handle their cases, but CONS and DIVS are lumped together on our dockets. In theory, the oldest effective should be moved first. Personally, i don’t care whether it is a CON or a DIV. I look at the claims and if they are ready for search and examination, i do it. If they need restriction, I do that.

    While I described the method of docketing and getting cases into the pipeline above, of course CONS and DIVS usually require less consideration and search by the examiner, *if* that examiner also handled the parent case. I am not saying we give child cases less consideration, merely that an examiner who has done one case is likely to be familiar with the subject matter and closest prior art

  9. One examiner revealed to me that CONs move faster than DIVs. The assumption is that DIVs need a whole new search whereas a CON is a continuation of a case for which it is assumed that an intial search has been done. So if you want your case to move faster, label it a CON. If you want it to move slower, call it a DIV.

  10. With respect to the assertion/statement that CONs and DIVs might be acted on more quickly:
    Examiners’ dockets are split into “New” (i.e. first time case is filed) and “Special” sections. “Special” does not mean petition-to-make-special, but rather includes CONs and DIVs. Examiners work on 2-week (pay-period) chunks of time. Every 2 pay periods (i.e. 4 weeks, about a month) we are supposed to move:
    - our oldest NEW case (i.e. oldest actual US filing date, whether under 111, 120, or 371; provisionals don’t count)
    - our case with the oldest EFFECTIVE filing date.

    What this comes to is that once a month we have to move our oldest new and, usually, the oldest CON or DIV. Note that “moving a case” does not mean writing a full office action. If restriction is required, it means writing a restriction. But either way it gets the oldest-new and oldest-effective into the pipeline.

  11. I would be interested in the standard deviation as well since the “averages” may come from a large range of values and be very different depending on different art units and/or Examiners.

  12. Dennis:

    Do you have any way of looking at the differences, if any, between new filings and continuations/divisionals in terms of time-to-first-action? It might address the idea that continuations are clogging up the PTO, since I expect that these are handled more expeditiously than new filings.

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