USPTO Public Pair: Static URLs Please

For the past several years, the US Patent Office has been encouraging practitioners to use its electronic file wrapper system.  The system, known as PAIR, contains all sorts of information on pending and issued patents including: filing data, foreign priority, patent family data, and a full prosecution history.

Until this weekend PAIR operated through a static URL system.  That meant that you could bookmark the PAIR page for your pending applications or e-mail the link to your clients, the inventors, or even potential licensees. I also used this feature to obtain information for my statistical studies and have written several bits of code to automatically download and preformat information regarding selected patents.

Now, without public notice or comment, the PTO has removed the static URL system and replaced it with a session-cookie based system that monitors a particular computer’s activities and does not allow for bookmarking or other delayed or preformatted access. 

Advice: What would really be useful would be to have a system that allows for automatic updates of PAIR data, such as an RSS feed. Unfortunately, the PTO has taken a technological step backward. 

47 thoughts on “USPTO Public Pair: Static URLs Please

  1. —SNIP—
    While we’re on the subject of gripes about PAIR, I’ll add my item to the wishlist: links between entries in the three PTO databases I use most, namely 1) PAIR; 2) Search; and 3) Assignments.

    Posted by: Anonymous | Mar 27, 2007 at 06:00 PM
    —SNIP—

    Have you tried http://www.patentsearchtools.com?

  2. After weeks of waiting for the EBC to fix this problem I decided to put together a little utility that creates a static URL that redirects you to the appropriate information on PAIR.

    I’m looking for feedback on the tool, so please let me know what you think:

    link to cardinal-ip.com

  3. I spoke with someone in the PTO’s EBC a couple of days and they said they hope to have static URLs in PAIR restored by the end of April. One other consequence of the latest PAIR update is that the links in the assignment database records to the PAIR pages for patents and published applications no longer work.

  4. The CAMBIA Patent Lens http://www.patentlens.net is a free, independent, public good global resource for increasing patent transparency. The Patent Lens has over 6.4 million fully text searchable patent applications and grants from the USPTO, EPO and WIPO.

    We were in the final stages of testing links to PAIR on the Patent Lens, when like many others, we were derailed by the unexpected USPTO PAIR “upgrade”. We have come up with a work-around that uses a carefully constructed static URL to access PAIR. Click on the PAIR link on this Patent Lens results page link to patentlens.net to see it in action. It will take you directly to the PAIR page for that application. The URL of the PAIR page is effectively a static link that can be cut, pasted, emailed, etc. However, it is important to note that although the PAIR link we generate can be treated like a static URL, any changes to PAIR by the USPTO (such as another “upgrade”) could render the new static links inoperative.

  5. I’ve noticed a more serious quirk where the information on the IFW tab for Public PAIR does not match the information on other tabs such as the “Application Data Tab” when viewing a relatively small number (say 2 or 3) of applications. Sometimes the file history stuff on the IFW tab just does not get updated to the second or third application even though other tabs do. Clicking “Select New Case” and re-entering the application number does not fix things.

    The only work around I’ve found is to exit the browser session and restart IE.

    Whatever quirky cookie-session-key method the PTO is using does not appear to work reliably. At least I hope this isn’t considered “working” reliably.

  6. I want to report that I received a very nice and quick response from the PTO to my request. (Under 2 hours!!!)

    They are considering adding the ability for a 2nd Customer Number to be linked to an application in the manner I suggested in Private PAIR.

    Even if this does not occur, I agree with Steve that EBC does take user input seriously and that letting them know of our concerns appears to be a worthwhile effort.

  7. RSS as suggested by Dennis would solve a lot of the PTO’s bandwidth issues, and issues generally.

    Tracking applications by programs requires that they access the PTO database, usually daily. If the PTO would instead advise you when they add a file to the file wrapper of an application, that would eliminate all of that traffic.

    This is an extremely nice feature and a cost savings benefit to them to boot.

  8. Steve, not to be conceited, but the PAIR system is a very, very simple database.

    This is not some 3d rendering program or something.

    I am sure that given a few months I could write a database program that would outperform PAIR easily, and include, as you put it, “mature” features.

    It’s really not that hard.

    Each case has a serial # and customer # (optional) associated with it.

    If customer # logs in, they can access these fields . . .

    If non customer # logs in, they can access these fields . . .

    Customer # can make these changes . . .

    What PAIR is really missing is what I’d call “user friendly” features.

    Like setting a home page or a default view when you log on.

  9. I took Steve Sereboff’s advise and sent an e-mail to the PTO requesting an upgrade of Private PAIR to allow for multiple Customer Numbers to be linked to an application.

  10. I have found the EBC folks to be friendly, responsive and smart. We would all be better served if you conveyed your requests and concerns to the EBC. In my experience, they really appreciate hearing from us. I think they know that the user community beats on their systems more than they can ever do. They also recognize that this field is incredibly complex, with tremendous differences in how users approach their systems. I think it is unfair to expect them to read your mind, or to provide mature features in early introductions.

  11. “”I go back to my previous comment. If a case could have multiple customer numbers associated with it, my cases could each have the customer number of the firm prosecuting it and my customer number. I would have a single view into my entire docket.”"

    Seems, to me, very reasonable, and, from a database perspective, easy to implement.

  12. Unfortunately, I’m not big enough with most of my firms to get them to come up with a special customer number for me.

    As I understand it, each firm would need a customer number for me and I would then have a series of numbers for my firms, since each customer number is tied to a set of registered attorneys and obviously I don’t want the attorneys from different firms to be of record in all my cases. Plus, I would have to remember which customer number is associated with which cases.

    I go back to my previous comment. If a case could have multiple customer numbers associated with it, my cases could each have the customer number of the firm prosecuting it and my customer number. I would have a single view into my entire docket.

  13. A practicioner can have more than one customer number and the strategy proposed by Mark does work if your outside counsel is willing to create such a combined client and outside counsel customer number. Usually, you need to be a rather big client before a firm is willing to go through the extra overhead of creating a separate customer number.

    As an added bonus, when a power of attorney appoints the practicioners associated with those combined client and outside counsel customer numbers, in-house counsel also becomes an attorney of record on all of your applications. Also, you have a better idea of the practicioners that are actually working on your matters since most firms only add those practicioners that actually work on your stuff, rather than the whole office or firm.

  14. Alan McDonald, I’m not sure if a practicioner can have more than one customer number, but if so,why not ask each of your firms to set up a special customer number to use just for your cases? That way you and their attys could all have access but you could not look at their other cases and they could not look at yours.

  15. Alan McDonald, good point. I’ve never thought of that aspect.

    Someone wrote to me: “I wouldn’t rant too much over its misgivings.”

    You’re right. I do complain, but I’m extremely glad to have it versus not have it. So I’ll shut up now.

  16. As an in-house counsel who files through several law firms, I cannot even get a look at my cases through private PAIR.

    Each case is allowed only a single User Number, and each of my firms has a number.

    I don’t even have a number, since the system is worthless to me. If I did have a number and had my firms use it, they could not see the cases they filed for me.

    Doe it take a computer guru to figure out that maybe more than one group would need access to a given file?

  17. “No longer having to mail a box of references to the PTO…
    No longer having to go to the Post Office…
    Easy to file from home.”

    As much as computers and the internet have made things somewhat easier with instant communication, there is still a lot to be said for having to deal with real, live documents. It slows things down a bit and gives some time for reflection about what is actually being sent.

  18. Fair enough, Gideon.

    My thought here was that the change might have been inadvertent and easily fixable, and that a request from Dennis might be taken seriously.

    The government isn’t normally very responsive to everyone with a legitimate beef, but I thought it might work here.

  19. While the PTO website has its problems, I think it is still much superior to the old days…

    No longer having to mail a box of references to the PTO…
    No longer having to go to the Post Office…
    Easy to file from home.

    I wouldn’t rant too much over its misgivings.

  20. I guess my point was that there is no way you’ll get the PTO to change anything by asking nice.

    With regard to the EFS fee payment, wow, that is a scary thought. I thought the rule is that any fee paid intentionally is nonrefundable, but any fee paid in error is refundable with a petition or some request and rationale.

    But it’s classic Govt nonsense. Any time you want to know how bad a Govt agency is, just ask yourself, “how would this run if it were a private business? How would it compete?”

    I’ve been lucky to have never paid a fee in error. I’m sure I will at some point. Aye. Just another cost of doing business.

  21. Gideon writes———–:
    Someone wrote: “How likely is it that making an inquiry could either get the system changed back?”

    Oh, now that IS precious.
    —————-

    Well, look at Dennis’s comment, posted almost 12 hours before your rant. It remains to be seen if they’ll do anything beyond saying “we’re on it,” but I wouldn’t write them off just yet.

  22. So true Gideon.

    One thing that worries me is the “No Refund Policy” in effect when via the EFS. We recently made two requests for oral hearings by mistake. $1000 each. In other instances, we mistakenly paid large entity fees for small entities. Seems the PTO can keep this money now, whereas in the past, it could be recouped via a request for refund.

    I could understand the PTO charging a processing fee, say $25, $50, or even some small percentage of the fee paid, but it appears they can now keep all of it. This doesn’t seem right to me. Any thoughts?

  23. Someone wrote: “How likely is it that making an inquiry could either get the system changed back?”

    Oh, now that IS precious.

    What a shock! A government website is a piece of feces. I’m stunned that all of the 40 hour a week government stooges make such bad decisions. Who would have thought, with the efficiency of the DMV and the USPS, that the PTO would suck at putting together a coherent website.

    I knew what I was in for when I first searched at the PTO web site and the year range was defaulted to 1972-1974, or something like that. Only a government employee would have set that up.

    Where does the list begin?

    Stupid sign on to PAIR that requires accessing a file stored on my computer, then clicking through about 4 buttons to get to my cases. Guess it’s hard to imagine that practitioners would want to go directly to their case list.

    No way to set defaults. While I’m sure it’s handy to have the serial number of each case be the ordered column, most practitioners would want the default to be matter number. Even if you order by matter number, when you return to the file list, it’s reset to serial number.

    Different search required for apps and patents.

    1 page at a time patent downloads using a “TIFF” file format that is not present in most browsers.

    A garbage phone system that features “zombie man” reading you the menus at 1/3 real life talking speed, and then, after you’ve gouged your eyes out waiting to hear the menu, you make your selection and you get that horrid music. I have nightmares about that hideous music. Then, when you finally do get what you hope is a human being, you find yourself thinking, “please, someone who gives a s—, please someone who gives a s—.”

    And on and on and on and on.

    Why the hell is anybody shocked? Virtually everything that I see come out of the PTO is the shabby product of govt employees who don’t care about anything but getting the check and getting out.

    Sure, there are some examiners and some employees who care. God I feel for them. I’m actually surprised that there aren’t more shootings at the PTO.

    I’d go about 5 minutes before I started cutting in to people.

    Truth be told, I’m extremely happy that the system, for all of it’s bulky, unfriendly, poorly designed excess, actually works somewhat well. The less I have to interact with PTO zombies the better.

  24. anonymous,

    You can word search through the BPAI decisions right now — at least if you don’t potentially mind that Google might log the search request.

    Just enter the following Google search:

    BPAI SEARCHTERM site:www.uspto.gov filetype:pdf

    Replace SEARCHTERM with your search terms. You may also want to use Boolean searches within the search term.

    You can use the same idea for Federal Circuit opinions.

    By using the search again feature of Google, it is easy to make a search plugin for the quick search bar of Firefox and IE 7 for even easier access to these routine patent law queries.

  25. I think that Mark’s wish may someday come true. The PTO is planning to OCR and convert the files to text. My dream is for a BPAI website that was wordsearchable. Then you could easily find all the conflicting decisions and ask the BPAI (or for you attorneys out there, the Federal Circuit) to just give a rule. While a well reasoned, logical rule would be nice, even a consistent but stupid rule would sometimes be okay.

  26. I have had the same problem of different IFW entries depending on whether the file was accessed via Private PAIR or Public PAIR.

  27. I have had problems with the tab issue, and also problems generally as they seem to lack the bandwidth to handle the load.

    Because of the second issue, I can’t say I have alot of sympathy for those using Public PAIR and downloading huge amounts of data – if the system is not working for the folks trying to use it for what it was designed for then the PTO SHOULD stop you folks from doing huge downloads and computerized hits to the database. Static URLs be damned until the system works!

  28. Another quirk, which has been reported to the EBC, is disappearing tabs. I can look up a pending application, and the IFW tab is gone. A coworker here looks up the same file, and they have an IFW tab. On other cases, the effect is vice-versa. Not on a high percentage of cases, but totally random.

    A reponse a few minutes ago from EBC indicates they are working on the tab issue

  29. And one more thing — I’ve noticed a quirk in PAIR whereby there are sometimes different IFW entries depending on whether the file was accessed via Private PAIR or Public PAIR. This is true even for applications of third parties (so if you enter a competitor’s app number while you’re in Private PAIR, it might appear differently than if you’d entered it through the Public PAIR site). I can’t point to a specific example right now, but in one particular instance, I’ve seen examiner activity showing on the IFW of one, and not the other.

    Anyone else noticed this?

  30. From: ebc@uspto.gov [mailto: ebc@uspto.gov]
    Sent: Tuesday, March 27, 2007 5:26 PM
    Subject: RE: Request to restore the use of static urls in PAIR

    Hello,

    The modification to the URLs in Public PAIR was unintentional and is a side effect of the recent update. The PAIR development team is currently investigating this issue.

    Thank you,

    Mike Spear
    EBC

  31. One comment: Why is it the EPO can get all this together with Register Plus and the USPTO is lost in the morass of its own IT gyrations? Makes no sense to me to NOT use what already works. Oh, yeah, that’s right USPTO couldn’t possibly look to others for best practices. Forgive me, I forgot.

  32. What a pain in the tuchus! As if having separate databases for patents, published applications, assignments and fees weren’t enough (ok, the fees were at least linked to public PAIR), now I have to keep going back to the search page for every patent or application I want to check? The USPTO’s job is to make this information *more* easily available to the public, not *less* easily available. Heck, why not just take PAIR offline altogether?

    Dennis, or anyone else out there – is there someone (or someones) at the USPTO that we can inundate with email, snail mail, faxes, etc. about this?

  33. “Now all you can do is give a reader instructions for searching for a particular decision, you can’t refer the reader to it directly. A big step backwards.”

    David the links on my Patently-Un site still seem to work (well at least from my computer).

    Does the following work for you (just as a test)?
    link to des.uspto.gov

  34. Our friends at the PTO also took all the Board of Patent Appeals decisions, which used to have static URL’s that you could cite, and set up a funky jsp dynamic URL. Now all you can do is give a reader instructions for searching for a particular decision, you can’t refer the reader to it directly. A big step backwards.

    Geeze louise. Does the Patent Office understand ANYTHING about the way the law and lawyers work? Imagine what would happen if West or BNA came by every week and renumbered the pages of the books sitting on your library shelf – life would be crazy right?

    If anyone at the PTO is listening, please put all data that your cutomers cite or rely on back at static URL’s.

    But as sagnac notes, the attitude of current PTO management is that they’ll take any purely internal cost reduction even if the costs on the public are 10-to-1. (Continuation, Examination of Claims, and IDS rules being even more blatant examples.)

    If this is the behavior of a “Performance Based Organization” that is supposed to behave like a business, then…

  35. Dennis (and anyone else):

    Has anyone contacted the PTO about this? How likely is it that making an inquiry could either get the system changed back or get an explanation for the change?

  36. With respect to private PAIR, the USPTO is quite clear that it will not support the legacy interface if there are any problems. I can no longer log on to USPTO direct, although there is no problem in accessing the new portal. The USPTO says “tough”.
    Making this information available to practitioners is an important way of improving the efficiency of the prosecution process. Overloads can be dealt with by using more servers, etc. and is an effective use of the PTO resources for the public benefit.

  37. This is not a new problem; USPTO has been reworking its PAIR back office pretty frequently over the past year, and as a result the “static” Public PAIR URLs have changed at least twice before now.

    Like you, I have attempted to use PAIR for research purposes – particularly, tracking the status of interesting applications. Unfortunately, due to the continual reworking of the PAIR URLs, most of the web Alerts that I received from December through February meant not that a file action had occurred, but that the tracked URL now led to a completely different file … by the beginning of this month I had given up on using Public PAIR to track file status over a long period of time.

  38. I’m just guessing here, but I think what the PTO is going after is the latest functionality being built into the patent data management systems from CPI (Computer Packages Inc.)and MDC (Master Data Center).

    With the newest versions of these systems, you can regularly compare your internal data against PAIR. I’m thinking that if several large patent owners do this the PTO feels its site will be overloaded.

  39. One more comment regarding Monday’s:
    ROUTINE EXPERIMENTATION -> OBVIOUS

    Measuring Obviousness is like measuring a cloud.

    Is invention a process?, or a spark?, or both?

    How are creativity, inventiveness, obviousness and ordinary-skill-in-the-art, related?

    Some highly educated skilled in the art people can’t create themselves out of a paper bag. This gives rise to an essential patentability question: Does ordinary skill in the art mean: (i) a creative person skilled in the art?, or (ii) merely an educated person skilled in the art?

    Does simple equal obvious?
    What bearing does the perception of an invention being Complex or Simple have? Of course, everything that is simple is not obvious and vice versa. No one suggested simple and obvious were the same, but neither this subject nor any similar notion, which you’d think would of course be an integral part of any serious discussion of obviousness, ever entered the KSR Raccoon-Hearing transcript:
    link to supremecourtus.gov

    What is invention? Invention is what makes the non-obvious obvious: everything is obvious after it has been invented.

    Another problem when testing for obviousness for patentability has to do with the Observer Effect, defined as: “In science, the observer effect refers to changes that the act of observing has on the phenomenon being observed.”

    I.e., Before and After observation: Before observation, Is, is what it is, but after observation, what Was no longer is — before’s Is is gone forever After observation.

    It is, of course, impossible to tell if an invention is obvious before it has been invented — it has not yet been discovered, and thus it does not (yet) exist. And after it has been invented, at least to the extent that invention is what makes the non-obvious obvious, you can no longer tell if an invention was obvious.

    That is why Measuring Obviousness is like measuring a cloud.

    The CAFC’s pragmatic obviousness test, “Teaching, Suggestion, Motivation,” or TSM, is a test that is determined by the presence of some evidence, or the lack of evidence. Of course, there will be on-the-fence cases, and some silly stuff may slip through, but that’s life, and that’s what court’s are for.

    Teaching, Motivation, Suggestion works because TMS is in essence based on some form of identifiable evidence — patentability cannot be likened to measuring a cloud.

    TSM!, because nothing else works.

  40. While we’re on the subject of gripes about PAIR, I’ll add my item to the wishlist: links between entries in the three PTO databases I use most, namely 1) PAIR; 2) Search; and 3) Assignments.

    This would allow me to lookup a published app by inventor name on Search, click to get its IFW from PAIR, and click to see who is the latest assignee of record. Currently, doing this requires three separate entries of data (and three windows).

    RSS would be nice, too.

  41. As far as automated updates of PAIR data, have you considered Carl Oppedahl’s Partridge program? See:

    link to oppedahl.com

    Unfortunately, Partridge-Pub for Public PAIR supposedly does not work anymore and the regular Partridge program relies on legacy Private PAIR, which the USPTO has threatened may go down at any time.

    As for the USPTO — and no I don’t work for them– doing this, I wonder if it is a deliberate attempt to curtail automated methods of using PAIR. The USPTO reminds people that its computer systems are not for automated or bulk downloads. They have warned high volume users that they may prevent access.

    By using a cookie, the USPTO achieves two things. First, it requires such automated programs to be more sophisticated. In addition, they can better track usage than by using an IP address. When tracking using an IP address, the USPTO cannot tell how many users may be using the same public IP address (e.g., if NAT is utilized by an organization) and thus whether to prevent access as abuse or not. If a cookie is used, it can track individual HTTP-based programs.

    I’m not happy about the change, but the above reason is my devil’s advocate reason for the change.

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