Most coherent discussions of patent statistics need to consider patent families rather than only individual patents. In an earlier posts, I wrote about the reality that most US patents claim priority to a previously filed patent document — e.g., a prior US patent application, a prior provisional patent application, a foreign patent application filing, or a PCT application filing.
One way to consider these layers of filings is to look at the “total pendency” of an application. Here, I calculate total pendency as the time period beginning with the earliest priority date claimed and ending with issuance. The histogram below shows the total pendency for patents issued in 2011 and through March 14, 2012. The average and median total pendency is just under five years. I.e., the average recently issued patents is based upon a patent application filed about five years ago. If we look at application-by-application pendency without considering priority claims then the average is about 3.4 years. The USPTO reports an average pendency of 2.8 years by (1) ignoring priority claims and (2) counting the RCEs as new application filings.
An important caveat here is that a significant portion of the average five-year delay is due to delays by the patent applicant rather than the USPTO. Applicants have a significant amount of control in determining where their particular patent falls within the histogram.