Pendency of US Patent Applications

This next chart is helpful for those considering patent application pendency.  As the title suggests, the chart shows the pendency of U.S. Utility Patent Applications grouped by quarterly disposal date.  Here, the pendency begins with an application’s filing date and ends with either a patent being issued or the application being abandoned.


The chart itself actually includes five separate data series: Three displaying average pendency and two displaying median pendency.  Although the average is useful for someone considering a portfolio of applications, the median may offer a more ‘typical’ application.  The series are labelled either “Crouch Data”, “USPTO CE Data”, or USPTO Dashboard.  The USPTO CE Data includes pendency for utility applications filed 1981+ and disposed-of 1985-2014 and the raw data on disposals comes from the USPTO Chief Economist.  Because I wanted to include some post-2014 data, I also obtained a sample of about 30,000 applications published 2001+ and looked at the disposal pendency of those applications.  This is the Crouch Data.  Finally, I also included the past two years of data from the USPTO Dashboard. The averages and medians are reported these data sets except for the Dashboard.  Looking at differences between the data – the primary difference is that the Crouch Data shows a higher pendency.  I believe that this is primarily driven by the fact that a non-trivial number of patents issue prior to an application’s would-be publication date and thus are excluded from my data set.

In general, you’ll note that the average/medians have shifted fairly dramatically over the past three decades — more than doubling from 1996 to 2010 and now falling again in recent years. The USPTO reports the most recent average pendency at 33 months from filing.


29 thoughts on “Pendency of US Patent Applications

  1. 4

    Of course, any useful interpretation would have to take into account size of examining corps, average gs level of corps, changes in bd, changes in count system, changes in OT allowed, changes wrt how bonus structure influences production, changes wrt RCEs, number of applications, changes in application distribution, etc.

    But for some reason I expect people to draw useless conclusions from the data to try to prove/disprove their/others’ feelings about the PTO.

    1. 4.1

      That is, it’s important to fully understand all of the inputs that affect a metric; only then can you draw fruitful conclusions.

  2. 3

    Anytime the application rate is increasing above some nominal level (as it was for quite a few years under the Kappos era), the pendency length can be expected to rise. If pendency under those circumstances doesn’t increase, then there’s likely a much bigger problem being presented to (or by) the system than “longer application processing time”.

    The principle is pretty much the same as the one that causes your travel time to increase during the holidays.

      1. 3.1.1

        …the rise is reflected in the Dudas era – and the beginning of the drop occurred in the Kappos era.

        Exactly opposite of the point you are trying to make.

    1. 3.2

      Assuming the size of the corps is the same, increases in # applications would *probably* increase pendency.

      Caveats include case distribution, changes to overtime, corps gs distribution, redistribution of older cases to examiners without a backlog, etc.


          Jesus Christ, it’s not my assumption. It’s a type of if-then statement: assuming [x], [y] is probably true. With caveats listed below.


            Why are your swearing?

            You posed a condition and I (quite reasonably) asked why you would pose such a condition.


              It’s related to MMs assertion.

              Also, link to

              Corps grew starting in 2010, so decrease in pendency may be related to new hires, not entirely related to allowing willy-nilly, as MM implies, although there is probably some lag time, too.


                Of course, it could well be related to examiners just allowing things because they wouldn’t be penalized for improper allowances anymore (Kappos). Depends also on other factors I mentioned.

                1. Your Kappos statement is without merit and shows your bias.

                  No one ever stated (and certainly not Kappos) that any such illegitimate allowances were all of a sudden “fair game.”

                2. You cannot state “no one stated it” right after YOU stated it.

                  As I have always maintained, rubber stamping of either Reject Reject Reject or Accept Accept Accept is not acceptable (and is most definitely NOT the message to take away from what Kappos said when he first addressed the examiners (that quality does not equal Reject).

                3. Right, so the person who lets people rubber stamp Allow Allow Allow isn’t to blame at all for more junk being issued.

                  And I clearly just want to Reject Reject Reject novel and non-obvious apps, or something. Better use more bold text next time.

                4. You are talking in circles PatentCat.

                  And then to turn around and take a shot at accent forms is rather “Malcolm” of you (and no, that is not a good thing).

    1. 2.1

      Thanks Anon. I had not seen Ron’s post on IP Watchdog. After looking at it, I have some difficulty with his claim that the 18-publication system causes longer patent pendency. It does not appear that the PTO is waiting for publication in any way and about 15% of patents issued in 2013-2014 had < 18 months pendency.

      1. 2.1.1

        I find the lack of urgency in the traditional “Quid Pro Quo” story compelling.

        If the Office already has the most that it can ever get out of an applicant – and can have this without a grant, what real motivation remains to move applications along…?

        Can it be an accident that the “decks chairs” on the USS(PTO) Titanic began piling up only after the move to make public prior to grant occurred? (this also ties into the rather p00r “deal” applicants received with the PTA negotiations).

      2. 2.1.2

        That 15% with pendency under 18 months…

        Can you break that down a liitle bit?

        How much of that was due to special (expedited) programs?

        How much of that was due to (expected ease) of continuations or divisionals?

        How much of that was due to a sub group of RCEs (the flavor of easy count “gravy train” examiner “gifts”?


          I do not have the answer to those questions right now.

          However, how are they relevant to the proposition that: the high application pendency is explained by the fact we publish patent applications.


            The special programs should be removed from your analysis, as they are not in the same population for timing purposes.

            (apples to apples and all)


              That would likely shift the outcome since most patents fall under one or more of your listed special programs (expedited, continuation, divisional, RCE).

      3. 2.1.3

        You apparently have missed the crux of my article. The duration to the 18-month publication events is not the cause for the pendency rise. Your counter, that some applications are published even sooner than 18 months as if publication is a gate, demonstrates the misapprehension. The institution of pre-grant publication for the vast majority of US applications (irrespective of whether published sooner than 18 months) is the indirect but powerful cause for the rise in pendency. The direct cause for the rise is the subsequent loss of interest of the public to ensure early grants because most applications are published within 18 months regardless of when or whether they are granted.

        Also, the fact that a minority (15%) of patents are issued in less than 18 months is irrelevant just as much as the fact that about an equal number of patents are issued after more than 5 years. Rather, it is the rise in average pendency that speaks to my point – examination resources after 2001 were allowed to trail far behind those required for matching or exceeding application disposal rate to the arrival rate.

  3. 1

    Does this take into effect any of the “RCE” time for applications currently pending? The Office has made a few conscience efforts to address “pendency” through more emphasis on quicker first actions (including some rather questionable requests for divisions) as well as letting RCE’s dwell for longer and longer times. If the dwell items for RCE’s are not included, a false sense of timing may ensue.

    1. 1.1

      In some of its data, the PTO treats an RCE as a disposal (abandonment) followed by a new application filing. That seems wrong to me in most circumstances. In the charts above, RCEs are not counted as anything other than an interim prosecution issue and not an abandonment or new application filing.

      1. 1.1.1

        So it very well may skew the timing – and tremendously so…. (depending on the volume of actual RCEs and how many of those are sitting way back on the Examiner’s “todo” lists….


          USPTO’s current RCE backlog is < 30,000. There was a short time period (~ 1 year) where the PTO toyed with letting a larger backlog accumulate, but that was eventually seen as administratively problematic.

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