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U.S. Patent Office loosens rules for green tech

After a slow start, the patent office tweaks an accelerated green-tech patent program to attract more inventors and patent applications.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is trying to cast a wider net to catch more green-technology inventions.

The patent office announced Friday that it has changed the application process to attract more green technologies into an accelerated patent-review program.

The Green Technology Pilot program was created in December to encourage more inventors to apply for patents relating to green technology. If accepted, those patent petitions will get priority screening under the one-year trial program.

On Friday, the patent office eliminated the need for green technology patent applications to comply with its previously specified classifications. The requirements had narrowed the definition of green technology more than is necessary, the patent office said.

"This will permit more applications to qualify for the pilot program, thereby allowing more inventions related to green technologies to be advanced out of turn for examination and reviewed earlier," David Kappos, director of the patent office, said in a filing in the Federal Register.

The initial target was to have 3,000 patent petitions examined in the first year, with a goal of dramatically cutting down on the average review time of 30 months.

So far, there have been a total of 950 requests for accelerated review, with only 342 requests granted.

The green technology program is designed to encourage development of businesses with products that reduce use of fossil fuels and protect the environment. It's not yet clear how much commercial impact the expedited review process will have, experts told Scientific American earlier this month.

Often, green-tech products are incremental improvements on existing techniques from multiple fields, many of which are patented, the experts said. Still, accelerated examination of an invention could help entrepreneurs incubate green-tech companies faster.

According to a notice from the patent office (click for PDF), inventions are eligible for the program if they include discoveries related to renewable energy, more efficient use of energy resources, or reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.