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Patent office gets e-filing help

The USPTO, taking a step toward making its filing process completely electronic, awards contracts to five companies to offer their services to patent filers.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, taking another step toward its goal of making its filing process completely electronic, has awarded contracts to five companies to offer their services to patent filers.

Each of the five companies--Aspen Grove, AutoDocs, First to File, LegalStar and LexisNexis--will be able to integrate their software and technology with the USPTO, allowing customers to submit secure electronic applications.

The contracts are part of a larger push by the USPTO to update and automate its processes. Currently, only about 2 percent or 3 percent of patent applications are filed electronically. And even those that are filed electronically are converted to paper while they're being processed.

"Except for the not-well-used electronic filing software the patent office has today, when you want to file something, it has to be on paper," said James Shay, CEO of First to File. "Instead of printing stuff out and going to the post office, customers will be able to file with the click of a button."

The USPTO's 21st Century Strategic Plan, released earlier this month, calls for the creation of a system to electronically process patents, including electronic image capture of all incoming and outgoing paper documents, by Oct. 1, 2004.

"This endeavor also fully supports President Bush's e-commerce goals by utilizing the private sector's business expertise to provide better, more efficient and less-costly government services to our citizens," USPTO Director Jim Rogan said.