The Central Reexamination Unit (CRU) at the USPTO handles a number of post grant proceedings by examiners selected for expert technical and advanced patent legal knowledge. Ex parte reexamination remains a comparatively low cost proceeding to challenge the validity of a patent. The CRU has recently taken on reissue applications and supplemental examination. At a recent Quarterly Meeting of the Patent Public Advisory Committee (PPAC) held on May 5, 2016, John Cottingham, the Director of the CRU, provided an update of the current workload of the unit.
With the passage of the America Invents Act (AIA), Supplemental Examination proceedings have been implemented at the CRU. (See 35 USC § 257) This proceeding allows patent owners to request supplemental examination of a patent to “consider, reconsider, or correct information” believed to be relevant to the patent. As of May 2016, the CRU has received 111 compliant supplemental examination requests. The average time from date of filing to conclusion of the supplemental examination certificate is about one month.
Director Cottingham provided statistics regarding ex parte reexamination, which is to be handled with “special dispatch.” Currently, there are 435 pending ex parte reexamination proceedings. The average time from filing a request to issuance of an order granting or denying ex parte reexamination is 1.3 months. The average time from filing a request to a Notice of Intent to Issue a Reexamination Certificate (NIRC) with no prior Patent Owner appeal is 11.4 months. The average time from request to NIRC with an appeal to the PTAB is 21 months. (The USPTO maintains some statistics for the CRU online).
As of 2014, the CRU took on the responsibility for examination of all newly-filed applications for reissue. There are currently 2000 reissue applications assigned to the CRU. Three hundred new reissue applications were filed this year.
The CRU closely monitors all pending and concluded PTAB post grant proceedings and reviews all PTAB determinations before taking action is an ex parte reexam or pending reissue application involving the same patent. Patent owners are advised to consider the relative cost and speed of post-grant proceedings handled by the CRU for their own and third party patents.