U.S. Patent Office’s Green Tech Fast Track Program Expands Its Reach

solar power


The United States Patent and Trademark Office’s (USPTO) Green Technology Pilot Program, launched in December to fast track green tech patent applications, has been good to many companies–Skyline Solar, for example, received a patent for its concentrating solar photovoltaic module in 10 weeks instead of the average wait of several years. But the program also turned down hundreds of patent applications because they didn’t fall under any of the classes or subclasses (PDF) defined by the USPTO as green technology. Now the patent office has apparently seen the error of its ways (how can you classify an all-encompassing term like “green tech”?) and decided to get rid of the classification system altogether.

The USPTO explains:

When the Green Technology Pilot Program was announced in December 2009, the program was limited to inventions in certain classifications in order to assist the USPTO in balancing the additional workload and to gauge the resources needed for the program. The USPTO has determined that the classification requirement is unnecessary because the workload has been balanced with other mechanisms, and the requirement was causing the denial of petitions for a number of green technology applications that would have otherwise qualified for the program.

To date, more than 950 requests have been filed by applicants who wish for their application to be eligible for the Green Technology Pilot Program. Only 342 of those have been granted, primarily because many of the inventions weren’t in classifications that were eligible.

The USPTO has to classify green tech somehow, of course, so there are still requirements. Patents must somehow increase the quality of the environment by cutting down on greenhouse gas emissions, increasing the use of renewable energy, or increasing energy efficiency. But they don’t have to fall under specific categories outlined by the Patent Office–i.e. solar cells, fuel cells, nuclear power, or electric vehicles.

We have to wonder if the USPTO knows what it’s getting into. The organization had a goal of evaluating 3,000 applications for the fast track program within a year–a number that might easily be reached under the new system. And after that? The USPTO might want to consider extending the program past the 3,000 application cap. After all, there’s no such thing as too many solutions to our energy crisis.

Ariel Schwartz can be reached on Twitter or by e-mail.

About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more