Working on a Patent That Will Help with the Coronavirus Crisis?

For small biz, there’s a new fast lane

The speed of the coronavirus outbreak has prompted a surge of rapid response research and development in the quest to contain, cure, or stamp out the virus. In an effort to hasten such innovations, the United States Patent and Trademark Office just announced a new program for small businesses that picks up the pace and reduces fees for patents in the COVID-19 space. 
“Independent inventors and small businesses are often the difference makers when it comes to cutting-edge innovation and the growth of our economy,” said Andrei Iancu, Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO in a statement. “They are also in most need of assistance as we fight this pandemic. Accelerating examination of COVID-19-related patent applications, without additional fees, will permit such innovators to bring important and possibly life-saving treatments to market more quickly.”
If you or your organization is one of the many working around the clock to discover something that hinders the virus, here is a rundown of some important aspects about the pilot:
Access Is Limited

To qualify for the pilot, application claims “must cover a product or process that is subject to U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for use in the prevention and/or treatment of COVID-19,” according to the announcement.  Applicants must also fall under small or micro entity status. Among those fitting that definition are businesses with no more than 500 employees, people who work for universities and nonprofit organizations, and single inventors.  If you think you meet those standards, you’ll still need to act swiftly because the USPTO will accept up to 500 requests for prioritized examination under the pilot.
Quick Responses Put You on the Fastest Track

The process of receiving a patent is a protracted one. On average, it currently takes about two years—a long time for sure, though it’s noteworthy that the timeline has been steadily shrinking. In 2014, by comparison, winning a patent averaged more than 27 months, according to USPTO statistics.  Under the new COVID-19 program,  the goal is to shorten the course to 12 months. But there is one thing pilot applicants can do to reduce time to approval to as few as six months: reply to the USPTO earlier than required, within 30 days of the notice. Translation: Don’t take all the time the examiner allots. Hand your answers in ASAP.
Keep it Short and Simple

Applicants under the fast-tracked COVID-19 program cannot have more than four independent claims or more than 30 claims in total. No multiple dependent claims allowed either. And if you file an amendment to your application that produces more than the apportioned claims above? You’re breaking the original rules and will lose your priority status. Which means you drop off the examiner’s “special docket” and moved to the “regular docket.”
For more information, see the full outline in the Federal Register Notice.