The benefits of a (near-)paperless patent prosecution practice
by Robert J. Sayre
In the summer of 2007, when Modern Times Legal launched, recent developments had made switching to a paperless practice highly practical and advantageous--for example, the USPTO's electronic filing system was running smoothly nearly all the time; the beta phase of the USPTO's e-office action program, which provides fast and efficient electronic communication from the USPTO, was launching (Modern Times Legal was an early subcriber); clients had grown comfortable with email communications; electronic data storage was cheap; and web-based data backup and inexpensive scanners were widely available.
The picture in the right-hand column of this page shows me practicing patent law--most of the time, I do not need much more than a laptop, with perhaps an extra monitor. And after two years under this model, here are a few of the advantages I have identified of running a near-paperless patent prosecution practice:
Space saving: 11 years of practice at larger firms had rendered me accustomed to massive file rooms taking up much of a floor (where rental space per square foot was expensive). Each patent application file can readily expand to a few inches thick stuffed with all of the relevant documents; and you can figure that each patent prosecutor is working on dozens of patent applications in a given year. Throw in a couple opinion letters or whatnot, and you have a couple more feet of files. A quick calculation tells you that storage space per attorney per year is measured in yards/meters not inches/cm. At this point, I hardly need mention what a waste of resources the paper-intensive model represents; and without a need for file storage, it is naturally much easier to operate from a much smaller footprint, making the paperless attorney nimbler and more cost-efficient.
Access to information: Moreover, having instant electronic access to all of my files is highly advantageous. If a client calls asking about a case, I can quickly pull it up on my screen (no need to wait for a delivery from the fileroom); alternatively, because all files are stored electronically, clients can engage in no-charge self-help and pull up the documents they need on their own whenever they want via the MXL client portal. Further still, when an examiner calls wanting to talk about a case, I am ready to respond on the spot as I can quickly pull up the relevant files; and when an examiner calls, I find it is best to respond quickly; as a subsequent phone tag sequence may dampen progress and waste time. And if I am away from the office--no problem, I still have ready access to all of my files. Electronic data storage also provides much greater access to information, as everything is keyword searchable, so it does not matter if I have no more than a vague recollection of where I previously encountered an issue, my computer can quickly find the relevant files.
Cheaper, faster communication: Paperless file storage, communication and filing also saves the client money. As a client, are you regularly nickled and dimed for postage, printing, fax printouts, etc.? Today, there is no need to pay these charges. Filing patent applications via the electronic filing system, for example, not only saves in charges for all of the otherwise requisite paper shuffling, it is safer, faster and more-efficient than paper filing. If you have not yet switched to electronic filing, I think you owe it to yourself or your company/firm to look into it. And if there is an important development on your case, do you want to wait for the mail/package to arrive to read about it or do you want news and documents in your inbox immediately? In my experience, most clients prefer the latter.
Safety: If a print file "goes missing" in a law office (and, yes, it often happens in many offices), much of the information in that file may be lost permanently. With electronic record keeping, however, files are easily backed up via multiple media in mulitiple locatiions. If a file is lost or corrupted, there will usually be multiple backup copies.
Sustainability: Further still, there is great pride and satisfaction in running a near paperless practice in pursuit of the broader goal of operating a sustainable law practice. I believe that, where feasible, attorneys can and should take progressive action to set an example for the betterment of society. Stepping off the soapbox, I use the term "near-paperless" to reflect that I do print out key documents where helpful or necessary and submit some correspondence by mail (no need to make sacrifices as a consequence of being beholden to idealism), though even allowing for the occasional print document, you can still secure most of the same "paperless" benefits.
If you wish to take advantage of modern technology and the benefits in terms of cost, efficiency, and speed of a near-paperless practice when filing/prosecuting patent applications, please contact me. If you are a patent attorney and wish to shift to a near-paperless practice, I likewise invite you to contact me; and I will be happy to share my experiences and helpful pointers for making the transition.
I thank those of who help to keep this blog paperlessness by reading it online, and the RSS and email subscriptions to this blog are always paper free. Though if you want to print out entries from this blog and read them, e.g., on the subway, go for it. One can balance idealism and practicality and still achieve great gains.