Inventors question retirement of government patent program

Two inventors are questioning whether a government program that was supposedly shut down in 2015 is still impacting patent decisions.

The program in question, the Sensitive Application Warning System (SAWS), was created in 1994 to flag applications to officials that were deemed controversial by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. 

Todd Zinser, the former inspector general of the Commerce Department, which oversees the patent office, told Hill.TV earlier this month that he believed the program was "insidious" and lacked transparency. Inventors were not notified that their applications for patents had been flagged under the program. 

“To me, that’s very problematic because the applicant should be able to understand what it is about his application that is allowable or is not allowed, and the SAWS program didn’t provide for that," Zinser said.

SAWS was officially shut down in March 2015 under a wave of Freedom of Information Act requests about the program. However, some inventors are complaining that decisions made under the program still stand.

Las Vegas-based inventor Gil Hyatt said the patent office stopped issuing patents to him around the same time SAWS took effect. 

“All of my applications were SAWS-flagged, so to speak, and nothing changed, relative to them. They’re still being treated as SAWS-flagged applications that are prevented from issuing," Hyatt told Hill.TV in September. 

Hyatt went on to claim that the program was biased against individual inventors and in favor of larger corporations. 

"The patent office’s own documentation that we have discovered in litigation clearly shows that SAWS was applied against individual inventors and small entities in some large number. I think the number was eight to one compared to some large companies," Hyatt said. Hyatt is pressing the patent office to take action on his applications through ongoing litigation against it.

Minnesota-based inventor Corliss Burandt also had issues under the program and said he found out his patent application had been flagged under SAWS after an examiner accidentally told him in 2011. 

"To my knowledge, we were never technically notified. It was just an examiner’s comment of record that mentions SAWS in it, and that's how we became aware of it," Burandt told Hill.TV last month. 

Burandt’s application is still under review by an examiner that was assigned to the application under SAWS, leading Burandt and his lawyer to believe the program could be continuing.

“We’ve still got the same examiner that SAWS appointed after the examiner approved my patent. So our opinion is if SAWS doesn’t exist, why are we still going through 200-page rejections?” Burandt said. 

A spokesperson from the patent office said the agency had no comment on the issue, but said the program was retired in 2015. 

Both Hyatt and Burandt continue to wait on updates regarding their applications. 

— Julia Manchester