Fun Fact Friday: How Busy are Patent Examiners?

By José Seba and Chris Chiavatti

Patent practitioners certainly know how busy an IP practice can be.  A day can quickly fill up (and then some) with routine prosecution matters.  However, have you ever thought about the workload of a patent Examiner?

The number of patent Examiners varies widely between jurisdictions.  In terms of number of Examiners, the USPTO dwarfs other patent offices.  Since the USPTO also receives many more applications than other jurisdictions, this is not surprising.  

One might expect that the number of Examiners is related to the number of applications. However, the number of applications per Examiner varies widely between jurisdictions.  As can be seen from the table below, Korean Examiners each have more than five (5) times as many applications as European Examiners.

Source: WIPO

This variation in workload, however, is not reflected by the time that various patent offices take to examine applications.   Based on applications per Examiner, one might predict that the Korean Patent Office would have very long wait times when it comes to examining patent applications.  In fact, Korea is rather in the middle of the pack when one ranks patent offices by how much time it takes between requesting examination and receiving a first official Office Action.

Source: WIPO

While it is clear that the time it takes to examine an application has many factors, the Examiner workload does not seem to be one of these factors.  There appears to be virtually no correlation between the number of applications per Examiner and the time to receive a first Office Action. 

Source: WIPO

Unfortunately, patent offices in other major jurisdictions do not make public their Examiner staffing levels.  As an example, the Chinese patent office, the patent office that has the most number of filed patent applications per year, does not disclose their Examiner staffing levels.  Such data would have provided some interesting insights into the interplay (if any) between Examiner numbers and patent application pendency. 

As we can see, the various patent offices and their Examiners have plenty of applications on their plates.  The next time you have a full inbox, spare a thought for the Examiners on the other end of those applications.

For more information about the global patent application process, please contact our experts at Brion Raffoul.