Recent information shows that the US Patent Office (USPTO), which has the task of evaluating and granting patent applications, has since 2006 a secret classification system for patent applications that are considered controversial or 'inconvenient'

SAWS, The Secret Patent Classification System of USPTO

Patent applications classified under SAWS (Sensitive Application Warning System) are scrutinized and their grant is often deliberately delayed. Where the average time between filing and issuance of a normal American patent concerns about 2.5 to 3 years, a company whose application was placed under the SAWS program often has to await a grant for a period twice as long (if his patent is granted at all). An applicant having received the SAWS imprint will not be informed of the latter, and will find itself in an IP vacuum without even realizing.

The reasons for classifying a patent application under SAWS are diverse, and the exact criteria are unclear. A fifty-page document was released by IP office Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton, which revealed the practice, refers to vague descriptions such as "dangerous", "too frivolous", "too advanced" (!) and would potentially generate unwanted media coverage when granted“. Additionally, applications which are situated in the areas of telephony (smartphones), Internet applications and education are found to be more susceptible to a classification under SAWS. However, clear guidelines are lacking at the moment.

Although the SAWS program is probably more exception rather than rule, it does at least raise some eyebrows. Wilfully obstructing the granting of a patent can have a serious impact on businesses, which often result in a loss of investment for the company or which obliges them to adjust their business strategy. The scarce information known about the system seems to indicate that especially start-ups with promising technologies are prone to become a victim of SAWS.


Article Published August 26th, 2015