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US Patent Office to take only DOCX in future – or PDFs if you pay extra

Wow, we finally found a fan of XML

Documents submitted to the US Patent and Trademark Office should be in .DOCX format starting from next year – and if you want to stick to PDFs, that will cost extra.

“At the USPTO, we are continuously working to modernize and streamline our patent application systems,” the agency announced this week. “To improve application quality and efficiency, the USPTO will be transitioning to DOCX for all filers on January 1, 2022.”

The office said it decided to make the change years ago in an attempt to streamline the patent examining process. DOCX, otherwise known as Office Open XML, is standardized as ECMA-376 and ISO/IEC 29500. Though it was created by Microsoft and used by its own products, such as Word, the file format is supported by LibreOffice, OpenOffice, Google Docs, and others. And though the Windows giant has sworn it won't sue over licensing and patents regarding DOCX, there are some caveats.

The XML nature of the format, we're told, makes it easier for the patent office's internal systems to automatically extract and process the content of text, tables, graphs, and schematics. PDFs, meanwhile, are more of a pain for machines to grok, and worst-case rely on character recognition techniques to scrape the text into an easier format.

Converting between the two is even more of a pain for the agency. All sorts of mistakes can be introduced, like font errors, or issues with formatting. To prevent all of these problems, the USPTO has decided to encourage the end of PDF submissions altogether. Those who try to sneak in a non-DOCX formatted file will be subjected to a “surcharge fee” on top of the cost applicants usually pay to file for a patent.

The fee will depend on the size of the business or organization filling out the forms: it will cost $400 for large entities, and $200, and $100 for small and micro ones, according to a report outlining the charges (see table 8).

It may sound easy, though submitting forms to Uncle Sam typically is a bit of a nightmare, and the USPTO said it will host training sessions to show people how to prepare, send over, and handle DOCX files with its systems.

“We look forward to continuing our engagement with the public on the DOCX transition so we can better serve America’s innovation community,” it concluded. ®

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