What's going on in TC 3700?

In my day job, I'm part of a team that handles a heavy caseload in TC3700.  TC3700 is one of the largest technology centers at the USPTO and covers a diverse range of technologies, including mechanical engineering, manufacturing, and products. TC3700 has some fantastic examiners who are very adept at searching and finding prior art buried in figures that no amount of keyword searching will ever identify. I am impressed on a daily basis with many of the examiners in art unit TC3700.

However, TC3700 also seems to have some of the most unreasonable examiners and supervisors. It is not feelings or anecdotes that give rise to this assertion, but rather the USPTO's own data. As one example, the USPTO publishes various appeal statistics, including the "Monthly Receipts and Dispositions" for each Technology Center. Below is the March 2018 data.


A first interesting statistic is that TC3700 has the second highest number of pending appeals. But since TC3700 has many pending applications, it makes some sense that it has a high number of appeals relative to some other technology centers. A second interesting fact, and one that does not make sense, is that TC3700 has a very high reversal rate relative to other TCs. In March 2018, TC3700 had 497 reversals, 197 reversed-in-part (or affirmed-in-part), and 566 affirmances. The overall reversal rate for the USPTO was 28.1%, but it was almost 40% in TC3700 (which is thus 40% higher than the average).

One has to wonder how it is that the USPTO has so many more improper rejections in an art unit that is, in many cases, dealing with mechanical inventions. Are mechanical inventions so much more challenging to examine correctly? Perhaps. If so, it would be good for the USPTO to address this issue and let applicants know that art units in TC3700 are struggling due to the difficulty in properly examining mechanical inventions.

Another possible explanation is that the management in TC3700, particularly pockets of supervisory examiners, simply do not understand how to make proper rejections, or worse yet do understand yet chose to simply reject applications for improper reasons. Forcing an applicant to go through the appeal process (and experience years of delay and spends thousands of dollars) when the rejection is at least partially wrong 55% of the time (that's over half the time!) seems like the definition of arbitrary and capricious agency action.

Look for future posts on appeal decisions with a particular focus on TC3700.