Many patent practitioners have experienced the benefits of examiner interviews in achieving compact patent prosecution. Examiner interviews allow practitioners and examiners to discuss subtle but sometimes significant technical distinctions between their claimed invention and prior art, which is often difficult to articulate on paper. Examiner interviews also allow practitioners and examiners to discuss proposed claim amendments, and allow practitioners to gain oftentimes valuable insight into the examiners’ interpretation of their claimed invention and the prior art. And, not to be overlooked, examiner interviews can allow practitioners to build rapport with examiners.

Notwithstanding the benefits, traditional means of scheduling examiner interviews have proven tedious. Scheduling interviews with examiners by phone often results in a game of phone tag, while attempting to schedule using internet resources e.g., via email or a meeting invitation using Outlook/Webex, requires practitioners to obtain prior authorization. In light of these known hurdles to scheduling interviews, in September of 2015 the USPTO introduced the Automated Interview Request (AIR) program to provide practitioners with an online scheduling tool to request an examiner interview without having to submit prior authorization. Indeed, the AIR program provides a fillable form that includes an option that the request itself be accepted as an authorization to communicate via the internet. The AIR form also allows practitioners to propose a date and time for the interview, as long as that date is at least one week in advance. Once the AIR form is submitted by the practitioner, it is expected that the examiner contact the practitioner to schedule the interview within two business days.

Although introduced almost two years ago, the AIR program does not seem to have gained much traction amongst practitioners. This may be because the requirement for scheduling at least one week in advance is fairly lengthy. This may also be because some examiners do not check their emails frequently enough so that a call to follow up with the examiner may still be necessary. Whatever may be the reason, the AIR program merits consideration by practitioners as it provides a simple mechanism for scheduling examiner interviews and authorizing internet communications, while simultaneously avoiding some of the delays that may inevitably result from scheduling strictly by telephone.   

Lauren Anderson is a patent attorney with particular experience guiding tech industry clients. She practices in Womble Carlyle’s Raleigh, N.C. office.