USPTO ends “warning system” for outlandish patents

By Joe Mullin

Earlier this week, leadership at the US Patent and Trademark Office distributed a memo indicating they were retiring the “Sensitive Application Warning System,” or SAWS, a little-known program inside the USPTO since 1994.

SAWS was meant to identify patent applications that claimed controversial material, give them additional review, and alert leadership to them. To win approval, SAWS patents had to be authorized by a Technology Center leader or upper Patent Office management. That slowed some applications to a crawl. The patent office has maintained that SAWS wasn’t a “secret program,” but it’s hard to see it any other way, since examiners were instructed not to talk about it.

Mostly, the program was meant to rope in patent applications that were simply outrageous. Examiners were advised to flag claims to have cured AIDS or the common cold, perpetual motion machines, cold fusion, and room temperature superconductors. One technology group advised examiners to submit applications containing “controversial, illegal, objectionable or derogatory subject matter,” such as marijuana or pornography, to SAWS. Other examiners received memos suggesting they submit patents being used in litigation, or that had produced high-dollar awards.

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