ChemDraw Helps Patent Office Meet 21st Century Challenges

For over 200 years, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) has carried out its constitutional and legislative mission to promote industrial and technological progress in the United States. The first U.S. Patent, issued in 1790, bears the signature of George Washington. Today, the PTO administers the laws relating to patents and trademarks while ensuring the creation of valid, prompt, and proper intellectual property rights. It also advises the Administration on all domestic and global aspects of intellectual property.

The increased pace and complexity of technological progress is creating new challenges for the PTO as the numbers of both patent and trademark filings continue to rise, almost regardless of economic conditions. At the same time, the globalisation of economic activity has led to new cooperative initiatives between the USPTO and other intellectual property offices such as the patent offices of Europe and Japan.

In 2001, the PTO issued 187,000 patents, and today there are over 400,000 applications waiting to be examined. The pendency time, or average time from filing to issing a patent, is over two years and climbing. In addition to this heavy workload, the technological complexity inherent in the subject matter challenges the knowledge of the 3,400 patent examiners as they search for precedents or earlier mentions as they validate patent claims.

Planning to meet the challenges

The USPTO has developed a five-year strategic plan to meet its obligations by improving the quality of its patent and trademark determinations, and increasing productivity, to yield an 18 month pendency time. A key element in the plan is the expansion of electronic filing; while inventors can submit electronic patents now, very few do-because patent applications may run to dozens or even hundreds of pages. In the chemical, pharmaceutical, and biotechnology fields, these documents may contain hundreds of chemical structures. Since January 1999, the US Patent Office has admitted ChemDraw documents as electronic supplements to paper filings; in the future, the PTO wants to move completely to electronic filing.

Today, the 450 examiners in the biotechnology and organic chemistry branch of the PTO often have to extract the chemical structures from a printed patent application and copy them to their computers to use in queries for numerous databases. But soon, they’ll have a new tool on hand to deal with problems like this, as the USPTO deploys ChemDraw to a large group of examiners.

Government agencies like the PTO cannot endorse or recommend products. There are strict rules about interviewing government employees about why they chose to buy a certain package, but it’s clear that ChemDraw was the first choice for a number of reasons.

Why ChemDraw?

The PTO wanted to use software that is well known to the patent-writing community, including intellectual property law firms and scientific authors. With its long history of recognition by major journals, and its widespread use by law firms, ChemDraw was the leading choice. ChemDraw is also used by Reed Technology and Information Services, RTIS, which is working with the PTO to publish all issued patents in electronic form with embedded ChemDraw structures. Finally, ChemDraw is well established in the academic community among both students and researchers. In summary, as the PTO expresses it, ChemDraw is the leading program among “those of skill in the bio/chemical arts.”

In seeking a tool with rich, varied drawing capabilities, the PTO had no difficulty identifying ChemDraw as the leader. For searches the PTO needs to conduct, it’s important to be able to draw multiple bonds, specify multiple substituents, indicate stereochemistry, and designate different atom and bond properties. ChemDraw’s user interface features, such as keyboard shortcuts, right-click context menus and tear-off menus, allow different workers to use the software in ways that are comfortable to them. The ability to handle multiple file formats, such as the ISIS sketch format, MOL files, SMILES and SMIRKS give ChemDraw extra utility in dealing with patent applications from many sources.

ChemDraw also provides a number of “extras” that the PTO found interesting. Among others, these include:

  • The ability to work with chemical structures in Excel spreadsheets
  • Generation of structures from chemical names with high reliability
  • The ability to specify complex queries with variable properties
  • ChemDraw’s new polymer notation
  • The ability to specify drawing attributes for each object or element in a drawing
  • The ability to create tables of structures, again with individual property settings within each structure.


Among the key goals of the PTO’s strategic plan is the expansion of electronic filing of patent and trademark applications. RTIS now processes over 9,000 patent documents per week, some that have been granted and some in the pre-grant stage. ChemDraw facilitates this effort for the chemical sciences by providing intelligent chemical structures. Making the structures available in electronic form simplifies the “prior art” search, the task of searching patents for prior uses or citations of chemical structures.

The USPTO is an essential foundation of the American intellectual property system, which is regarded by Congress as an important source of technological innovation and economic competitiveness. Although the obstacles are daunting and the strategic plan ambitious, the importance of an efficient, accurate patent system is apparent to all in the invention community. New electronic tools like ChemDraw will help the USPTO meet the challenges of the 21st century.

Written by Bruce R. Gelin, Ph.D.

ChemDraw is supplied and supported worldwide by Adept Scientific plc, Amor Way, Letchworth, Herts. SG6 1ZA; telephone +44 (0) 203 695 7810, fax +44 (0) 203 695 7819, email or see Adept’s World Wide Web site Adept Scientific is one of the world’s leading suppliers of software and hardware products for research, scientific, engineering and technical applications on desktop computers.

With offices in the UK, USA, Germany and throughout the Nordic region, Adept Scientific is one of the world’s leading suppliers of software and hardware products for research, scientific, engineering and technical applications on desktop computers.

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