USPTO examines patent applications to ensure that inventions are, among other requirements, novel and not obvious. USPTO patent examiners accomplish this by comparing applications to "prior art" — existing patents and applications in the United States and abroad, and nonpatent literature, such as scientific articles. Thorough prior art searches help ensure the validity of granted patents.
The GAO was asked to identify ways to improve patent quality through use of the best available prior art. This report (1) describes the challenges examiners face in identifying relevant prior art, (2) describes how selected foreign patent offices have addressed challenges in identifying relevant prior art, and (3) assesses the extent to which USPTO has taken steps to address challenges in identifying relevant prior art.
The GAO made seven recommendations, among them, that USPTO develop a strategy to identify key sources of nonpatent literature, establish goals and indicators for prior art search quality, and collect sufficient information to assess prior art search quality. USPTO concurred with GAO's recommendations.