Copying Private Documents at the Patent Office!
Several people asked how one gets hold of these really private documents. It's very easy! There are four ways:
In Washington, take the Metro (Blue or Yellow lines) to the Crystal City station. At the top of the escalator, there are doors to the left and right that go into the Crystal City Complexes. Take the doors on the left. The corridor will jog and go up-and-down stairs. Eventually, you'll come to a wall painted with a mural of fields & trees. Turn left. After a couple of hundred feet you'll come to an intersection where there is a newsstand, Wachovia bank, 1st Virginia Bank and a jewelers. Keep going straight and make three turns. On your right will be an escalator. Go up the escalator and immediately at the top make a U-turn and go down the steps and out the door to the street. The building on the left is Crystal Plaza 3. Walk around the corner and down the sidewalk to the entrance doors.
When you enter the foyer, there is a security station immediately ahead. The Patent Office has two public rooms: The Search Room, which is to your right, and the File Information Unit (FIU), which is to the left. However, before you can use these rooms, you have to get an ID-badge. Approach the guard at the security desk and tell her that you want to get a temporary badge. She will direct you to a desk near the Search Room (which is beside the restrooms) where you fill out a form and have your picture taken, which they immediately turn into an ID-badge on a chain. You have to wear the badge whereever you go there because the guards do check for it. The badge is good until January 31 of each year.
With your badge, go back to the foyer and cross it to the other side where there is a door marked "1D01B". Enter it and go down the very short hallway. You are now in the File Information Unit (FIU)! To the left is the security guard who will look to see if you have a badge. And just beyond her is the desk where you pick up patents. To the right along the wall are four terminals where you order patents and beyond the terminals is the room where you return the patents.
Ahead of you is a very large room with 20 or 30 copiers. The ambiance of the File Information Unit is busy and noisy. Except for the people behind the desk, none of them are with the government. Half of the people there are the ones who actually do the copying. They are young and carry on loud conversations (i.e., shouting) across the room to other copier persons, usually about sports, their sexual prowess, etc. Since they are copying the entire contents of the wrappers, there is no concentration involved.
The other half of the people are "patent copy services" who manage the copier people. They are non-government individuals who informally sit in the room between the terminals and the Return Room. From a business point of view, they are kind of like pimps. They build up a clientele of private and corporate patent lawyers who call them via cell-phones (all day long) and tell them what patents they want copied, typically for infringement suits or for writing new patents. They request the patent via the terminal and when it arrives in a few hours, give it to their copier person to copy and then they send it to the client.
However, you as an individual can do the very same thing!
The patents that you want to copy are requested by using the terminals and the number on your ID-badge. The people behind the desk are very friendly and will show you how to order them. As you enter each patent number, the terminal will tell you if it's available. The patent documents will be delivered within 4 to 5 hours because they are brought over three times a day from nearby warehouses in Franconia VA and Suitland MD. They are in a fold-around "wrapper" which is typically 1 to 2 inches thick and held with a big rubber-band. It has all of the paperwork concerned with each patent (including Petition correspondence). The desk will hold wrappers for five days for you. Each terminal has a printer so you can print off what you ordered when you're ready to pick them up. Take the printout to the desk and they will check out the wrappers to you. You absolutely cannot take the wrappers out of the room! But you are free to use the machines (at 25-cents a page) to copy anything you want out of the wrappers. And when you are done copying, you put the wrapper in the cart in the Return Room and they return it to the warehouse.
The copy machines do not take coins. To use them you must first get a "copy card" which looks very much like a credit card. To get one, you cross the foyer and go to the far end of the Search Room where there is a room on the right with a cashier. You give her money or a credit card and she puts that much on your card. When you get all done, you can get any money left on the card back. If it's less then $20, they give you the cash. And if it's over $20, they send you a check.
I had obtained the list of denied petitions through a Freedom of Information Act request, so I was pre-armed with a list of around 400 patents whose Petitions to pay a late maintenance fee had been denied. I had FAXed the list of numbers to the FIU ahead of time, so when I arrived on the 8th, I was set to go. However, because of the volume, I was approached by one of the "patent copy service" guys who made a deal with me to use his copier person (who happened to be his relative) at a per-hour rate ($12) for the week that I was there. I think he had slack time which is why he offered that arrangement. (Their normal rate is about fifty-cents a page.) This worked out really well. I would look through the patent documents and put a green Post-it note where he was to start copying and a red Post-it note where he was to stop, since I really wasn't interested in the technical aspects of the patent itself. He would let me know when I was running low on copy card money and I would go put more money on it.
Even with all this help, I was not able to look through all 400 patents. I first concentrated on the patents of the 76 people who had indicated an interest in the lawsuit. About half of the them had actually called me to talk about their situation. Based on their tales, I decided I would look at their wrappers first. Knowing ahead of time what the general nature of the documents would be, I must say that I was still totally surprised at just how personal some of the documents got.
Instead of toting all 1,840 pages of documents on the airplane, I would mail each day's batch of work back to Florida. There is a MailBoxes just beyond the Wachovia bank that will package and mail the documents for you.
My purpose there was two-fold: To compile a list of the "requirements" that the Office of Petitions had put in decisions, and to copy private documents. I did both!
If you have any questions or comments, please contact me.
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