Anticipate This!™ | Patent and Trademark Law Blog

The New Public PAIR – Now With ReCAPTCHA!

Posted in General Commentary by Jake Ward on January 4, 2008

If you’ve recently had an opportunity to use Public PAIR (the Patent Office’s Patent Application Information Retrieval system that displays information regarding patent application status), you may have noticed that the site is now secured with an “image or audio challenge” that one must overcome to obtain access to the system.   (Example below).


The security system that the Patent Office is employing is called ReCAPTCHA.  ReCAPTCHA is a creator-recommended implementation of the CAPTCHA test, a challenge-response test used in computing to determine whether a user is human.  The term “CAPTCHA” is a contrived acronym for “Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart”.  A trademark application for the mark was filed by Carnegie Mellon University and has been allowed.  Current computers are unable to solve a CAPTCHA test.  Any user entering a correct solution to the test is presumed to be human.  Accordingly, the CAPTCHA test severely limits access to the Public PAIR data by other computer systems and programs.

The Public PAIR system had been plagued with intermittent connectivity problems due to data mining, and ReCAPTCHA apparently is the Patent Office’s attempt to remedy these problems.  We can personally attest to instances where public PAIR was unavailable for considerable lengths of time (although Private PAIR access never appeared to be affected). 

Notably, the Patent Office also is leaving the door open to denying access for any future, unforseen activities (manual or automatic) that may also affect connectivity.  (See the below excerpt from the Patent Electronic Business Center portal). 


To maintain general availability of USPTO information and services provided on the Internet, any activities or operations that cause a denial or diminution (decrease) of services to other customers, whether generated automatically or manually, may result in the Office’s denying access to the Office Internet resources to the offender.

Contact the Patent Electronic Business Center (EBC) with any questions or concerns about this policy. The Patent EBC is a complete customer service center that supports all Patent e-business products and service applications, and can be reached at 571-272-4100 or toll-free at 866-217-9197 between the hours of 6 am and 12 midnight Monday through Friday ET, or by e-mail to

Although we are hopeful that the ReCAPTCHA security will reduce the instances in which Public PAIR is unavailable, one has to wonder if the public will be negatively affected by a loss of information that was being provided via data mining services?  Has this security upgrade positively or negatively affected any of our readers?  Your thoughts are welcomed.

6 Responses

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  1. Dan Nesbitt said, on January 10, 2008 at 10:53 am

    My experience has been that the recaptha is often going into a continurous loop and I’ve typed in the correct spelling a dozen times. This happens two-thrids of the times that I have logged in. It’s not far LESS accessible than ever before.

  2. D.C. Patent Associate said, on January 10, 2008 at 3:41 pm

    That continuous loop error happened to me a few time. But shutting down Internet Explorer and starting it back again seems to correct the problem.

  3. Jake Ward said, on January 13, 2008 at 1:44 pm

    See also the official USPTO press release on the new security system here: .

  4. Thomas Krebs said, on February 1, 2008 at 6:41 am

    Availability of public pair didn’t improve since the introduction of ReCAPTCHA. Worse than that, I also experience the looping problem. Bottom line: Unacceptable!

  5. Bla bla said, on March 20, 2008 at 4:56 am

    Did anyone find a way to monitor US patent status?
    The INPADOC datas are not as precise as the PAIR system and this captcha system is cumbersome when you have hundreds of patents to check!

  6. bing bong said, on September 25, 2008 at 9:09 am

    Availability did not increase since the ReCaptcha introduction, and in fact seems to worsen as time goes on. Public PAIR seems to be down at least half of the time we need it, often with no ETA.
    If you assume that the ReCaptcha system has 1. stopped the automated abuse or 2. at least slowed them down for some time as I would think it would, then we must assume that the traffic which is causing the problem comes from legitimate viewers. Frankly, if you look at the times that Public PAIR is unavailable, and the fact that not only the problem, but the rate of applications is increasing, I think the theory is supported. Has anyone considered that the problem with Public Pair is that it is hugely successful, however grossly under supported? Perhaps a hardware upgrade is all that is needed rather than making us jump through more and more hoops.

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