By Andrew Chung
(Reuters) - The United States Patent and Trademark Office has canceled a largely unknown but controversial program that flagged "sensitive" patent applications for heavier scrutiny, saying it was of minimal benefit.
The program, called the Sensitive Application Warning System, began in 1994 and was meant to notify the federal agency's leadership of applications that could generate extensive or unfavorable publicity.
"Upon careful consideration, the USPTO has concluded that the SAWS program has only been marginally utilized and provides minimal benefit," the agency said in a notice posted to its website on Monday night.
The agency said it conducted a review of the program in January.
The review came after attorneys Kate Gaudry and Thomas Franklin at the law firm Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton revealed details of the program in December from documents they obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.
The documents showed that many kinds of patent applications were flagged. They ranged from AIDS vaccines to race-based diagnostics, as well as broad categories such as smartphones, e-commerce systems and anything "pioneering."
At the time, the attorneys said, the program seemed geared to help the patent office avoid embarrassment, but in the process could cause delays and refusals in issuing a patent. They said they objected to the program because neither patent applicants nor their lawyers were entitled to know whether their applications had been flagged.
The USPTO, however, told Reuters at the time the program was not "secret."
A representative from the agency was not immediately available on Tuesday to comment.
(Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Dan Grebler)