In reference to the patents: US8159357 and its citation US7439887

The patents seemingly have nothing to do with one another, yet the patent examiner added the citation US7439887 (GIF decompression) to US8159357 (Means for prospecting water on heavenly bodies)

My question is, do examiners sometimes 'mess up'? Would this be one of those cases or is there some subtext I do not see? How similar do patents have to be for an examiner to add it as a citation? What is the process in which examiners add citations?


Based on the following response from a different question I gather Google uses OCR to categorize the patents- as such this might not be so much an examiner error such as a software error, although it really doesn't look like it. However, I would still like to know about human error among examiners.


1 Answer 1


This is an obvious error. The US 7,439,877 patent citation is the correct one because it is in the same space and has the same inventor as the patent in question. The two identifiers are only off by a single digit and have the same publication date:

US7439877   May 18, 2007    Oct 21, 2008    Philip Onni Jarvinen    Total impedance and complex dielectric property ice detection system
US7439887 * Feb 13, 2007    Oct 21, 2008    Seiko Epson Corporation Method and apparatus for GIF decompression using fixed-size codeword table
* Cited by examiner

For what its worth, using integers as a unique identifier is error-prone (due to OCR errors and human transpositions, as you mention).

Now, I think there are some other interesting issues with this patent grant. Nowhere in the document is there a reference to an application. The priority date and filing date are identical: March 30, 2009, which means there was no provisional application. Nowhere in the document does the grant claim the benefit of the priority of other applications or grants.

The USPTO records and Google Patents records agree on the lack of a recorded patent application.

However, looking at the Espacenet record, we see the following:

Application number: US20090383894 20090330
Priority number(s): US20090383894 20090330

However, the application US20090383894 does not exist in Google Patents or the USPTO database.

Searching in the USPTO Public Pair system for 12/383894, we can find some interesting information about the application. It has a lengthy list of actions, including abandonment, withdrawal of abandonment, "Request for Applicant Statement Regarding Potential NASA Interest", and a request for special consideration due to advanced age of the inventor. The application itself (US 2009/0383894) is also contained in the Image File Wrapper.

Also in the Image File Wrapper is the Examiner's search strategy and published results:

04-01-2010 SRNT Examiner's search strategy and results

which is followed on the same day with a document containing US 7,439,887 as Prior Art:

04-01-2010 892 List of references cited by examiner PRIOR ART

The terms and class codes that the Examiner searched should not have turned up US 7,439,887. It is in class 341, and search was restricted to class 340. Human error.

  • 1
    Really appreciate the journey you went on to more or less confirm human error. I'm not overly familiar with the patent world- I take it this level of similarity is uncommon Commented Jul 29, 2015 at 14:20
  • @DylanMadisetti Yes, I think that this examination was a rush job based on the "Special Consideration due to Advanced Age of Inventor". Unfortunately, examiner's are generally limited to 18 hours for providing a response on a patent application, so even without the special consideration they are under a lot of pressure to turn documents around as quickly as possible.
    – Parker
    Commented Oct 28, 2015 at 10:16

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .