Beginning May 4, 2011, a US patent applicant can request prioritized or "fast track" examination at the USPTO under the newly promulgated "Track 1" procedure of 37 C.F.R. 1.102(e). To obtain the Track 1 prioritized examination, the following conditions must be met when the application is filed: (1) the application must be an original utility or plant non-provisional application (i.e., this procedure is not available for international national stage entry applications, design applications, reissue applications, provisional applications, or reexamination proceedings, but is available for continuation and divisional applications, including a continuation application of an international application designating the US); (2) the application must be filed with an executed inventor oath or declaration and all applicable filing and publication fees; (3) the application must not contain more than four independent claims, more than thirty total claims, or any multiple dependent claims; and (4) a request for prioritized examination must be filed together with a $4000 filing fee and a $130 processing fee. Currently, there is no reduction in the $4000 fee for small entity applicants.

The USPTO indicates that it will only grant a maximum of 10,000 application requests for prioritized examination in fiscal year 2011, which concludes September 30, 2011.

Once an application is granted the prioritized status, the application will be placed on the examiner’s special docket throughout its course of prosecution until a final disposition is issued. A “final disposition” is defined to mean (1) mailing of a notice of allowance; (2) mailing of a final Office action; (3) filing of a notice of appeal; (4) declaration of an interference by the Board of Patent Appeals and Interference (BPAI); (5) filing of a request of continued examination; or (6) abandonment of the application.

A word of caution: If an extension of time is taken for any response, prioritized examination will be terminated. Also, prioritized status will be lost if the application is amended to include more than four independent claims, more than 30 total claims, or any multiple dependent claims.

The USPTO’s goal for Track 1 applications is to provide a "final disposition" within 12 months of prioritized status being granted. However, this is a goal, not a guarantee!