Last year, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) routinely assigned patent applications for bioinformatics inventions to examiners in diverse departments. Then the office made a projection, based on input from companies, that it would receive more than 300 such applications in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. To ensure consistent treatment for the predicted flood of filings, PTO created Art Unit 1631 (AU1631) last December. This unit now consists of 10 examiners holding degrees, sometimes joint ones, in disciplines ranging from biology to physics to electrical engineering.

The deluge, however, never materialized. As of Oct. 1, there were about 110 pending applications in AU1631, most of which claim diagnostic methods based on analysis of gene arrays, according to Jasemine C. Chambers, a director of PTO's Technology Center 1600, which oversees the unit. Uncertain as to why the shortfall occurred, she suggests that some inventors may have merely...

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