PAIR patents refer to the Patent Application Information Retrieval system at the United States Patent and Trademark Office. This is where the public can access patent documents and other data. Some people are looking for alternatives to PAIR because they're unable to find all the information they need.

When Does a File History Appear in PAIR?

Many patent applications filed in the U.S. appear to be published, but they don't show up in PAIR. Even if someone has a publication or application number, he or she might find the application information at another patent information site but not at PAIR.

The USPTO began providing patent file histories on the PAIR site in 2003. Non-patent lit documents, known as NPL, aren't available because of copyright issues.

Using PAIR to Look Up Patent Applications

PAIR can be helpful if you want to keep up with a pending patent application. You can use PAIR to check the latest information, even if you're using the services of a patent practitioner who you trust. 

Besides the public PAIR, the Patent Office maintains a private system, where registered practitioners and other parties can see their applications, no matter what the publication status is. Anything that a practitioner files with the Patent Office can be viewed immediately in the private system, providing it's properly associated with the PAIR account he or she holds.

The private PAIR system gives an indication of when an application is expected to be processed. Unfortunately, these estimations aren't very accurate.

To get a file history for an international patent application, also called a PCT or Patent Cooperation Treaty, visit the website for the World Intellectual Property Organization. The USPTO doesn't keep records for these types of applications.

Limits Placed on PAIR Downloads

In May 2015, the USPTO began restricting users' ability to perform bulk downloads from the public PAIR system. Users noted that when they attempted to download entire file histories (barring NPLs) on the public system, their download attempts failed. Any future attempts to download portions of a file history also met with failure.

Progressive attempts yield fewer results. For instance, if a user initially downloaded 20 documents, the system cut that number down to 10, and then cut the number down to five. The Patent Office's Electronic Business Center says it has limited bandwidth. If groups exceed download limits, they will be shut down.

The EBC contends that public PAIR was not designed for bulk downloads. They provide a service for users who wish to download bulk data. The agency issued a warning that if users exceeded download limits (regardless of what the limits are), the system would issue an error and users would no longer be able to download anything after that point. This poses a real problem for some users. 

The service that the EBC referred to for bulk downloads is outlined on the agency's webpage devoted to Bulk Data Products. The Patent Office notes it's had an agreement with Reed Technology Information Services since 2013. The agreement is designed to make trademark and patent bulk data for the public to be readily available at no cost.

Reed Tech is supposed to continue working on a data product that's not yet available at the USPTO. This product will consist of public PAIR data. Users point out a couple of problems with this service provided by Reed Tech. 

  • All applications aren't available for download. 
  • The .zip files that Reed Tech provides are slow to download, and a separate PDF file exists for each document in a file history.

The USPTO works to keep services and information available to the public via online channels. If a third party uses any operation or activity (manual or automatic) to decrease or deny the available services of the USPTO to other customers, the Office will deny the third party access to any of its internet resources.

Although the public PAIR system has some uses, it can be limiting at times. You might want to begin with PAIR and then check with your trusted patent practitioner for further information.

If you need help with or need more information about the PAIR system or patents in general, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.