Once upon a time, there wasn’t email, let alone instant messaging, Facebook, Twitter, etc. If you go back far enough, there weren’t even fax machines. Back in those days, patent offices carried out correspondence with applicants through the national postal service, or via private couriers.
There’s always a lag between when traditional “snail” mail is sent and when it arrives. For patent applicants, this created difficulties in two directions. First, mail sent by the patent office would never arrive on the day it was sent, even though the time periods for response would be determined by the mailing date. Second, mail sent to the patent office wouldn’t arrive on the day it was sent, meaning the deadline for filing something might effectively be several days earlier, to allow sufficient time for mail to arrive at the patent office.
In the USA, these difficulties were dealt with by instituting the certificate of mailing practice, described at MPEP 512. Basically, most correspondence (with some notable exceptions) is considered to be filed on the day it is mailed by US first class mail, provided that the filer includes a certification statement with the letter indicating that the correspondence is being mailed on date X. And MPEP 513 explains that any correspondence can be sent by USPS Priority Mail Express, and considered filed on the day it was deposited with the Postal Service.
The EPO’s solution was slightly different: it assumed a 10-day period for letters to arrive at their destination, automatically giving applicants an additional 10 days to get their responses in to the EPO.
Nowadays, correspondence can be sent electronically, and the world’s important patent offices maintain their records in electronic form. Most correspondence from the USPTO is sent electronically, with users of the USPTO’s private Patent Application Information Retrieval system (PAIR) having the ability to check the status of correspondence daily. A few types of correspondence, like petition decisions, are still sent by snail mail before they appear in PAIR, but for the most part a practitioner can see correspondence concerning an application on the day the correspondence is sent.
Israel never quite caught up with either the USPTO or the EPO. The deadline to respond to a letter sent by the ILPTO is however many days or months are established by statute or regulations from the day on which the letter is sent. There’s no 10-day grace period like in Europe, and there’s no certificate of mailing practice like in the USA. So even if your letter from the ILPTO arrives extremely late, you still have the deadline calculated from the date on which the letter was sent.
Now that the ILPTO sends much of its correspondence by email, you might think this doesn’t matter, but unfortunately there are still important letters that are only sent by snail mail, and the timeliness of the Israel Postal Service’s deliver has dropped precipitously in recent years. Hence on July 19 we received a letter mailed May 31 informing us that an application was due to be published at the end of June, setting a day 14 days thereafter (i.e. June 14) to withdraw the application if we didn’t want it published. That letter wasn’t sent by email. Had the applicant wished to withdraw the application to prevent publication, he couldn’t have.
It wouldn’t take much for the ILPTO to rectify this situation. It could, for example, institute a certificate of mailing program of its own volition, indicating that it will regard correspondence mailed with the Israel Postal Service to be received at the Office on the day it was mailed. Or it could say that it automatically grants an extension of 10 or 15 or 30 days to any deadline for which correspondence from the Office was only sent by snail mail.
It could do those things, but I’m not holding my breath.