Not long ago we filed a continuation application at the USPTO, the most recent installment in a chain of applications. The applications all have the same specification and drawings. All were published in pre-grant format, several patents have already issued and published by the USPTO, and the immediate predecessor application has been allowed.
We received a notice in this latest application, telling us we need to file a substitute specification because two of the pages contain characters that can't be read. No such notice was mailed in any of the predecessor applications.
Apparently what's bothering the cretin who reviewed this application is that there is some shading in the tables on those two pages. This shading, present in all the predecessor applications, did not prevent the PTO from publishing the predecessor application; it did not prevent the examiner (who is NOT a cretin) from examining the applications; nor did it prevent the PTO from publishing the granted patents.
But THIS cretin knows better. Maybe he's related to this would-be robber.
As we've noted before, the USPTO farms out the job of pre-examination processing to a contractor. This contractor apparently only hires people who recently arrived in the USA from east Africa and southeast Asia, and does not require its employees to be fluent in English. There is no way for the public to reach the person whose "signature" appears at the bottom of the notice (one "lphan" in the present case) to obtain clarification or to talk some sense into him - not by telephone, not by fax, not by email, not even by carrier pigeon. Instead, we're told to contact a DIFFERENT part of the PTO - the "application assistance unit" (as if applications need help; it's the applicants who need help!) - where after waiting for 45 minutes we can talk to someone whose job it is to guess what was bothering the pre-exam cretin. And if you call the AAU multiple times, there's a good chance you'll get multiple answers.
If the PTO were a real business - i.e., if it had to compete to stay afloat - there would be someone we could talk to to get this ridiculous notice withdrawn. But the USPTO is a monopoly, so it can pretty much ignore its own rules with impunity, since it's rarely worth an applicant's money to get the PTO to follow its own rules. In our case we'll just file the redundant replacement specification and move on.
Considering that the USPTO has been doing this kind of thing for years (one colleague told me she's had this exact same fact pattern, and indeed this isn't the first time we've encountered this, either), one begins to wonder why there hasn't yet been a strangling at the USPTO. Such a course of action probably wouldn't solve any of the problems with USPTO pre-exam, and there's a chance it could result in the strangler losing his license to practice before the USPTO. But it would likely be cathartic.
I'm happy to say, yet again, that for all of my misgivings about the Israel PTO, at least there there's usually someone to talk to when the office sends out letters that shouldn't be sent.