The Pro Se Pilot Examination Unit Randomized Control Trial

Last registered on April 18, 2023


Trial Information

General Information

The Pro Se Pilot Examination Unit Randomized Control Trial
Initial registration date
April 17, 2023

Initial registration date is when the trial was registered.

It corresponds to when the registration was submitted to the Registry to be reviewed for publication.

First published
April 18, 2023, 5:16 PM EDT

First published corresponds to when the trial was first made public on the Registry after being reviewed.


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Primary Investigator

United States Patent and Trademark Office

Other Primary Investigator(s)

PI Affiliation
Ecole de Management Leonard De Vinci
PI Affiliation
United States Patent and Trademark Office
PI Affiliation
United States Patent and Trademark Office
PI Affiliation
University of Washington, Information School

Additional Trial Information

On going
Start date
End date
Secondary IDs
Prior work
This trial does not extend or rely on any prior RCTs.
In 2014, the USPTO established the Pro Se Pilot Examination Unit (PSPEU) to help inventors without legal representation (pro se inventors) as they went through the patent examination process by providing enhanced guidance and information. After stratifying by technology, pro se patent applications were randomly assigned to the treatment group, the PSPEU, or the control group, the regular examination process.
External Link(s)

Registration Citation

deGrazia, Charles et al. 2023. "The Pro Se Pilot Examination Unit Randomized Control Trial." AEA RCT Registry. April 18.
Experimental Details


The "treatment" is the additional guidance and information provided to applicants by PSPEU examiners relative to standard patent examiner practices given to applications in the control.
Intervention Start Date
Intervention End Date

Primary Outcomes

Primary Outcomes (end points)
Receiving a patent
Primary Outcomes (explanation)

Secondary Outcomes

Secondary Outcomes (end points)
Post-examination outcomes, including patent assignments, security interests and subsequently filed patent applications
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)

Experimental Design

Experimental Design
The USPTO designed the intervention as a randomized control trial, assigning incoming pro se patent applications randomly to either the treatment group, i.e., to the PSPEU, or the control group, the standard patent examination process. Since the USPTO does not collect information directly from applicants on whether they have legal representation, the PSPEU identified potential pro se applications using a search query executed on internal USPTO application data. The approach identified all applications that (1) were not yet assigned to an examiner, (2) did not have a power of attorney communication filed, and (3) were new applications, in the sense that the applications were not continuations, continuations in part, divisionals, reexaminations, requests for continued examination or reissues.

The RCT had two rounds. RCT Round 1 took place in October 2014, randomly assigning applications to either the treatment or control groups (using stratified randomization within the initial technology centers assigned to each application). RCT Round 2, which used the same assignment mechanism, was in October of 2015.
Experimental Design Details
Not available
Randomization Method
Within each technology center, applications were sorted by filing date (earliest first). Then, every other application, one to the treatment and one to the control, was assigned until the examiners in the PSPEU associated with that technology had full dockets of cases to be examined.
Randomization Unit
Was the treatment clustered?

Experiment Characteristics

Sample size: planned number of clusters
Sample size: planned number of observations
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
1131 in treatment, 1230 in control
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)

Institutional Review Boards (IRBs)

IRB Name
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number