The answer is—maybe not, at least based on a study reported in the respected journal, Research Policy, Christopher Cotropia, Mark Lemley and Bhaven Sampat, “Do applicant patent citations matter?”, 42 (2013), 844-855). (This Kat was not able to find a link to the text of the article, but there is a version of the article that is available for Kat readers on ssrn.com, here.) The authors found, to their surprise”, that “[p]atent examiners generally do not rely on what would appear to be the most promising source of prior art: information submitted by the applicants themselves.”
Stated more comprehensively:
… [P]atent examiners did not use applicant-submitted art in the rejections that narrowed claims before these patents issued, relying almost exclusively on prior art they find themselves. This is not simply because the applicants have “drafted around” the art they submitted. Even late-submitted art is not commonly used by examiners in their rejections. Nor does the examination appear to be that applicant art is uniformly weak. We also provide evidence suggesting examiners are less likely to use prior art discovered by foreign search authorities for the same invention, art that is presumably of better than average quality and relevance.As such, the authors go on to observe:
“Our findings have potential implications for policy initiatives that aim to improve patent quality through bringing more ‘prior art’ before examiners, under the theory that with better access to prior art they would be less likely to issue patents of questionable validity.”Regarding the basic finding, namely that examiners rely on the results of their own searches, the study concluded that 98% of applicant-submitted citations of US patents are not used by examiners in rejections. Instead, more than 90% of the US patents that are relied upon by examiners in rejections derive from patent searches carried out by the examiner. Moreover, examiners used only 2.9% of citations of foreign patents submitted by applicants, and even less applicant-submitted non-patent art, namely 1.1%, in rejections.
This Kat appreciates that behavioural economics is all the rage, here, and that the “myopia effect” would seem to fit within this empirical approach to the social sciences. Indeed, the “myopia effect” might explain the basic finding of the study, namely that US examiners do not use the prior art submitted by applicants. But more empirical work is needed. For the moment, the empirical rigour that undergirds the research method of the study does not extend to the explanation for the behaviour observed.Perhaps this will be the subject focus for a further study. Be that as it may, the current research does offer much food for thought on the way that applicant-submitted prior art impacts on the examination process, at least in the US.