SAN JOSE, Calif. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office gave itself high marks in an annual report issued Monday (Nov. 17) for meeting or exceeding its targets for handling a rising stack of patent applications. However, the office still has not found a route to clearing its growing backlog of applications despite several programs in the works.
A total of 495,095 patents were filed in the past fiscal year, up 5.7 percent from last year, according to the USPTO's 152-page annual report available online. Examiners read 448,003 patent applications in the past fiscal year, 14 percent more than in the 2007 fiscal year, and a record number (72.1 percent) were filed electronically.
On average it took examiners 25.6 months to take first action on a patent application and 32.2 months to make final decisions. The figures continue a gradual decline over the past several years. For example, in fiscal year 2005 the office took first action on applications within 21 months and final action within 29.1 months on average.
Performance varies widely in different patents and industry sectors
"I had a patent that took eight years to issue that was approved last year," said Steve Perlman, one of the inventors of Apple QuickTime and the WebTV set-top box who has testified before Congress on patent reform.
"I had another one that waited five years before a patent examiner took a first look at it in 2008. The file was not even opened for five years. There's a lot of stuff you file that will just not be significant in five years," he said.
"We are still falling behind, and the backlog is growing," said John Doll, Commissioner for Patents and Acting Deputy Under Secretary for the UPSTO in an interview with EE Times.
The USPTO hired more than 1,200 new examiners last year. It has been hiring nearly 1,000 examiners a year for the last few years, but it is not enough.
"Three years ago we had about 90,000 cases we couldn't get to, and two years ago it was about 60,000 cases," Doll said. "At our current rate in about 2012 filings may equal the number of cases we process, but we will probably have 800,000 cases in the backlog by then, so we need to gain efficiencies in the system, and that's what we are trying to do with some new programs," he added.