In the interview, Michel said there's nothing fundamentally wrong with the 1952 Patent Act. The U.S. patent system needs significantly more funding for the patent office, not legal reform, he said
The U.S. patent system "started to come unglued" in the 1990's, Michel said. That's when the patent office became too lenient in granting broad patent claims and Congress diverted fees generated by the patent office to other uses, he added.
Since 1992, Congress diverted as much as $700 million in patent office fees to other uses, and might have taken another $200 million in the current fiscal year, Michel said. A spokeswoman for the patent office said it anticipated collecting this year about $200 million in fees above its approximately $2 billion annual budget, but legislation awaiting the president's signature would let the office keep $129 million of those fees.
Michel said the government should spend a billion dollars of the already appropriated economic stimulus funds to upgrade the computer systems and staff of the patent office. That could greatly reduce a backlog of 750,000 patents and ultimately create new jobs, he said.
The stimulus would open doors for the companies getting the patents and could generate new jobs at the patent office which lacks regional branches, he said. "There are thousands of unemployed engineers who are…experienced in the patent system as well as their scientific or engineering discipline--they’d make perfect patent examiners," he said in another segment of the interview.
"This is an extremely low cost way, revive the patent office, to stimulate technological advance and job growth, and I think it’s shockingly brainless that the country isn’t doing that," Michel said. "We spent, what, $860 or 700 billion on economic stimulus, most of which as far as I can tell didn’t do very much," he added.
Michel had high praise for the David Kappos, a former IBM patent counsel recently appointed director of the patent office. But he warned that "unless Congress is going to back him up, I don’t think we’re going to get a revived patent office and the country will suffer for decades…the patent system’s weakness is killing the economic future of this country, killing job creation, killing technological leadership," he said.
By contrast, in a final segment of the interview Michel chastised the Supreme Court for failing to set any clear definitions of what is patentable in its recent decision in the Bilski case.