Lets do the math... $1B divided by 750,000 applications equals one (very) nice, new PC for each application!
Washington arithmetic again transcends any reasonable measure of reality.
What we need is a new unit of measure. Obviously, "$1B" is too easily spoken and written, and we need a better way to represent $10M or $50M or $200M, so that government guys can perhaps save a little money as they pound out these proposals on their word processors. Maybe we should switch to yen or bolivars.
I've received training on the East and West patent systems at the USPTO headquarters, and have had the opportunity to utilize both systems for research. I have no doubt that an updating of the software, hardware, and users interface would provide a huge increase in efficiency for the examiners and anyone else utilizing the system. While most of the major private patent and document database research firms have continually invested in their IT infrastructure, and deployed new analysis tools such as Latent Symantec Analysis, Advanced Keyword-based Linguistics Analysis, and others to supplement their Boolean-based interface, and even provide results in 3D and graphical formats, the USPTO system has shown little advancement. It might actually be more efficient for examiners to utilize private systems. This lack of technology coupled with the advanced technology covered in many new patent applications, and both internal and external pressures to eliminate the backlog has to be incredibly frustrating to examiners and is likely a large reason for the high turnover. The complexity of the technology, and thus the complexity of their patents, has been continually increasing, but the technology available to examiners has not. Other issues creating the high patent volume such as novelty are starting to be addressed, but solutions to these issues will not solve the analytical and research limitations. Spend the money that needs to be spent to bring the IT infrastructure up to date first, and then hire new examiners.
The patent office is also one of the few U.S. agencies that lacks regional offices that would let it tap into a broader pool of technically-savvy examiners than it can find in the Washington D.C. area.
IMO the patent office should raise fees if they're having problems with their backlog. From what I've read and heard, USPTO fees are a small part of the legal costs of filing a serious patent. People filing patents expect to get some kind of financial reward from doing so -- why should the public be subsidizing this?
If they want to clear the backlog, start by rejecting immediately all abstract patents, e.g., software and business methods. Anything that can in principle be performed mentally, perhaps supplemented with pencil and paper, is mathematics and should not be patentable. That would take care of a large part of the backlog.
To me, the most troubling part of the article is the statement that the patent office hires lots of examiners right out of college. How can a recent grad who has not practiced make an accurate assessment as to whether an idea is obvious to a person skilled in the art? And how would such people have the experience to know what's already prior art and where to look for more? Small wonder that the USPTO has obtained the reputation of rubber-stamping 90% of applications and letting the courts decide whether the examiners have done their job or not. This puts a huge financial burden on industry, which must choose between hiring lawyers or engineers, and a chilling effect on small companies which are constantly in danger of being sued or threatened by patents which should never have been granted in the first place.
Why is the patent office technology stale and obsolete? Perhaps the solution is to separate it from the government bureaucracy, like the post office. There are few that would deny that the post office technology is first-rate and continually undergoing improvement (even though they cannot make a profit); they have their own engineering staff that produces highly automated and computerized solutions.
RE: betajet's comments:
Raise fees? Didn't the original
article say that $70M of fees is
still being diverted to some general fund?
Amen on killing many categories like most
betajet's last point is actually a
revelation to the true nature to
the current US patent system. It
assumes that examiners will be able
to determine obviousness. This
assumption is made, despite little
experience in the field, and the
examiner having to cover several
different areas. Any real contention
will be litigated anyway, so I question
the value of determining obviousness at
this stage. IP needs to be protected,
but this is not the way to do it.
The absolute maximum job of the USPTO
should be to maintain a record of
claims and confirm the claims are
in some standard format. The determinating
whether the claims are worth anything
should be left for litigation, if it ever
happens. Attorneys are currently double
(triple?) dipping on IP. They get paid
at application, then again at litigation.
And some people want to add a third
opportunity. The argument that any
change of the patent system will
result in some mad rush to massive
litigation is largely bogus. Companies
that are large holders of patents are
constantly hiring IP speciality firms
to review their collection for value in
litigation. Most patents do not have
such value, even before considering
whether there has been any infringement.
I see no reason to believe that such an
assessment process will suddenly stop
once we realize the USPTO cannot
realistically check for obviousness.
When people write about the loss of mojo in the US, this type of article makes you think they have a point. As US lags, the world will catch. It will get to a point where US patent will not lead the world. Someone, Europe or China may decide to invest resources and challenge the US as the most sought out patent. But the biggest economy must learn that it was not the biggest three centuries ago. US must continue to work harder in simple things to stay ahead.
It seems to me that appropriating $1B out of nearly $800B of the stimulous package to address the huge backlog of the patent office is a no brainer. Considering that timely patent prosecution is critical to maintaining the competitive advantage of the US high-tech industry and increasing our exports (resultiing in GDP growth), I don't understand why Congress is not moving on this.