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Patent Examiners Flee USPTO 387

john-da-luthrun writes "Soaring numbers of patent applications for software and business processes is not only leading to the ludicrous patents for the likes of Amazon and Microsoft. The stress of dealing with vast numbers of applications is leading to an exodus of patent examiners from the USPTO, reports FCW.com. A US Government Accountability Office report (PDF) says that the USPTO has made progress in hiring examiners, 'but challenges to retention remain'. The IP Kat blog quotes Jason Schulz of the EFF, who comments that 'The incredible surge of patent applications, especially in the software and internet business method arena, is just crushing them, and the management problems are rising to the surface with greater visibility for those reasons. Where anything under the sun is patentable, it puts an unbelievable amount of pressure on the patent office'."
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Patent Examiners Flee USPTO

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  • by It doesn't come easy ( 695416 ) * on Friday July 29, 2005 @08:31AM (#13194165) Journal
    A fundamental change will be required to deal with the ever increasing volume of patent applications. I would suggest some form of first level open community review is needed for a first round of patent research and possible elimination based on prior art (you know, as in the Bazaar part of The Cathedral and the Bazaar)...that, and of course outlaw patents on ideas implemented purely by software.

    Of course, to have a public review of a patent application the applicant would need protection against someone stealing the idea before the patent was issued.
    • I would suggest some form of first level open community review is needed for a first round of patent research

      I already suggested that [slashdot.org] and it was shot down by slashdotters.
      • Blah. Just increase the cost of filing a patent.
        For a particular year, make the first 10 cheap, then each one after that doubles the previous price... up to $1 million per patent. That way inventers with little cash can still file some patents, and companies with more than like 20 per year will have to really pay for them.
    • Of course, to have a public review of a patent application the applicant would need protection against someone stealing the idea before the patent was issued.

      The submission dates on patents determine who gets to shake-down whom. Also, public review would likely lead to submission of higher-quality patents, since companies may choose to hold onto any possible trade secrets in applications that are unlikely to pass muster.
      • Patents that include trade secrets can be covered, too. The first level review process would need to exclude the trade secret information. The research would still be valid up to a point. Then the patent office would have to take over for a more thorough review.

        Would need to address abuse of the system by applicants claiming a trade secret simply to keep their patent application details hidden a bit longer...
        • Trade secrets??? (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Lonewolf666 ( 259450 )
          That would go against the purpose of the patent system. The idea is that you are granted a temporary monopoly in exchange for publishing your invention.
          So you can either keep your invention as a secret or you can patent it. But you cannot have both.
          • Yes, but there are patents issued which have trade secrets attached (and the trade secret is not revealed), right? Anyway, I think it's possible...
      • If it's a trade secret, you can't patent it. That's part of the point of a patent- have companies give up information they would otherwise hold for themselves in exchange for some protection. If it weren't for patents, many companies would never release any details of what they were doing, and no one else could improve on it.
    • by Sepper ( 524857 ) on Friday July 29, 2005 @08:47AM (#13194289) Journal
      A fundamental change will be required

      I believe the entire Patent idea should be reviewed... Too many stupid ideas can be patented and too many Patent are only issued and never used (like the tabaco companies getting patent on making cigarette less addictive...)

      I, personnaly, don't want to have to go trough several thousand patents just to see if I can run a computer buiness...

      The entire system is on the verge of collape from the sheer volume...
      • by It doesn't come easy ( 695416 ) * on Friday July 29, 2005 @08:56AM (#13194373) Journal
        Interesting. Maybe a patent should require a real product available in a reasonable period of time, at a price within the bounds of the general market or the patent holder would lose the patent. Heh, I like that idea.
        • That would largely prevent individuals from getting patents. Sometimes the patented subject matter is way too big or expensive for an individual to build a model.
    • I would suggest some form of first level open community review is needed for a first round of patent research and possible elimination based on prior art

      We need to be aware that this is the system that is essentially in place now--the patent examiners rubber-stamp bogus submissions and the public sorts it out in court later on. Unfortunately, this current process is very costly to the public reviewers, the industry, and society as a whole.
    • My proposal is a patent auction (I came up with this idea myself...honest - although I can't claim nobody else came up with it either).

      Let there be a fixed number of allowed patents - something reasonably small (1000? 10000?), so that the patent database never grows very large (and is easily searchable, and doesn't infringe so much on normal innovation).

      Anyone who wants can submit a patent application. As each patent slot is freed up due to expiration (or cancellation after successful litigation due to prio
    • A fundamental change will be required to deal with the ever increasing volume of patent applications.

      How about charging the patent applicant the amount of money it takes to actually process the patent (or that amount averaged across all applications for that type of patent). Patents in difficult to determine areas (those requiring a great deal of research, skilled interpretation, or lie in a gray area of patentability) would cost more- a simple mechanical device would be pretty cheap, complex electronic ci
  • by TripMaster Monkey ( 862126 ) * on Friday July 29, 2005 @08:31AM (#13194168)

    Some suggestions to help ease the tensions over at the USPTO:
    • Every day is Casual Day.
    • Liberal supply of rum in company coffee.
    • Liberal supply of ecstacy in company sugar.
    • Doughnuts, bagels, and "special" brownies supplied every morning, courtesy of management.
    • Naked Fridays!
    • Patent infringement issues now decided by Trial By Combat.
    • Applicants whose patent application is judged to be spurious goes through the Spanking Machine.
    • All patent applications must be submitted in person, after running the Gauntlet (involving rotating knives, enraged badgers, and of course, lots and lots of lava).
    • After running the Gauntlet, all applicants for the day must take part in a Royal Rumble Cage Match...last one standing gets to submit application.
    • All employees are granted ringside seats at Royal Rumble...popcorn and beer is complimentary.
    • All employees now required to surf porn.
    • Employee of the Month earns use of jacuzzi-office for the month.

    Hope this helps.
  • should create the USPPTO (U.S. Patent Pending and Trademark Office)
  • Long live the current patent system, for it is dead.
    It is dead and we have killed it.
    • Of course it is. Gee, I wonder why PEs are leaving the USPTO? Maybe because like in EVERY DYSFUNCTIONAL COMPANY, the difference between theory and practice is EXTREME? Duh.

      PEs are leaving since they know they are under pressure to rubber-stamp applications without regard to proper examination (and more to the point, REJECTION on the basis of prior art and obviousness). Probably, the PEs who try to properly examine a patent app cross their bosses time and time again, leading to a wholesale drop in morale.

      This exodus is only going to lead to an even easier rubber-stamping process. The American public had better fucking wake up. The USPTO has been completely subverted by ONE customer -- the patent applicants (uniformly, corporations). The USPTO has no regard whatsoever for the OTHER customer: the American citizen, who requires patents to be innovative and not obvious, in order to qualify for the process of exchanging monopolization for disclosure.

      Unfortunately, the chances of getting such an organization fixed in this hypercorporate political environment is essentially ZERO.
  • Hah! (Score:3, Funny)

    by theantipop ( 803016 ) on Friday July 29, 2005 @08:33AM (#13194179)
    My friend just took a job there. Priceless!
  • by Valacosa ( 863657 ) on Friday July 29, 2005 @08:35AM (#13194194)
    "Where anything under the sun is patentable..."
    Why stop there? I want to patent the sun!

    (Yes, I realize you can't patent an instance of an object, especially a celestial object. If you're the type of person constantly pointing out flaws in other people's jokes, I'll bet you don't get invited to a lot of parties.)
  • I am willing to accept that there are patent applications coming into the USPTO in torrents, but I can't accept the EFF's stance that it is because of this deluge that the patent examiners are leaving. It's probably something much more mundane like bad management or lack of upward mobility in the position that is the root cause of the fleeing.

    Remember, this is the government we are talking about. They are under no pressure to approve patents in a timely manner. The applicants will wait for as long as it takes to get their patents.

    The EFF is right, of course, in that the patent system needs to be overhauled so that the system can't be used as a weapon anymore. Unfortunately, they seem to make a non-existent connection between that valid point and the other vaporous point that tons of applications is leading to mass quitting at the USPTO. I think they damage their reputation when they try to argue in such a flawed manner.

    We need to vote into office people who understand the issues, not those that are in the back pocket of the corporations.
    • HAH! Find me one politician that would have even a CHANCE of getting into office that isnt in the back pocket of the corporations! Their is none! Dont you understand? Politicians have to CAMPAIGN and to campaign they need MONEY and to get money they need to KISS ASS.
    • by duerra ( 684053 )
      I agree with the parent on the premise that there's probably another reason than simply quantity of patents coming in that examiners are leaving. However, it's not because of management or similar (government jobs tend to be pretty lax, actually).

      I believe it's purely because of salary. Entry examiners coming in making about $35k or so, and topping out at about $50k after a few years (depending on the type of patents that you're examining - it varies based on the complexity of the topic or technology).

    • Two corrections (Score:3, Interesting)

      by crucini ( 98210 )

      Remember, this is the government we are talking about. They are under no pressure to approve patents in a timely manner.

      Actually, examiners are under very high pressure to process applications quickly. That can mean approve or reject.

      The EFF is right, of course, in that the patent system needs to be overhauled so that the system can't be used as a weapon anymore.

      Patents are meant to be a legal weapon for the inventor. For example, Tensor stole Walter Raczynski's invention of a desk lamp after he showed i

    • there are patent applications coming into the USPTO in torrents

      They're using BitTorrent to upload patent applications now? Cool!
    • by DoctorPhil ( 875161 ) on Friday July 29, 2005 @01:18PM (#13196808)
      You are completely wrong. I am a patent examiner. Patent examiners are under continual pressure to approve patents. We all have quotas, set by our payscale and by the area in which we work, and failure to meet the quotas results in being fired. Also, failing to respond to an amendment in time can result in being fired, even if you have been 30% over quota up till now and then three amendments land on your desk in one week that are all due because they were delayed somewhere else along the way. There is no lack of upward mobility - patent examiners can move up all the way to GS-13, I believe, without any competition.
  • by markpapadakis ( 115698 ) on Friday July 29, 2005 @08:37AM (#13194209) Homepage
    If we assume those patent officers are intelligent and familiar with the tasks they were assigned to perform, they must be able to see that so many of those patents either don't make sense, or fall into the 'common sense' category.

    If you were an employee who had to deal with issues that seem unfair and unreasonable to you, especially if you were 'sensitive' enough as to even blame, in part, your very self for being part of this stupidity, you may have done the very same thing.

    John Caramack [wikiquote.org] puts it all in prespective:
    "The idea that I can be presented with a problem, set out to logically solve it with the tools at hand, and wind up with a program that could not be legally used because someone else followed the same logical steps some years ago and filed for a patent on it is horrifying." (on software patents)

    • The problem is that examiners have to follow the law. It isn't enough that you know the idea is stupid, it has to be legally unpatentable, which are two seperate standards. Examiners aren't free to decide what "ideas" have merit and those that don't. Basically, they evaluate whether or not the description is adequate, has it been done before exactly, and whether or not it will most likely operate as claimed.

      Speaking of "common sense," there are so many patents that are obvious in a common sense sort of wa
    • That, and patenting business models and methods? Is that even constitutional? I don't think it follows the spirit anyway, though the same goes for the current 95 year copyright span, it isn't what I would consider "limited" protection, that protection shouldn't be extened by five years every five years, that's basically unlimited to me. Both would seem to stifle innovation rather than promote it. The point of the protections was not to protect specific companies but to enhance innovation.
    • It would be sweet if that was really what is happening.

      I predicted years ago that the USPTO was doomed from application overdose and that software patents would act as a catalyst... but I was not expecting results so soon.

      If software patents can kill the patent system and force a proper patent reform, there may still be hope for common sense. In a way, this would be similar to invalidating laws by proving mass disobedience: overload until the system crumbles.
  • ouch! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DingerX ( 847589 ) on Friday July 29, 2005 @08:38AM (#13194214) Journal
    from TFA, on one of the causes of stress and turnover:
    "Some of the software that has been developed [for use in evaluated patents] is not the friendliest," he said. "Hopefully, that will be changed."

    Assuming, of course, that software could use some basic user interface techniques without paying exorbitant patent fees.
  • by Necromancyr ( 602950 ) on Friday July 29, 2005 @08:40AM (#13194231)
    I have a friend that used to work at the USPTO and one that just got his PhD and tried to get a job there.

    The guy that used to work there told me that the USPTO recently changed their benefits and no longer pay for their workers to get a law degree, etc., if they stay with the USPTO for a certain amount of time after getting it. This is the main reason he left - he did part time schooling for awhile but now decided to just leave and get it done asap to get his law degree faster.

    The other was told, even with a contact inside the USPTO (this was right as the guy above was getting ready to leave), that the USPTO was not hiring and that they received over 5000 applications for the 10 slots they were trying to fill. This was for the biotech/life sciences division of the USPTO.

    So, essentially, from what I've observed, there cutting some of their best benefits and getting more then enough applications for new people. I'm assuming this entire thing is primarily a budget issue - as almost everything is down here in D.C.
    • by frinkster ( 149158 ) on Friday July 29, 2005 @09:01AM (#13194420)
      The guy that used to work there told me that the USPTO recently changed their benefits and no longer pay for their workers to get a law degree, etc., if they stay with the USPTO for a certain amount of time after getting it. This is the main reason he left - he did part time schooling for awhile but now decided to just leave and get it done asap to get his law degree faster.

      You can argue whether it is for the better or for the worse, but the patent office stopped paying for law degrees because as soon as anybody got the degree a DC law firm would hire them away and pay the debt off.

      Yes, it wasn't costing the patent office money in that regard, but it was reducing the patent office to being just a feeder source for the law firms. Paying for advanced degrees is done to retain top employees while gaining the advantage of them having advanced education. The patent office was seeing none of this, so they canned it.
    • It should probably be pointed out the law degree program has been reinstated (as of this year, I think, or maybe 2006).

      Check your facts.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 29, 2005 @08:42AM (#13194249)
    Just pounding the rubber stamp on any piece of paper that comes into your office sounds like the easiest job on the face of the earth.
    • Just pounding the rubber stamp on any piece of paper that comes into your office sounds like the easiest job on the face of the earth.

      It's not as simple as that... since the USPTO granted a patent on rubber-stamping daft patent applications.


    • I already patented that.

      Just kidding.

      Actually, part of the problem is that they can't do that. Skeptical lawyers will use legalspeak to describe a common everyday function, get it patented, and then go to the media with a story. It doesn't happen often, but every so often a lawyer or friend of one does it just to keep them on their toes.
  • Raise their salary! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by r6144 ( 544027 ) <r6k@NOsPaM.sohu.com> on Friday July 29, 2005 @08:44AM (#13194262) Homepage Journal
    I say, d**n it, just hire the best people in each field and train them to be patent examiners. Pay them $100K a year (or whatever is needed) plus fat rewards for every application successfully rejected, and try to raise the various fees so that the applicants bear the extra cost. I don't care if small inventors can no longer afford to apply for a patent---much of the innovation seems to come from megacorps anyway, or from researchers that do not want to patent everything under the sun. If we can't have sensible patent laws we can at least limit its damage.
  • by bigattichouse ( 527527 ) on Friday July 29, 2005 @08:47AM (#13194290) Homepage
    1. Send one million rubber stamps maked "approved" to India
    2. Ship all the applications to India
    3. Stamp Away!


    I've been dying for someone to "hack" the patent system and using different words patent the same idea twice (or have two people approved for the same idea).
    • Re:The solution! (Score:5, Informative)

      by AKAImBatman ( 238306 ) * <akaimbatman AT gmail DOT com> on Friday July 29, 2005 @09:01AM (#13194416) Homepage Journal
      I've been dying for someone to "hack" the patent system and using different words patent the same idea twice (or have two people approved for the same idea).

      That exact thing happened with the LZW algorithm used in GIF [wikipedia.org] files. Both Unisys and IBM ended up with patents, but only Unisys tried to enforce them.
    • Been there, done that. Check out Lempel-Ziv-Welch and Miller-Wegman. Two patents, both approved, big overlap (and this dates back about 20 years). It was not done intentionally; two sets of smart people had similar ideas at about the same time.

      My suspicion is that the examiners are overworked, underpaid, and badly managed. Consider also that if you see apparently outlandish things getting patented, you can either protest, which is useless and earns you nothing, or push the envelope, which might, if yo

  • by Blakflag ( 95052 ) on Friday July 29, 2005 @08:48AM (#13194303) Homepage
    Like most of you, I am disgusted and disheartended by the state of the software industry. I feel as if its not worth trying to create my own product because of the dangers of stepping on someone's latent patent landmines.

    But I'm wondering if the idea of dumping software patents can have any traction with the general public? The politicians are in the pockets of the big companies, and they're plenty happy to keep their entrenched positions with their armies of lawyers. Until the GENREAL public cries out for a change, it won't happen.

    So far I have not heard anything about this matter outside of the geek community. (even some of my less geeky computer freinds have not heard/thought about this issue)
  • by Dunbal ( 464142 ) on Friday July 29, 2005 @08:50AM (#13194320)
    but where exactly is the stress if you are approving all the patents?
  • Here's a thought: (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TripMaster Monkey ( 862126 ) * on Friday July 29, 2005 @08:50AM (#13194323)

    Just fill the post of Patent Examiner with ordinary people chosen at random, like jury selection.

    "Sorry, boss...I won't be in this week...got a summons for patent duty."
  • What will not, in the end, cause an end to innovation and the internet:

    - Spam
    - 0-day virus
    - Spyware
    - Closed source software
    - Phishing
    - Hacking
    - Child pornography
    - Internet congestion
    - Misleading information

    What will, in the end, cause an end to innovation and the internet:

    - Patents/Patent Law
  • by hsmith ( 818216 ) on Friday July 29, 2005 @08:56AM (#13194368)
    He has finished his first year of law school for IP law, $55K+ and they are paying for the rest of his college

    not a bad deal if you have an engineering/science background
  • No Big Deal (Score:4, Funny)

    by Waffle Iron ( 339739 ) on Friday July 29, 2005 @08:58AM (#13194391)
    The USPTO management is not concerned about the loss of human examiners. Trials of their new Pitney Bowes Stampmaster 5000-EX have shown that a fully automated application processing machine can rubber-stamp applications at a rate exceeding that of 1800 human examiners using old-fashioned hand stamps and inkpads. Current plans call for phasing out the examiners completely over the coming months.
  • "Microsoft has received a patent for Communications. We are now no longer
    allowed to communicate without a license."

    There is a commotion outside.

    "What's that sound?"

    The door explodes inward and the room is immediately filled with smoke and
    overrun with stormtroopers.

    A large and ominous voice booms out.

    "You are forbidden to communicate."

    I am stunned! I don't know what to think!

    Then just as suddenly the first wave of stormtroopers are felled, one by one in
    an unimaginably short flash of time.

    "Don't know what to
  • by Stanistani ( 808333 ) on Friday July 29, 2005 @09:01AM (#13194418) Homepage Journal
    Here's your chance to get employed at a place that can use your skills and can't outsource your job that easily.
  • Wait! So you're telling me that there are scalability problems with attempting to maintain centralized control of something? And that those scalability problems are related to cenrtalized controller becoming a throughput bottleneck? Who'd have thunk it?

    Perhaps the USPTO needs to look into the patent filing equivalent of BitTorrent (quick, somebody patent that idea!)

  • Solution (Score:4, Insightful)

    by kahei ( 466208 ) on Friday July 29, 2005 @09:03AM (#13194431) Homepage
    surge of patent applications, especially in the software and internet business method arena

    It's almost like the solution suggests itself...

  • Ideas... (Score:2, Funny)

    Where anything under the sun is patentable, it puts an unbelievable amount of pressure on the patent office

    That's it! Patent the Sun! Such a method of gigantic energy transfer must be patentable, since it is so unique and original.
  • I know that no one has thought of this before right? But let's talk about what life would be like if software and business method patents were abolished? I think that should put things back in order.

    I must say, I didn't expect to hear that the patent system is starting to collapse under the load. THAT is surprising to me... in a pleasant-surprise sort of way. I mean after all, FINALLY they will be forced to re-think software patents in the U.S. and in addition to that, there is more amunition to fight s
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 29, 2005 @09:09AM (#13194469)

    Dear Patent Lawyers,

    Could you please justify by reply in moderate detail the supposed net benefit to society (rather than just to corporations) of software patents explaining why you think that extending the patent system to cover software is not harmful both to society and to freedom of expression given the case of an open-source software developer who, as a result of
    • working unpaid on his/her project as a hobby
    • giving his/her inventions away freely for the benefit of society ,
    • i.e. without any project income,
    • without any corporate project sponsor to pay legal fees,
    • without sufficient personal savings or income to pay for even a brief consultation with a "cheap" patent lawyer, and
    • without a patent lawyer prepared to work pro bono,

    is threatened with a patent lawsuit by a corporation demanding he/she removes the allegedly infringing software from the project's website, leaving the impoverished developer with no real choice but to comply with the demand and close the project?

    One recent unresolved case, which is not unique, is that of the German mathematician and open-source software developer Helmut Dersch who had no financial choice but to remove his software from his project website. He had no money to pay for a patent application at the time of his own inventions, which pre-date the patent application of the IPX company , to to pay for a lawyer to challenge the company which threatened him with the prospect of a lawsuit.

    Here [ffii.org] [ffii.org] is a summary of the case history.

    I hope you will take the time to reply at moderate length for the sake of explaining to the open-source developer community why software patents are not a threat to completely unfunded open-source projects.

    Thank you for reading this. If you are a patent lawyer, please mention that fact in your reply here.

    When a similar comment was last posted here [slashdot.org] it got a brief reply from one of the patent lawyers who read slashdot.

    Please copy and re-post this message in all available forums until some patent lawyers have the courtesy to write a thorough reply.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Not a patent lawyer (yet) but getting there, but I'll take a small stab at it.

      First, I can't read the article you linked to because the link doesn't work.

      Second, the net benefit to society is workarounds. If this guy can't do X because someone has a patent on it, then he has to come up with another way of doing X. Maybe he does it a different way, maybe he adds or changes a step, whatever. The net effect is that he increases the possible ways of solving a problem because he has to design around their paten

  • by ShatteredDream ( 636520 ) on Friday July 29, 2005 @09:10AM (#13194476) Homepage
    Pass a law that nullifies software and business method patents.
  • This won't change (Score:5, Informative)

    by bezuwork's friend ( 589226 ) on Friday July 29, 2005 @09:11AM (#13194478)
    Face it folks, the USPTO is fucked up.

    I am a past examiner and I can tell you that every examiner has production quotas. Their bosses (called supervisory patent examiners) get bonuses if all their people do over set amounts (e.g. up to 110% of quota), so some bosses really ratchet up the pressure. The guy that hired me even made me orally agree to do 110% of quota before hiring me.

    Additionally, though, the bosses get alot of power. In training we were told to do things one way, but if our bosses wanted the opposite, we were to do that instead. Some bosses are great, to the point that people even have second jobs (maybe not now, but some did when I was there) and goof off at the USPTO, getting their quotas on one or two days work. Other bosses are from hell and get very personal on people, refusing to sign off on their work and requiring them to redo things time and again. There is NO way to meet quota when your boss refuses to sign off on your work, at least until you reach primary examiner status. People in such situations generally had no recourse, especially as the bosses could prevent transfer requests, so the people were forced to leave or be fired. And upper management had a "hands off" policy so no help there.

    I literally know of dozens of good examiners who were forced out by recalcitrant bosses, including several primaries.

    On the other hand, if you have a good boss and get into a schedule where you can get your work done in less than 40 hours a week, the USPTO can be very difficult to leave.

    It is very obvious that the USPTO management doesn't care about examiner attrition. If they did, they would have figured out safeguards against it long ago. But why should they? After all, there are always people wanting jobs there, if not birth Americans, then all the Vietnamese, Indians, and Ethiopians who have gotten their citizenships. And it's not like the companies are going to go away - no matter how long it takes to get a patent, there is only one source for patents. And congress can't do much - the USPTO is self-funded, congress can't force the USPTO to improve beyond what they are doing without more money, and congress isn't about to supply that. So I think the system is stuck without some enlightened new management.

    • by Steve B ( 42864 )
      And congress can't do much - the USPTO is self-funded, congress can't force the USPTO to improve beyond what they are doing without more money, and congress isn't about to supply that.

      Part of the problem is that Congress routinely siphons off a chunk of the money. The USPTO could fix most of the problems that are susceptible to throw-money-at-it (e.g. the overworked/underpaid/lousy morale treadmill) if Congress kepts its fingers out of the till.

  • Maybe we need to stock it with OSS-Friendly folks! "I'm sorry, Sir, your patent is denied because you're an asshat. Yes, Sir, I said asshat. According to our rules: 'Any such patent as applied for in an attempt to circumvent or interfere with the GPL will be denied under the Asshat Clause.' Yes, Sir. You have a great day. Thank you....buh-bye!"
  • by Compulawyer ( 318018 ) on Friday July 29, 2005 @09:22AM (#13194557)
    In the interest of full disclosure, I am a patent attorney who primarily does software patents. Every patent attorney in the country knows this fact: Fee Diversion hampers the ability of the PTO to do its job properly.

    The USPTO is a profit center for the government. Last December, the amount of that profit was set to DRAMATICALLY increase because of dramatic increases in user fees such as filing fees and examination fees, among others. Instead of letting the PTO keep that money to do its job, Congress "diverts" a large portion for other uses, including Homeland Security, among others.

    Contrary to what the parent post said, namely, "Where anything under the sun is patentable, it puts an unbelievable amount of pressure on the patent office," anything under the sun is NOT patentable. Anything under the sun MADE BY MAN has the POTENTIAL to be patentable - so long as it meets the criteria of the Patent Act, namely, novelty, utility, and non-obviousness. Despite the seeming simplicity of these terms, there are very well-defined legal tests behind each one that must be applied properly. Each of those terms has thousands of pages of case law / judicial interpretation behind it.

    The PTO's inability, caused by Congress, to keep adequate resources to properly do its job directly results in poorer quality examinations because the Examiners do not have the time, experience and training to rigorously apply the rules in every case. As a patent attorney, I have an ethical duty to provide valuable services to a patent applicant. My services are valuable if I can point out and properly describe my clients' inventions and the legal reasons why those inventions are entitled to patent protection. The way I do that is by keeping current in my technical field (Computer Science) and the law. However, I cannot know every piece of prior art out there. The best I can do is try to know as much as I can and write patent claims (the portion that defines the invention) that do not also describe prior art. Every patent applicant relies to a certain extent on the Examiner who receives their application to perform a good prior art search so that the Applicant can either point out how their invention is different from the prior art or can adjust the claims so that those claims no longer describe the prior art along with the invention. In fact, the Applicant is PAYING for that search.

    A claim that describes an invention but also describes the prior art is invalid. I do my best to draft solid claims but the Examiner also has to do a solid search. Some people think that it is in the Applicant's best interest to have very broad claims so that people will have to litigate to prove the claims are invalid. I think that approach, if taken, is foolhardy because of potential legal liability on the part of the patent owner. It is also an abuse of the system. Abuses of the system can be minimized to a certain degree by having higher quality patent searches by well-trained Examiners. The best way to get that is to tell Congress to stop diverting fees.

  • Those who want corruption want stupid patents so they can scare others away from working in their area of technology. They don't care if they sometimes lose a few court cases due to stupidly weak patents. In general, taking something to court is so expensive that the corrupters win just because of the threat.

    A major way those who want corruption destroy government effectiveness is by starving the agencies of operating funds. That's what happened to the patent office. The corrupters won't allow hiring of enough people to do the job well.

    For a discussion of starving the SEC (U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, regulates the stock exchange), see this article: Keeping the SEC on a Starvation Diet [scu.edu]. The corrupters don't want their stock manipulations discovered. They want more of this: Enron fraud [enronfraud.com], this: WorldCom fraud [worldcomstockfraud.com] and this: Tyco fraud [edgarsnyder.com].

    They are corrupting the IRS (U.S. Internal Revenue Service, collects taxes), too. The corrupters definitely do NOT want their tax returns to be audited, so they arrange that there is not enough money for audits: Bush Request for IRS Not Enough, Report Says [washingtonpost.com]

    They are corrupting the courts. Those who want corruption spend huge amounts to get lazy judges elected, and work for the defeat of judges who do a good job.

    Another major way that corruption of the courts is accomplished by not giving the courts enough money to operate. A 2003-06-24 op-ed article by Charles Williamson, then president of the Oregon State Bar, in The Oregonian, the Northwest's largest newspaper, said, "The crippling loss of nearly one-third of their staff have left our courts unable to hear criminal cases such as car theft, shoplifting, prostitution, fraud and identity theft."

    The Bush administration has been appointing heads of government agencies who reduce the role of those agencies. After they destroy the effectiveness of the agencies, they go back to running their businesses, and the corruption gives them more profit.

    The book Other People's Money [fetchbook.info] discusses corporate corruption. It's excellent. Secrets and Lies: Operation "Iraqi Freedom" and After: A Prelude to the Fall of U.S. Power in the Middle East? [amazon.com], by Dilip Hiro is an excellent book about the corruption that led to the most recent U.S.-Iraq war.

    The corruption is extremely widespread. The books mentioned above and the 3 movies and 34 books reviewed in this article are not enough to tell the story: Unprecedented Corruption: A guide to conflict of interest in the U.S. government [futurepower.org].

    In general, most Americans don't want to know how corrupt their government has become. Most don't read books. The TV news they watch is heavily influenced by the corrupters. For example, GE, one of the largest sellers of weapons, owns NBC [cbsnews.com], one of the major ways Americans get their news.
  • CSPAN Debate (Score:3, Interesting)

    by KrackHouse ( 628313 ) on Friday July 29, 2005 @10:04AM (#13194977) Homepage
    From my blog, 'cause I'm too lazy to retype it.

    I was channel surfing last night, waiting for water to boil, and came across a hearing on patent reform. Dean Kaymen, inventor of the uber-hyped Segway, explained the need for massive patent reform. There was some disagreement among the panel of experts about what needed to be done. The corporate IP lawyers argued that they were unable to defend against frivolous lawsuits from what are known as patent squatters and therefore damages needed to be capped. The small inventors argued that damages should not be capped simply because the government wasn't doing its job. Considering the importance of this hearing for the future of capitalism I was surprised to find only two articles covering it. Kaymen argued in favor of the little guys but didn't mention trends. The Longtail/Democratization of Innovation trend could have been used to argue that the small guys will increasingly need protection as they become the main producers of intellectual property. The big guys have an ulterior motive with their push for damage caps. If the big corps do accidentally violate a patent they can't be held fully acountable because of the government's inability to decide which patent suits are frivolous. I don't think anybody bought the argument. Everybody seemed to agree that the patent office is underfunded and that judges aren't fairly handling cases. It was kind of nice to watch these inventors that I've read about actually teaching our legislators a thing or two about the realities of doing business. And the legislators were eagerly listening! I'm generally disenfranchised with what the government has devolved into but moments like this rekindle that weird sense of patriotism that sometimes rears its bald head. There's a good overview on Patently-O.
  • by gearmonger ( 672422 ) on Friday July 29, 2005 @10:25AM (#13195156)
    Nicholas Godici was the Commissioner for Patents, the dude responsible for all aspects of the patent-granting process for the US (no, I wasnt' able to ask him why it sucks so much) from 2000 to 2005. He gave a short talk at my employer last month about patents and innovation and some interesting tidbits came out that help illustrate/explain some of their problems:

    - Over half of all patents being applied for now are in the areas of electronics and related technologies, so they are trying like mad to hire electrical engineers and train them as patent reviewers. This takes 4-5 years of training unless the reviewer has a legal background already. (Personally, I can't imagine what about the patent process could take 4+ years to learn when most medical residencies aren't even that long).

    - "Prior art" is not limited to just prior patent filings, but can include a variety of publicly available pieces of information. However, finding those items outside the PTO's own database can be impossible for someone who doesn't know the field (I think this implies that a public review step might be necessary in the future).

    - The growth in patent applications, especially those coming from foreign entities, is over 30% a year, and the approval rate has been declining (but not as fast as the submission rate growth, so we're still seeing more patents per annum approved).

    Anyway, I thought it was interesting. Clearly, his job was more political (fighting for resources/funding from Congress, etc.) than operational, which seems to be where most of the PTO's problems are now.

A company is known by the men it keeps.