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Patent Office Ramps Up Patent Approvals 101

An anonymous reader writes "With the somewhat disappointing Bilski ruling behind us, people concerned about overly broad patents should be looking at what's going on at the US Patent Office. Due to various other Supreme Court decisions and lots of bad publicity, the USPTO had gone on a 'quality binge' for a few years, rejecting a lot more patents than usual. However, with new leadership, it appears that the USPTO is back to its old tricks and approving a ton of patents (at an unheard of rate) in a misguided attempt to get through the 'backlog.' Get ready for another round of patent lawsuits on patents that never should have been granted."
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Patent Office Ramps Up Patent Approvals

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  • by NeutronCowboy ( 896098 ) on Friday August 20, 2010 @06:56PM (#33319972)

    Scary guy. Not so much evil as purely misguided in his efforts. He thinks that all those 700000 odd patents on backlog represent American jobs that aren't being created, because the patent doesn't exist. At that point, all I can think about is the high-tech patent wars, and how the only people they keep employed are lawyers. I guess, technically he is right: more patents mean more jobs. But only for patent lawyers and patent appraisers. Unfortunately, he didn't seem to get the distinction, and was incredibly enthusiastic about his drive to get more patents approved.

  • by Grond ( 15515 ) on Friday August 20, 2010 @07:31PM (#33320214) Homepage

    While it's true that the absolute number of allowances has increased, the number of rejections has also increased, according to Prof. Dennis Crouch of PatentlyO.com [patentlyo.com], who is a leading figure in empirical patent research. It's not as though examiners have simply started rubber stamping everything that comes through.

  • Revenue Issues (Score:2, Informative)

    by Urgru ( 139637 ) on Friday August 20, 2010 @08:26PM (#33320558) Homepage

    The increased issuance rate is probably the result of PTO's money crunch. Unlike most agencies, which supplement funds appropriate by Congress with collected fees, PTO is expected to be entirely self-supporting. Application fees. Continuation fees. Maintenance fees. Service fees. Everything that PTO does has a dollar sign attached to it (here's the fee schedule [uspto.gov]). Sometimes they don't even get to keep is all. Congress raided PTO's surplus several times during the boom to prop up the General Treasury. When rainy days came, companies started filing for fewer patents and some - gasp - even let patents lapse rather than paying their maintenance fees. As a result, PTO was forced to cut benefits dramatically. For awhile, overtime was off the table. The agency stopped paying tuition for examiners attending night law programs. Retention bonuses went away. Bad time to be an examiner.

    The issuance boost means more continuations, re-applications, etc. along the way to approval = more revenue immediately. More importantly, PTO's got to issue nearly five patents to receive as much by way of maintenance fees in 3-4 years as they WOULD have received from an 11 year old patent that's been allowed to lapse.

    Issuance rate won't (and from PTO's perspective, can't) go down unless or until Congress changes PTO's funding model or the economy turns around. Even if the economy gets better, it's going to take a few years for revenues to start increasing as the patents from the current glut start bringing in large maintenance fees and the issuance rate can go down without forcing staff cuts.

  • by mykos ( 1627575 ) on Friday August 20, 2010 @08:58PM (#33320772)
    I have a feeling that the millions spent professional argument will help society neither monetarily nor in technological advancement.
  • by Dachannien ( 617929 ) on Saturday August 21, 2010 @12:50AM (#33321772)

    Excuse me while I go patent some random future tech... flying cars, teleporters, food replicators, AI.. yanno.

    This is the stuff that's actually pretty easy to reject. We're not going to find prior art on it, but we can generally make rejections for the application lacking an enabling disclosure (if the invention is ostensibly possible, as with flying cars), or we can reject it for a lack of credible utility (as with teleporters).

    As for do-overs, yes, applicants can keep paying us to continue examining their applications. They get two bites at the apple each time (with some caveats attached if the examiner makes a bad rejection), and then they are stuck filing an RCE (which costs money but buys them another two bites), appealing to the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences (which costs a lot of money, mostly to the attorney), or they can give up and let the application go abandoned.

    There was a recent change in docketing procedure to examiners that prevents RCEs from "burying us in paperwork". It used to be that RCEs were docketed right along with regular amendments, and we had to work on every one of those within four biweeks of the date it was forwarded to the examiner. Now, it gets docketed on a separate queue, and we only have to pick up one RCE every month. When it comes to doing more work than that, we get to choose whether we'd rather do more first actions (new cases) or more RCEs. The Office is focusing on getting new applications in the pipeline, so we're being encouraged to do more first actions and let the RCEs sit there for a little while longer.

  • Re:Lawyers are scum (Score:2, Informative)

    by dplentini ( 1334979 ) on Saturday August 21, 2010 @07:17AM (#33322816)
    No, the PTO is self-funding. In fact, part---but by no means all---of the problem has been Congress raiding the PTO's income stream. See: http://www.patentlyo.com/patent/2010/01/director-kappos-on-the-usptos-lack-of-funding.html [patentlyo.com].

Who goeth a-borrowing goeth a-sorrowing. -- Thomas Tusser