Building a Better Patent Office

Today’s New York Times featured an article, U.S. Sets 21st-Century Goal: Building a Better Patent Office, about the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s (USPTO) efforts to modernize its patent application processing system. The author of the article, Edward Wyatt, notes that “the patent office’s pipeline is so clogged it takes two years for an inventor to get an initial ruling, and an additional year or more before a patent is finally issued.” Ironically, the USPTO had let its own information technology systems lag behind, which has factored into the delays.

There is no company I know of that would have permitted its information technology to get into the state we’re in,” David J. Kappos, who 18 months ago became the director of the Patent and Trademark Office and undersecretary of commerce for intellectual property, said in a recent interview.  “If it had, the C.E.O. would have been fired, the board would have been thrown out, and you would have had shareholder lawsuits.”

Although the Patent Office has made some headway in addressing the backlog problems in the last 2 years, reducing the backlog “about 10 percent from a peak of 770,000 at the end of 2008,” it looks like additional progress will require additional funding and staff.  The first satellite patent office will be opening in Detroit this year.  Wyatt notes that although one quarter of patent applications come from California, Detroit was selected as a satellite because it has “large communities of patent lawyers and agents, nearby universities and transportation centers, and relatively low costs of living and real estate.”  

For more information about the backlog of applications, take a look at the USPTO’s Data Visualization Center: Patents Dashboard.  It provides easy to understand, graphical representations of the quantities of applications that are currently in various stages of review by the Patent Office.

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