The patent world is in a state of expansion. The USPTO issued its 7 millionth patent earlier this year. See USPTO and J. Douglas Miller. The Patent Librarian’s Notebook informs us that more than 600,000 patents were granted worldwide in 2004. For newer patent trends, see Science and Engineering Indicators 2006.
To obtain a patent, it can not be anticipated by prior art. Are you aware that for any patent application, the patent examiner at the USPTO – on average – has only a few hours in which to find prior art? That was the congressional testimony of Ronald J. Stern, President of POPA (Patent Office Professional Association).
In that time frame, finding prior art is surely often a hopeless task in complicated patent matters, and yet, patents are being granted at a pace to try to match the patent explosion which has occurred ever since business methods and software were foolishly deemed patentable by the short-sighted legal establishment. Companies such as IBM have thus supported recent efforts to improve patent quality. See also the Peer to Patent Project (Community Peer Review of Patents) and Open Collaboration is Medicine for Our Ailing Patent System.
Patents are state-granted and state-supported monopolies and the people who generally profit the most from such monopolies are monopolists at heart to begin with. Why compete if you can gain exclusive rights to a business?
One need only to look to the postal monopolies of history to see that monopolies, once granted, in the money that they make, long exceed in their monetary influence on society the patent protection periods of law. For example, the fortune made through the postal monopoly of Thurn and Taxis, a monopoly which originated in a PATENT from the Emperor, survives down to our day. How stupid the mass of our legislators are.
And then there is the other side of the patent equation, the outdated management of the USPTO. As written by the Senate Appropriations Committee Report on the USPTO:
“Since fiscal year 2004, the Committee has provided a 45 percent increase in funding for PTO, including funding to hire thousands of new patent examiners. Yet during the same time period, the backlog of pending patent applications has grown to over 500,000, and it still takes an average of over 2.5 years to process a patent application. Meanwhile, the Inspector General has received repeated complaints that PTO has allowed or encouraged unfair personnel practices. The IG has identified these problems as one of the top 10 management challenges of the Department of Commerce. Even with increased funding, the problems at PTO are getting worse, evidence that what is needed is better management.“
The United State Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) exemplifies the problems encountered in intellectual property issues in general. As written in the GAO (US Government Accountability Office) Intellectual Property Report on the USPTO as submitted to Congress in June, 2005:
“The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is responsible for issuing U.S. patents that protect new ideas and investments in innovation and creativity. Recent increases in both the complexity and volume of patent applications have increased the time it takes to process patents and have raised concerns about the validity of the patents USPTO issues. Adding to these challenges is the difficulty that USPTO has had attracting and retaining qualified staff.“
THE USPTO WEBSITE : SUPERFLUOUS CLICKS
Three Clicks are Required where ONE is Enough
In our view, the problems that the USPTO faces are exemplified by its non-intuitive website, where a click on the menu item “About USPTO” takes the user to no less than 9 submenu items – except for Reports, EIGHT of which (Programs & Offices, Under Secretary, Policies and Procedures, Intellectual Property Options, Education, Hours, Maps, Mail and Phone, Website Disclosure, U.S. Government & Commerce), when clicked, take the user to the exact same subsequent web page, and thus already involve one totally useless, superfluous click, just to start.
At that subsequent page, the user is then not presented with a page “about the USPTO” but finds EIGHT list boxes, each of which AGAIN consists of a menu list. The actual “about page”, Our Business : An Introduction to the USPTO, is then found under the menu item Introduction at Programs & Offices. THREE clicks are required where ONE is enough. Commercial websites bloat their menus this way to increase the number of ads viewed by users by increasing the number of pages a user has to view to get where he wants to go, but there is no excuse for this at the USPTO website.
That a click to Reports takes the user to a separate page is remarkable since that subsequent page also simply consists of a few boxes with links and could easily be incorporated into the same page as the other eight menu items. Totally superfluous. If the rest of the USPTO operates this way, there is no wonder that it is in the quagmire that it is.
The philosophy seems to be: why simple, when one can make it complicated?
“The Government Performance and Results Act of 1993 [link added by LawPundit] requires Federal agencies to establish a strategic plan covering not less than a five-year period, and to solicit the views and suggestions of those entities potentially affected by or interested in the plan. On March 14, 2006, the USPTO posted a notice soliciting public input and establishing an e-mail box (StrategicPlanning1@uspto.gov) for the public’s use in submitting suggestions, ideas and comments that the agency should consider in developing the new plan. USPTO employees also were given the opportunity to provide input, either via e-mail or anonymously via USPTO’s intranet site.
The draft plan includes the USPTO’s mission statement, vision statement and a description of the strategic goals, objectives and significant actions that the USPTO plans to take in order to accomplish its mission and achieve its vision. Full details on how the USPTO plans to implement the strategic plan, including funding and performance metrics, will be included in the USPTO’s fiscal year 2008 President’s Budget.
The USPTO would like to receive input from a wide range of organizations (both national and international), public bodies, and other stakeholders. We especially encourage the views and suggestions of individuals and entities holding or dealing with intellectual property, and USPTO employees. The USPTO anticipates publishing the final plan in early calendar year 2007, and making it available on our Web site at that time. “
21st Century Strategic Plan (the predecessor plan) and Interim Adjustments
GAO Intellectual Property Report on the USPTO
“In June 2005, the Government Accountability Office completed a review — Intellectual Property: USPTO Has Made Progress in Hiring Examiners, but Challenges to Retention Remain (GAO-05-720 – June 2005) [link added by LawPundit] — of many of the USPTO’s strategic planning initiatives. Of the 39 initiatives they reviewed, they reported that 11 were implemented, 21 were partially implemented and 7 were not implemented.”
See in this regard the comment to that GAO Report at:
Peter Zura’s Two-Seventy-One Patent Blog, which points to recommendations for USPTO reform as made in a 298 page report by NAPA, the National Academy of Public Administration, referred to at IPCentral, and summarized at I/P Updates and also here by Florence Olsen .
Alexander George, Law firms beef up patent lawyer ranks
William R. Haulbrook, Ph.D., Getting a Handle on the Software Patent Explosion
D.J. Dykeman, Patent Strategy in the Nanotech Patent Explosion (abstract)
Bronwyn H Hall, Exploring the Patent Explosion
Patently O, Patent Explosion (blog)
Richard A. Epstein, Patent’s Downward Spiral