Tuesday, September 20, 2005

USAToday on patent application backlog at USPTO

Of backlog, the article notes: From 2004 to 2005, 100,000 more patent applications came in than were approved.[query: disposed of, meaning approved or abandoned?] Over the years, the backlog of applications has grown to 604,000.

Of numbers: Patent application filings have been growing 6% to 8% a year for more than two decades, so the number of applications has nearly quadrupled since 1980. About 382,000 will be filed this year.

Of the issue of "time spent examining an application," the article notes

How long do you think all that research and decision-making takes? Weeks? Months? Try less than three days. The initial decision for an average digital camera patent takes 23.6 hours, or three eight-hour workdays. Usually, there's a follow-up exchange of letters and documents that takes snippets of an examiner's time over several months. Most patent applications get rejected at first, then lawyers and examiners go back and forth, narrowing the claims in a patent until the examiner is satisfied that every claim is unique.


The PTO has 4,200 patent examiners. So in 2005, 91 applications came in for each examiner. If you figure that each examiner works maybe 235 days a year, that leaves 2.6 days — 21 working hours — to review, approve and finalize each patent application if the PTO were to keep pace with the onslaught. [This number assumes that the examiners disposed of all 382,000 applications; basically 382/4.2. If the backlog is growing, then more time is being spent on an application, on average, than 21 hours.]


The delays lead to confusing situations such as Creative Labs and Microsoft recently claiming patents for inventions that might be key pieces of iPod technology — long after the iPod has set the world on fire. Lawsuits ensue, lawyers get rich, bloggers bellyache, and on and on.

recall that Apple did file a 131 declaration to swear behind the Microsoft published patent application. The PTO (so far) ignored the declaration.


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