Monday, December 28, 2009

Problems at the Patent Office continue

Note John Farmer's article -- Leading-Edge Law: Congress made patent situation worse -- which includes the text:

At the end of September, there was a backlog of more than 700,000 unexamined patent applications. The average time to get a first response from the USPTO to a patent application was 25.8 months. This time has risen for at least four years straight.
It takes back and forth with the patent office to get a patent. The average time from patent application to eventual patent issuance was 34.6 months, and that time also has risen for at least four years straight.
That time is even longer for key technology sectors -- 42.7 months for communications technology and 40.7 months for computers, software and information security.

See also article by Marla Page Grossman, Diversion of UsPTo User fees:
A TAx on innovATion

Separately, Patently-O speaks of a limited program for re-hiring certain former examiners:

The immediate limited program is focused on former examiners who passed their probationary requirements and who resigned less than three years ago or have more than three years experience examining patents.

How many are these, and do they really have an incentive to re-join the Patent Office? One commenter wrote:

The fact that 30-40 examiners are still leaving in the midst of the worst job market in decades speaks volumes about the problems that still exist within the agency.

Another wrote:

I couldn't go back because I would pick fights every day. Yes, I would be hauled out in handcuffs the very first day after hunting down a few individuals.

The people that left probably had some good reasons for leaving.

IPWatchDog gave further details:

Former examiners who have passed their probationary requirement and who have resigned less than three years ago or have more than three years experience examining patents are invited to apply. The USPTO estimates that a few hundred former examiners are eligible to be rehired, and of that number less than 100 are expected to accept the offer. Vacancy announcements for the positions have been posted at The openings are for GS-9 through GS-14. Bob Stoll, Commissioner for Patents, told me that he hopes the USPTO “can attract as many former examiners back as possible. On an operational level, we would like to deploy them to the technology areas with the biggest backlog that best fit their skills and expertise.”

According to the USPTO, the initiative to rehire examiners will not increase the size of the agency’s workforce, but it will hopefully help the agency keep pace with the attrition rate, at least over the near term. Currently 30 to 40 examiners per month leave the USPTO, and because of budgetary restrictions there has been a hiring freeze for about 8 months.

Hmmm, the people who resigned less than three years ago (when the economy was already going south), probably had good reasons to resign. Not much has changed at the USPTO in terms of improving working conditions, so why exactly would many of these people flock back? Further, if some did, the "less than 100 expected to accept" would account for at most 2-3 months of attrition. Then what? Not much of a plan.


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