For years now observers and experts alike have agreed that the U.S. patent system is broken. What they can't agree on is how it should be fixed. Not to worry, says the Obama Administration. There is a plan in motion.
In a Mercury News piece at SiliconValley.com, writer Chris O'Brien details a conversation he had with U.S. Patent and Trademark Office director David Kappos. Even Kappos admits the system is broken. "We are trying to work our way through a broken system," he told O'Brien. The goal is to improve the average time between application and approval from the typical three and a half years (which is how long Facebook waited for approval of its news feed patent) to a single year.
Doing that means encouraging examiners to work more quickly, improving the PTO's IT infrastructure, and hiring as many as 2,000 more examiners, to help reduce the current backlog, which is roughly 700,000 applications. Kappos told O'Brien the PTO has reworked the examiner incentive program to "reward examiners for finding high-quality patents they can speed along," and the budget request for the new hires awaits congressional approval.
As for the IT upgrades, the agency is consulting with companies in Silicon Valley on the best way to do that. And companies in the Valley have a vested interest in speeding up the process. That region of the country is awarded more patents than any other region.
Much more will need to be done before the system is fully repaired, of course, but I agree with O'Brien. It's a start, which is more than we've had for a long time.