Wednesday, September 21, 2005


USA TODAY VISITS THE USPTO: This morning, columnist Kevin Maney reported on his trip to the USPTO - and was apparently surprised it wasn't full of nerds:

If you go into the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to meet actual patent examiners for the first time, you might expect a stereotype — offices full of middle-aged Napoleon Dynamite types who luxuriate in bureaucratic arcana and wear their pants too high at the waist.

But, no. Instead I find Wendy Garber. She has midlength blonde hair and is wearing a pink top, short skirt and funky glasses. If not for the government-issue badge, she'd look like an employee at Vogue. She has degrees in engineering and law and is a supervisor in "technology center 2600," which is patent-office code for telecommunications.

Heh, heh - he "found" Ms. Garber, as if he was wandering unescorted through the USPTO? I can think of at least 3-4 art units where they are geeky and proud of it - is it really necessary to vouch for the "hipness" of groups of people in order to give them credibility?

And I like the reference to technology center designations being "patent-office code" (probably complete with secrets handshakes and such).

Anyways, the purpose of Kevin's article wasn't to provide a couture update on USPTO personnel, but to report on the plight of USPTO Examiner workloads:

It's hard to see how the patent office can catch up. Just look at the 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.


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.


So the PTO keeps falling behind. From 2004 to 2005, 100,000 more patent applications came in than were approved. Over the years, the backlog of applications has grown to 604,000.


If that gets much worse, inventors are going to end up getting patents for technologies after they've already been on the market, peaked and become obsolete.



This need to be repeated over and over to Congress by the press - God knows they don't listen to the patent community. And it would've been nice if he added that one of the reasons for these problems is that Congress keeps diverting USPTO fees to fund unrelated pork projects.

Nevertheless, Kevin assures us that the new Commissioner, John Doll, is on the case:

While at the PTO, I meet John Doll, the new Commissioner for Patents, who comes
across as a go-getter who could be played by Ben Kingsley if there's ever a USPTO: The Movie. [blogger note: HA!]

Doll has hired 940 examiners this year and plans to hire an additional 1,000 each year "for several years," he says. He's overhauling the training system so examiners are cooked much sooner than the current five to six years. And he's continuing to drive automation as he tries to boost the meager number of patents filed electronically. (As of now, the PTO is the world's largest recipient of overnight mail.)

Doll is, all told, shocking the PTO culture and making it feel more like a fast-growing
start-up than a 215-year-old entity shaped by Thomas Jefferson.

I'm not sure about that. USPTO management, to date, has been pretty ineffective at creating meaningful change in the Office. A prime example of this is the utter lack of accountability for strategic milestones. Just like mangement at a strt-up, if you don't produce, you get canned. Is the Commissioner ready to take that step?

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