June 24, 2012, 7:41 AM — As the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) moves to implement the landmark patent reform act signed into law last year, businesses in industries highly reliant on intellectual property such as IT and biotech can look forward to expedited reviews of their patent applications conducted by better-trained examiners, the head of the agency told members of a Senate committee on Wednesday.
Appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, David Kappos, director of the U.S. PTO and undersecretary of commerce for intellectual property, offered a uniformly positive assessment of his office's work in implementing the America Invents Act, the first major overhaul of the nation's patent system in more than half a century.
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The bill aimed to help the office work through its substantial backlog of patent applications, seeking to speed up the review process and improve the overall quality of patents awarded.
This kind of policy priority is crucial in an industry such as high tech.
"I can tell you that in discussions with Silicon Valley CEOs like Apple, their number one concern is the length of time it takes to obtain a patent," Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said to Kappos at this morning's hearing. "How long can a company like Apple or Google expect for patent processing?"
Kappos, who served as a senior executive with IBM before heading up the patent office, emphasized that the agency has already begun to chip away at the backlog of applications, which he said was down to around 627,000, the lowest level in many years.
"As someone who came from the tech industry, in fact from Silicon Valley, I'm extremely attuned to the need for rapid processing by the tech sector. We do have very explicit, very clear goals in this regard," Kappos said.
He explained that the U.S. PTO has set the goal of responding to the initial patent application within 10 months, with a final action coming in an average of 20 months, well below the turnaround time of roughly three years that has been a more commonplace timeframe. Kappos said the agency is on track to reach its new goal by 2015 or 2016.
The patent office has hired hundreds of additional examiners to help with the backlog, funding the expansion through increased fees charged for patent services. The agency published its initial proposal for a new fee structure in February, accepting comments from the public, which Kappos said were generally positive. Once the final fee changes take effect next year, he said the agency will be better positioned to work through the backlog of applications as it inches closer to the goal it has set for turnaround time.