Can the U.S. patent system be saved?

Most observers hold out little hope for a process that favors deep pockets, even with recent reforms.

By Gina Smith, Computerworld |  IT Management, patents

It was during the War of 1812. At 8 a.m. on August 24, 1814, some 200 soldiers led by England's Rear Admiral Sir George Cockburn captured the United States capitol of Washington, D.C.

But although soldiers burned or otherwise destroyed many government buildings -- including the Capitol, the Library of Congress, the White House and the Treasury -- they didn't touch the U.S. Patent and Trade Office.

Drawing, "Capture and burning of Washington by the British, in 1814;" 1876 publication. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Indeed, the Patent Office building was the only government office left standing at the end of the siege because of the intervention of one man: Dr. William Thornton, who designed the Capitol building and later became the superintendent of patents.

Thornton made an impassioned plea to the soldiers that the building's contents -- thousands of inventions, at that point -- were important to all of humanity, not just to the United States.

Thornton's success, however, was relatively short-lived; just two decades later, the Patent Office did burn down, albeit under much different circumstances. On December 15, 1836, an accidental fire destroyed all of the building's contents -- 10,000 patents and thousands of related models, as well as all documentation. Thornton died in 1828 and didn't live to see it.

Other changes within AIA include a post-grant review process that allows the public to challenge a patent's basis during a nine-month window from the patent's grant date. There already is another process that allows the public to challenge a patent at any time.

Some observers wonder, though, if this won't introduce more cost and complexity. Former USPTO examiner Gill asks, "Who will hire and pay for judges?"

The act also allows for lower fees for companies it recognizes as "micro-entities" -- these are inventors with a gross income smaller than three times the national median income and who haven't previously filed patents. So-called micro-entities get up to a 75% reduction in fees.

The AIA also adds a budget to allow the USPTO to hire more patent examiners and examiners with more experience, which should help improve patent quality, experts say.

Patrick Ross, USPTO deputy communications director, says the agency is hiring now. It will add 1,500 examiners this year and reach 7,800 examiners by December, up from the current 6,800 examiners.

Speeding up the process

Originally published on Computerworld |  Click here to read the original story.
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