Even with lower fees and patent acceleration for small companies, Samuels says, "the new law provides virtually no tools for small innovators or inventors -- specifically those who may not participate in the patent system but find themselves affected by it all the time -- to fight for their interests without serious financial backing."
Chien adds, "It's too early to tell how much the AIA will improve the patent system."
Defending the status quo
The patent system is, by design, a way to get inventors to clearly disclose what they've invented -- their "secret sauce" -- in exchange for a temporary (now 20-year) monopoly on the invention.
The USPTO's Ross says, "I fail to see how the innovations are being stifled" by the patent system. "Patents are being filed by companies in Silicon Valley, leading to millions of dollars in revenue. IP-intensive industries support at least 40 million jobs and contribute more than 38% of GDP; that's five trillion dollars annually," he explains, referring to a recent report(PDF) by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.
Ross points out that patent trolling, litigation and other problems happen largely after the patent process is complete on the USPTO end.
Some experts blame the proliferation of too-broad patents on the USPTO, saying that young and inexperienced examiners hand out patents with abandon, besieged as they are.
Ross concedes that point but says the USPTO is hiring more examiners right now, thanks to new AIA provisions, and is able to pay higher salaries for examiners with more experience.
Also, the agency is opening a satellite office in Detroit and is looking for examiners with more experience than the fresh-out-of-college candidates it typically has relied upon. The hope is that the new office will lure patent examiners, who make between $50,000 and $100,000 on average, to work for the agency if they have an option to live outside of ultra-expensive Washington.
Understanding prior patents, and other problems
The EFF's Samuels explains another common complaint about the patent system. "Most people actually can't understand what the patents cover, regardless of whether they have to. And the inability to really understand has resulted in a world where inventors are incentivized to ignore patents."
Gill agrees. "With so many patents from so many companies and all the legalese to wade through, you're in a situation where so few inventors even can understand what previous patents cover," he says.