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Campaigning for patent reform

Posted: 10 Feb 2009 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:reform patent PTO?

Patent push
Others agree the PTO needs to push more responsibility back to applicants, but they believe the job has become overwhelming. "In some sense what we are requiring the patent office to do is an impossible task," said Josh Lerner, a Harvard Business School economist and author of a book outlining his prescription.

"Even if they were given 25-30 hours per patent, to expect an individual to do this is too much," Lerner added. "The only solution is to open up the patent examination process and allow outsiders to provide information," he said, calling for new ways companies could oppose applications before and after they are granted.

"We used to say the problem is money, but I don't think so anymore," said Robert Barr, executive director of the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology and a former Cisco patent counsel. "Companies filing tons of applications have to take some responsibility for this," he added.

Rivette said the current patent office leaders "haven't given the [PTO advisory] committee a real view on all the things they can do." He is especially keen to see the PTO expand outside the Washington area where all its examiners currently work.

"I think we should have a national workforce," said Rivette. "The patent office has some of the highest educated workforce in government, but trying to hire 1,200 masters and PhDs a year in D.C. doesn't make sense to anyone in the committee."

Meurer of Boston University said the PTO needs to expand its scope beyond geography, considering not just applicants but the tech-using public as one of its stakeholders.

"They need to develop sophistication about the policy impact of patents, so instead of one economist they need 40," Meurer said. "We need to empower the patent office to play a bigger role in policy to start weeding out bad patents."

Undergoing training
In its defense, the patent office under the Bush administration set up a training academy for the new examiners it hires each year. It has also set up pilot programs such as an accelerated path for applicants willing to reduce the number of claims and supply information on prior art in exchange for a faster hearing.

In the past fiscal year the office received 1,765 patents through that program, 173 percent more than in the prior fiscal year when the program was launched. The program promises action within a year and had an average time to final action of 186 days.

"One application filed by Bose was allowed 17 days and issued 75 days after it was filed," said John Doll, acting deputy undersecretary at PTO. "People who want patents fast in the electronics industry are the primary ones using the program."

Meanwhile, PTO has been reaching out to patent offices in China, Europe, Japan and South Korea to find ways to speed processing through collaboration. Several pilot programs with individual countries are now in the works. "We are trying to share our searchers and examinations," said Doll.

"Getting rid of redundancy in conducting searches is critical," said Dickinson. "But we have to agree on a common set of rules and how to use the data--and there has to be a big leap of faith from applicants not insisting on a U.S. search every time because we can't afford to do it," he added.

- Rick Merritt
EE Times


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