1 Patent problems "hard to fix"

Right: some critics have unkindly suggested a new name for the USPTO, in the wake of some of its recent patent grants

The IPKat has just read in South Florida's The Business Journal of the problems faced by Congress when seeking to improve the quality of United States patents. Despite the hiring of more examiners, the US Patent and Trademark Office can't keep up with a rising flood of patent applications, with filings over the past decade up by a whopping 85%. Inventors now have to wait more than two years between application and grant and many critics maintain that, under this rising pressure, the USPTO is granting many patents that should not be granted.

Below: patentees' fees - everyone wants a slice of the revenue

Apparently, between 1992 and 2004 Congress diverted more than US$741 million in fees collected by the USPTO to other government programs (this practice has now been suspended). The USPTO reputedly plans to hire about 940 new examiners this year, plus an additional 1,000 examiners annually till 2011. It can however take a long time for new examiners to develop sufficient expertise to evaluate patent applications, while many experienced examiners are leaving the agency. Ronald Stern, president of the Patent Office Professional Association, says that many examiners are frustrated by production goals that give them only 20 hours on average to examine an application for a new invention. These goals have not changed since 1976, despite the increasing complexity of patent applications.

Below: the only court most patent owners want to end up in

The IPKat sympathises. He's implacably opposed to examination targets. They send out a message that economic demands are somehow a higher norm of conduct than the thorough and efficient examination of remarkably complex documents. Merpel adds, I bet industry would be happy to pay even 20% more for their patents if it meant that fewer, but better and more presumptively valid patents were granted in result, thus greatly reducing their exposure to unwanted and avoidable litigation.

Full text here of Ronald Stern's submission to the Subcommitte on Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property, Committee on the Judiciary, 8 September 2005.

2 French help bloggers beat the ban

Here's something to praise the French for. The IPKat has just learned through Findlaw that a Paris-based media watchdog has released an ABC guide of internet blogging, partly financed by the French Foreign Ministry, that includes tips for evading censors and reaching dissidents in countries from China to Iran. The Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontieres) Handbook for Blogger and Cyber-Dissidents includes technical advice on how to remain anonymous online. It was launched at the Apple Expo computer show in Paris last Thursday. According to Julien Pain, head of the watchdog's Internet Freedom desk
"Bloggers are often the only real journalists in countries where the mainstream media is censored or under pressure".
In a bid to inspire budding web diarists around the world, the 87-page booklet gives advice on setting up and running blogs. It can also be downloaded from RSF's website in Chinese, Arabic, Persian, English and French. Tips include using pseudonyms and anonymous proxies, which can be used to replace easily traceable home computer addresses.

The IPKat can confirm how effective and blogs can be, having used his blog to good effect when establishing clandestine links to dissident elements in several significant EU and UK institutions where intellectual property freedom of speech is discouraged, fortunately without needing to remain anonymous (though several of his friends have had to conceal their identities when sending him information).


  1. Placing a time limit on examination of a patent is a disastrous policy as complexity and therefore time involved is very variable. The writer remembers attending Oral Proceedings in the EPO when he had to push his way past protesting examiners carrying placards. Their anger was at performance targets set by EPO mangement. One ridiculous set of bonus points was given to examiners who dealt with an application not in their mother tongue. As a result cases were swapped to ensure that bonus points were maximised by ensuring that as many examiners as possible dealt with cases in a language with which they were not familiar. This did not increase efficiency, only the number of appeals.

  2. The UK PO used to have what it called A/D, Attendances over Disposals, as a measure of Examiner throughput. The target was 2 (ie 2 days per case), but obviously varied with the technology (computer cases tend to be long). I don't know how much pressure was put on to meet the target, or what the situation is now.

    Michael Harman

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