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Patent Examiners Are Fed Up

As a patent lawyer I have taken issue with many aspects of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). My primary concerns revolve around the exorbitant fees the USPTO charges inventors, much of which it uses for purposes other than the examination of patents. Despite my concerns, however, my patent lawyer angst is not directed at the actual patent examiners, whom I always felt were brothers in arms in the fight. Now, I am sure.

In an open letter from the Patent Office Professional Association, patent examiners reveal that they are fed up with the current patent grant systems around the world. They feel higher productivity demands, increasingly complex inventions and an ever expanding collection of prior art have put so much pressure on patent examiners that the entire worldwide patent protection infrastructure is in jeopardy. The patent examiner workload is, simply put, at the breaking point.

This cannot help but translate into more legitimate patents being rejected and more frivolous patents being issued amidst the confusion. Unfairness in the prosecution threatens to undermine the entire patent system. This uncertainty, in turn, will lead to reduced innovation and increased litigation.

To reverse this trend, the patent examiners recommend:

Increasing the quality of examination by providing patent examiners with more time to search and examine patent applications.

Acknowledging the importance of protecting the intellectual property of inventors while simultaneously protecting the public domain by removing bias from reporting, rating and incentive systems with respect to granting or not granting patents.

Guaranteeing the independence of the examination process so that it is governed solely by the legal framework.

Ensuring that examiners maintain their legal and technological competence by providing adequate and continuing legal and technological training.

Maintaining staff skills with search, examination and administrative tools by providing regular update training.

Developing and maintaining collaborative rather than adversarial relations with employees and their representatives.

Strengthening the world’s patent systems by encouraging respective governments to provide standards of patentability that reward innovation while discouraging undeserving patent applications so as to provide a strong presumption of validity for issued patents.

Sounds reasonable to me. The money is there. Now if we can just get the USPTO to spend a little of it on the very people that make our patent system work.

Brett Trout

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