posted by Thom Holwerda on Sat 8th May 2010 17:32 UTC
IconWhatever products we use, I think we can all agree that the United States patent system and the US Patent and Trademark Office need a serious overhaul. Not only has the USPTO a history of granting ridiculous patents (massive prior art, obviousness, incredibly vague, the USPTO grants them all), it also has a backlog of about 750000 patent applications. The USPTO now has a plan to combat these issues - sadly, they once again display their utter incompetence.

The main issue the USPTO wants to address is the frankly laughable backlog of patent applications - 750000 of them, to be exact. It currently takes 35 months from application to grant; the USPTO wants to reduce this to just 12 months. Very ambitious, but also very welcome. What isn't welcome, however, is their proposed solution.

To combat this problem, you can do one of two (or both) things. First, you can lower standards, and grant more patents. It turns out that the USPTO is indeed doing this: the amount of patents granted per week has jumped 35% since last year. This is a bad thing because the quality of patent applications surely hasn't jumped 35% since last year, meaning more vague and troublesome patents have been granted.

Now, the second method to address the problem is to cut down on the number of patent applications, and indeed, this is where the USPTO is planning some potentially disastrous changes. They are planning to drastically increase the patent application and maintenance fees so less applications will be filed. The USPTO's goal is to reduce the amount of patent applications by 40%.

Sadly, increasing the fees will seriously hurt smaller-to-medium businesses - while not posing much of a problem for large companies like Google, Microsoft, and Apple. This could prevent small companies from innovating, because they wouldn't be able to pay for a patent anyway.

"Large companies become the beneficiaries because they have free access to the work of smaller companies, though the reverse would not be true," writes Erik Sherman for BNet, "Large companies will be able to freeze smaller ones out, making the changes an innovative and competitive train wreck."

Some of you might be wondering why I pay so much attention to things like this. Well, it's pretty obvious; not only has a lot of competition moved away from the market and into the court room, it's also the case that the technology industry benefits from a healthy environment in which innovation flourishes.

It seems like large companies are trying to do just about anything to create an environment hostile to innovation. In the meantime, the USPTO, most likely one of the most incompetent US government organisations, is trying just as hard to accommodate these large companies (intentionally or no).

If you value innovation and a fast-evolving technology world where the little guy can revolutionise the market, then you'll most likely share my concerns.

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