The buzz on Capitol Hill is all about the Patent Reform Act of 2007’s journey through the halls of Congress. There is also a lot of talk about the new rules being proffered by the PTO. Amidst the talk of changing the system and identifying problems with it, there is always talk of patent grant rates, the workload of the PTO, and how they will deal with added responsibilities if the bill should pass. Here at Tech LawForum, there have been posts about patent examiners before because it seems that more attention should be paid to what will help them do their jobs more effectively and efficiently. They are perhaps one of the most crucial parts of the U.S. patent system, and they have gotten little to no input (it would appear) on the Reform Act. According to POPA’s 2007 newsletter, there are currently about 5,000 patent examiners working for the USPTO (which is 2,000 more than in 2002). The presence of more should mean that the PTO is heading in the right direction with lowering their backlog of applications. Not so fast, says Robert Budens, president of the Patent Office Professional Association (POPA):
The real problem is that weÃ¢â?¬â?¢re not retaining people. In fiscal year 2006, we hired 1,200 people and lost 510.
And as to the reason for such turnover, Mr. Budens had this to say:
The number one reason is that you donÃ¢â?¬â?¢t have time to do your job. Examiners are stressed out. I started in 1990 and just afterwards, the USPTO issued its 5 millionth patent. It took 200 years to get to that, and yet in the next 17 years, weÃ¢â?¬â?¢ve reached the 7 millionth patent.
Given those statistics and the fact that there is a growing backlog of applications, one would think that in order to increase the retention of examiners, there would be a push to give them more time to do their jobs. However, POPA’s pleas for more time have fallen on deaf ears. Once again, according to their website
POPA has been testifying before Congressional Committees and lobbying Congressional members and staff on the issue of more time for examiners for at least 10 years. POPA has written in our Newsletter distributed to many influential government and private sector individuals and organizations of the need for more time. The most recent news release from POPA called for an increase of 20% more time for examiners since the goals have not been changed since 1977.
Examiners have never gotten the increased time that they need, and here’s the ironical part:
POPA IS PROHIBITED BY LAW FROM NEGOTIATING ON PRODUCTION OR GOALS.
Now, this is just a suggestion to those in Washington, but perhaps this issue should be addressed by the new Act.