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Technology patent wars sign of robust innovation

Kenneth Corbin | May 18, 2012
The head of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office tells a congressional panel that the landmark reform bill signed last September is already yielding significant results, but defends litigation in tech sector as a sign of vigorous innovation.

It has already made some progress on that front, Kappos reported, thanks in considerable part to another provision of the bill that established an accelerated review program through which applicants can pay an increased fee for expedited consideration of their invention. To date, the U.S. PTO has lowered its backlog to about 640,000 applications, and is on track to bring that figure down to 600,000 by the end of the fiscal year, Kappos said.

He explained that the ultimate goal is to bring the backlog down to around 330,000 applications by the end of 2015 -- a large number to be sure, but a workload that would amount to a manageable docket for each of the agency's evaluators. By the patent office's projections, that would bring the average wait for an initial review down to 10 months, with a final decision coming 20 months after the filing of an application. Kappos said that that window strikes an appropriate balance between the twin goals of speeding up the process and giving examiners sufficient time to spend on individual applications to achieve higher-quality patents.

Wednesday's hearing comes as Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the lead sponsor of the bill in the lower chamber, is soliciting feedback as he prepares to introduce legislation that would modify provisions in the patent reform act to ease the process of implementation and address concerns that have been raised by some industry and academic groups.

A panel of witnesses from various corners of the intellectual property community who testified after Kappos affirmed the director's assertion that the U.S. PTO rulemakings have been transparent, and each credited the agency for keeping an open door throughout the process, though some expressed concerns over some of the technical measures in the bill.

Those objections include the proposed rulemakings concerning post-grant reviews and inter partes reviews, which some of the witnesses worry are not drawn narrowly enough, potentially leaving patent holders susceptible to costly legal actions.

With the patent reform bill now the law of the land, the U.S. PTO has also been engaging with foreign governments in an effort to iron out the differences among various nations' systems for recognizing intellectual property.

"With adoption of the AIA congress has enabled the U.S. PTO to promote a new vision of an IP world in which national and regional patent systems are coordinated to create an optimal environment for technological innovation globally," he said. "Passage of the AIA has provided an opportunity to restart long-stalled discussions with our foreign counterparts toward substantive harmonization that will help U.S. businesses succeed in the global business environment."

"We are making quite considerable progress with our trading partners overseas on harmonization," he added.


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