The slow moving quagmire that is the patent office.
I design telecom equipment for a living. I work in the infrastructure side, the access and radio equipment that brings the high speed data to your homes and to the cell towers, and the power equipment that keeps the systems up and running. I've filed for and have received a few patents in my time working as a designer. I've noticed a trend over the past 10 year that the time it takes to get a patent seems to be increasing at an alarming rate. Here is an example of the last 3 patents I've filed:
Patent filed in 2005, around 28 months.
Filed: Nov 14, 2005
Issued: Mar 18, 2008
Patent filed in 2007, 57 months and counting.
Filed: Sep 12, 2007
Published: Mar 12, 2009
Filed in 2009, 33 months and counting.
Filed:Sep 1, 2009
Published: Mar 3, 2011
When discussing this trend with the patent attorney he said this trend is real, and in our technology sector 5+ years to get a patent would not be "out of the norm" today. A quick Google search revealed quite a bit of statistics on the current time it takes to get a patent. The upward trend of the time it takes to get a US patent easy to see when graphed.
The patent office has a serious backlog. Part of the problem is that Congress allocates no funds to the US PTO. That wouldn't be a problem since the PTO earns enough money to hire all the examiners it needs, but it becomes a problem when Congress takes that money and appropriates it to other programs. $80 Million last year, and the tune of $1 Billion over the past 20 years. How many examiners could that have hired?
Examining a patent is painstaking, mind numbing, and laborious work. You have to wonder if we are getting the highest quality work out of our Patent Office when the examiners are faced with an ever increasing backlog. Anecdotal evidence isn't always the best indicator, but I know my first patents came back and I had to submit a defense for them against a long list of prior art on why my patents was new, novel, or different. It seems like the last few that have been approved more recently were just rubber stamped and moved along, even though I thought they were a little harder to justify than my earlier patents. I know we like to complain about how the patent system is broken and we all want it to be fixed and work better for everyone. But you have to wonder how high of a priority the US PTO is for our government as we see them milk money from the office and leave it without the resources it needs to keep the current/past level of service, let alone making the system better.