Three quarters of a million patent applications outstanding!

A golden age of invention!

By Rick Jelliffe
February 7, 2010

Alice laughed. `There's no use trying,' she said `one ca'n't believe impossible things.'

`I daresay you haven't had much practice,' said the Queen. `When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast. There goes the shawl again!'

Nowadays, after her breakfast, a mad Queen will rush off and take her impossible things to the USPTO. (As long as the fax is the right way up.)

I was astonished to read that by end of FY 2009, there was a backlog of about 740,000 US patent applications. With predictions of 860,000 backlog next year. It takes over 2 years just to get a preliminary response, and can easily take over 3 1/2 years total.

What a wonderful age we live in! An age where almost a quarter of a million non-obvious ideas without prior art are invented every year. In this golden age it is difficult for any even average engineer to go to the toilet without producing a few ideas suitable for patenting. What a triumph and vindication of our education system!

An interesting document is up at the USPTO US Patent Statistics Report.

In 1965, there were about 100,000 patent applications, and about 66,000 grants. There is a lag between applications and grants, so this is not a very good metric of grant rates: but the ratio is about 3:2. In 2008 there were about 485,000 applications, and about 184,000 grants: the ratio is about 5:2. To put it another way, in 1965 there were twice as many successful applications as unsuccessful: now there are more than twice as many unsuccessful applications as successful ones: the quality of applications has decreased or perhaps the standards of the USPTO has improved (though not much, see my recent blogs.) In 1965, about 20% of US patent grants were foreign (i.e. non-US) while in 2008, it was about 50%.

<rant>If I were the USPTO, I would prioritize applications to penalize serial offenders: any company that has a history of submitting patent after patent that get rejected should be put at the back of the processing queue, or even blackbanned, or just named-and-shamed.</rant>

What a farce. A patent is a form of monopoly, and a distortion of the market. And, in common with most successful monopolies, it works by co-opting a reasonable section of the community, in particular shareholders who think their slender profit from patents exceeds the costs of other patents.

It is inconceivable that all or even most these approved patents are original and not based on prior art.

And the fact that junk (in logic if not in law) patents have been issued in the past (and continue, it seems) has actually encouraged bad applications, to the point of congestion of the USPTO. Is schadenfreude patentable? The secret to getting the processing rates at the USPTO down to reasonable limits is not the bandaid of putting on more examiners: the solution is to put the bar up much higher to discourage junk applications. The preliminary responses from the USPTO need to be more proactive in rejecting dubious applications.

In Australia, we have full patents and petty patents (innovation patents) where you pay your money for 8 years for an uncertified, unexamined patent on innovation rather than invention. Lord spare us.

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