USPTO Elaborates on 2006’s Issued Patents and Backlog
January 22, 2007 Timothy Prickett Morgan
After the piece we ran last week about the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office not announcing its annual top 10 ranking of companies granted patents and another company putting out its own rankings based on the USPTO’s own data, Brigid Quinn, the deputy director of public affairs gave me a call to provide a little more information on why USPTO was stopping the practice and to provide some of the numbers that I had asked to see in my piece.
First of all, USPTO will in April release a report that details the patents granted to companies with more than 40 patents–so all of the raw information that would have gone into the rankings will, indeed, be publicly available. (As the story last week explained, IFI Patent Intelligence, which has created a searchable database of patents called CLAIMS, has already compiled this information and did its own analysis of the patents awarded in 2006.)
Quinn explained that USPTO was adamant about improving the quality of patents. “While we may have issued a record number of patents, the rate of actually granting patents was the lowest on record,” she explained in an email after we talked on the phone for a bit. “Over the years, the agency has normally approved about 70 percent of the patent applications reviewed each year. In he past two years, that number dropped below 60 percent, and in 2006, it was just below 54 percent–a definitive nod to the many new quality review measures that we’ve put into place over the past four years. many of these are listed in the second attachment.”
She also said that Uncle Sam has hired more patent examiners to take on a backlog of an estimated 800,000 patents applications that have yet to be examined. “We were able to review more applications this past year because over the past three years we’ve hired 2,200 new patent examiners. There are plans to hire an additional 1,200 examiners this year and each year for the next five years–if we’re appropriated the resources we need.” She said that more than half of the unexamined patents were related to the high-tech industry, which is a staggering backlog. “Even with this massive hiring, we can’t turn the corner,” she added. “Thus, we have proposed other efficiency measures and have others on the drawing board to help turn the tide.”
As for the types of patents that get approved–I happen to think that some things that get patented, such as DNA sequences or business processes, ought not to be patentable–Quinn simply said that the Supreme Court has made its ruling on these matters–notably the case of Diamond v. Chakrabarty in 1980, where the court held that companies could patent genetically modified bacteria–and the USPTO examiners, no matter what their own personal views on patents, had to uphold this ruling of law.