An important science and technology policy development was drowned out last week in the cacophony of carnival barkers questioning the president’s birthplace. The United States Patent and Trademark Office announced that it would be postponing the implementation of reforms aimed at improving the efficiency of the patent application approval process. This unfortunate decision resulted from Congress’s decision to raid some 100 million of the USPTO’s self supported dollars. It is all the more ironic that the announcement came just days before World Intellectual Property Day, a day meant to celebrate the protection of intellectual property worldwide.
As pointed out in an article by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the reforms would have included a pilot program for fast-tracking patent approval for an extra fee, opening a satellite office in Detroit, much needed upgrades to the USPTO’s computer, and hiring of personnel–necessary to simply keep up with the increasing pace of applications. In a recent White House video blog, Austan Goolsbee, Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, explains how the average patent takes three years to be approved because of a patent office straining with insufficient resources. The recently delayed reforms were designed to address these problems. Patent protection is critical for businesses competing in industries of the future which are dependent upon technological innovation including biotechnology, nanotechnology, clean energy, and computing. China is undertaking a concerted effort to compete with the US in these areas of innovation as indicated by a recent Thomson Reuters report on the state of innovation in China. The report concluded that “if current trends continue, China is set to dominate the patent information landscape in the not-too-distant future.”
China’s increasing efforts at securing patents should be kept in perspective, and may be a “case of the world’s second-largest economy playing catch up,” However, it is clear that the US needs to implement reforms to our patent process in order to remain competitive and maintain leadership in science and technology related industries.