The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has reduced the patent-application backlog to the lowest level in several years, patent Director David Kappos told a House committee on Wednesday.
The landmark America Invents Act that President Obama signed in September makes wide-ranging changes to the U.S. patent system, including a new fast-tracked application process that seeks to reduce litigation and increase patent quality. The law also gave the patent office more resources to process applications, and it transitions the U.S. to a “first-to-file” patent system, under which inventors must be the first to file a patent application for a specific invention to receive a patent.
As the PTO implements that law, it has reduced the patent backlog to 640,491, down from more than 700,000 last year, Kappos said in testimony before the House Judiciary Committee. Patent applications are still taking nearly three years to complete the process.
Kappos said that his goal is to have the patent load down to about 330,000 by 2015 with an average process taking about 20 months, a time frame he says is the right balance between speed and thoroughness.
PTO has implemented seven of 20 provisions of the law and has proposed rules to implement another nine, Kappos said. Among the changes are additional patent offices, new technology, and expedited patent application options.
"I am pleased to report that our AIA implementation efforts are proceeding on a timely basis," Kappos told the panel and one of the act's main sponsors, House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas.
Smith said he is working on a bill that will make technical tweaks to the America Invents Act, but these proposals brought concerns from members such as Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., who said that some of the ideas, which had not been made public, could go beyond technical fixes.
PTO’s effort to enact new rules based on the law drew praise from a panel of industry witnesses. Some, however, raised concerns over rules governing reviews of existing patents, as well as the fee increases that the office has proposed to pay for the new efforts.
PTO is funded by fees collected from the companies and individuals that apply for patents and other services, but General Electric’s chief intellectual-property counsel, Carl Horton, said that some of the fees could be burdensome.
“Our fundamental concern is that the proposed fee increases would discourage innovators from seeking patent protection in the United States to the detriment of American competitiveness and job creation,” he testified on behalf of a coalition of companies, including GE, Motorola, Johnson & Johnson, and Pfizer.