Patent Examiner groups air their grievancesApril 18, 2007

In an open letter to the heads of the United States, European, Canadian, German, and Austrian patent offices, an international coalition of patent examiner groups seeks changes in the demands on patent examiners, stating that the increase in productivity demands and the number of applications to be examined, combined with the increased complexity of applications is leading to a decline in patent quality. The groups signing on to the letter include:

The following quote from the letter is exemplary of the groups' concerns:

Consequently, we, the undersigned representatives of patent examiners, join together in declaring that the combined pressures of higher productivity demands, increasingly complex patent applications and an ever-expanding body of relevant patent and non-patent literature have reached such a level that, unless serious measures are taken, meaningful protection of intellectual property throughout the world may, itself, become history.

In addition to pointing out problems, the groups propose changes that should be made in order to correct the issues they identify, including:

  • Increase the quality of examination by providing patent examiners with more time to search and examine patent applications
  • Acknowledge the importance of protecting the intellectual property of inventors while simultaneously protecting the public domain by removing from any reporting, rating or incentive systems any bias with respect to granting or not granting patents
  • Guarantee the independence of the examination process so that it is governed solely by the legal framework
  • Ensure that examiners have the opportunity to maintain their legal and technological competence by providing adequate and continuing legal and technological training.
  • Maintain staff skills with search, examination and administrative tools by providing regular update training.
  • Recognize the considerable investment patent offices have in their staff by developing and maintaining collaborative rather than adversarial relations with employees and their representatives.
  • Strengthen the world’s patent systems by encouraging your respective governments to provide standards of patentability that reward innovation while discouraging undeserving patent applications so as to provide a strong presumption of validity for issued patents.

These goals seem to correspond with several of the goals of the USPTO's 2007-2012 strategic plan, released last month. Time will tell whether any meaningful changes will be made, but these organizations writing this letter to the various patent offices show that they believe the problem to be serious.

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