NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

REVISE THE PATENT AND TRADEMARK OFFICE

October 18, 2005

The Patent and Trademark Office should become a government corporation headed by a chief executive officer with strong business experience, according to a report from the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA).

This is the best way for the Commerce Department's Patent and Trademark Office to improve its performance. Technology-industry executives have long sought ways to speed patent awards and improve the quality of submissions.

Consider:

  • The Patent and Trademark Office has had to remit to the Treasury all of the fees it collects from patent applications.
  • Congress has redirected much of that money to other agencies, even as the backlog in processing applications has grown.
  • Fees diverted from the office amount to $185 million since 2001, and $750 million since 1991, according to data from the Intellectual Property Owners Association.

The report recommends that the Patent and Trademark Office keep all of the fees it collects, so that it can hire and retain workers. Turnover among patent examiners is high. Most leave the agency within three to five years. With such high attrition, seasoned examiners must be pulled off cases to train new workers, said Mike Kirk, director of the American Intellectual Property Law Association, which supports incorporating the agency.

The NAPA report also recommends instituting a "post-grant review" system to allow some patent disputes to be decided outside of the expensive legal process.

"As a self-sustaining federal entity that performs a direct service for paying customers, (the patent office) needs to be able to function like a business and report to Congress," the academy said. A House Appropriations subcommittee asked the group to review the structure and processes of the agency.

Source: Randy Barrett, "Patent, Trademark Corporation Proposed," National Journal, September 3, 2005; based upon: National Academy of Public Administration, "U.S. Patent and Trademark Office: Transforming To Meet the Challenges of the 21st Century," National Academy of Public Administration, August 2005.

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