NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Patent Office Strains Jeopardize Intellectual Property

September 11, 2000

The U.S. Patent Office is being buffeted by a one-two punch -- high employee turnover and a surge in applications. The turnover problem is eroding the level of staff experience and -- coupled with higher workloads -- is leading to undeserved patents being granted.

  • The office could issue as many as 200,000 patents this year, up 61 percent from three years ago -- while Internet-related patents are being granted at a pace exceeding 5,000 this year, up from just 433 in 1997.
  • Annual employee turnover is running 15 percent annually -- but 19 percent among computer and Internet specialists, who are being hired away in droves at double their average $61,000-a-year salary.
  • Due to expansion and attrition, more than half of the 3,100 examiners have been on the job for less than two years.
  • The Patent Office is self-funding -- paying for itself by charging $380 per application for a basic patent, $605 when the patent is issued and nearly $3,000 in maintenance fees during the first 12 years of a patent's 20-year life.

The office will collect about $1.2 billion in the coming fiscal year. But Congress and the White House have proposed keeping as much as 25 percent for the federal government's general budget.

Sources: Del Jones, "Surge in Ideas, Turnover Swamp Patent Office," and "Skilled Examiners Leave; Patent Quality in Peril," both in USA Today, September 11, 2000.


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