infoTECH Feature

June 03, 2010

New Technology, Software Products Causing 'Dramatic Rise' in Number of US Patents

There is a historically significant increase in the number of patents being issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office, according to a leading patent law expert.

Dennis D. Crouch, a law professor at the University of Missouri and editor of the PatentlyO legal blog, says that looking back from May 26, the USPTO granted more utility patents than in any three-week period in history - and at a rate more than 40 percent greater than in 2009. He said it was a "dramatic rise."

"I can say with some confidence that the bulk of the increase in the number of patents being issued is associated with technology- and software-related patents rather than patents associated with biochemistry or pharmaceuticals," Crouch said in an interview with TMCnet today.

"The increase is in the number of patents being granted," he added. "There has not been a parallel increase in patent applications being filed. Rather, the PTO is attempting to eat-away at the backlog of 750,000 applications pending examination."

In 2009, the USPTO issued 167,349 utility patents at an average rate of 3,218 per week, according to the patent law blog. In April 2010, the USPTO issued an average of 4,385 patents per week. The April figure represents a more-than 35 percent increase from the 2009 weekly average. If the April 2010 figures hold for the rest of 2010, there should be about 220,000 issued utility patents for the year, according to Crouch. The 50,000 year-to-year increase in patent grants for 2010 would represent the largest single-year jump in history, he added.

The USPTO recently announced the "Project Exchange" program - where any applicant with more than one patent application, filed prior to the inception of the program and which is currently pending - can receive an expedited review of an application in exchange for withdrawing an unexamined application.

By providing incentives for applicants to withdraw unexamined applications that may no longer be important to them, Project Exchange is expected to reduce the backlog of unexamined patent applications pending before the USPTO.

The expanded Project Exchange will be limited to 15 applications per entity through December 31, 2010.

"Project Exchange will help us reduce the backlog and enable us to process applications more quickly," said USPTO Director David Kappos.

In a related matter, the USPTO has initiated a pilot program for a patents ombudsman that is expected to help with stalled applications that face legal questions.

Ed Silverstein is a contributing editor for TMCnet's InfoTech Spotlight. To read more of his articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Patrick Barnard

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