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USPTO Chief Slams Bad Patents

Dudas No less an innovator than IBM once filed a patent on a system for providing restroom reservations. Or, as Ars Technica more crassly describes it, "Big Blue wanted a patent on taking a number to use the can." According to the post, Jon Dudas, the director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, in a speech yesterday at the Tech Policy Summit in Hollywood, cited that example as symptomatic of the problems facing his office.

While companies generally want patents in order to protect intellectual property, that's not the only a reason for seeking patents. Dudas noted that Wall Street loves it when companies file patents, since patent numbers can be used as an easy proxy for innovation and R&D work. The sheer number of patents can also make it easier to strike cross-licensing agreements with other companies, as it makes a given patent portfolio look broader and stronger.

While no one would argue that bad patents "promote innovation," they do often make business sense, Dudas told the summit's attendees. That is why the number of bad applications is surging and the percentage of patent approvals is dropping dramatically. But how should the surge be slowed? One proposal being floated is to raise the filing fee significantly, but Dudas believes this would be counter to the USPTO's mission to be open to all inventors. He has other ideas for stemming the surge:

Dudas wants to see the barrier to filing raised in less costly ways, such as requiring minimal searching for similar or identical previous patents, and he wants applicants to describe exactly how their invention expands the state of the art; in other words, make a strong argument that your idea is demonstrably better than what's already out there. These changes alone will 'drop out a significant portion of bad applications.'

Lurking in the background is the controversial patent reform bill still making its way through Congress. Will it pass? Dudas told his summit audience that he gives the bill a better than 50 percent chance of success during this session of Congress. Meanwhile, if you need to use the restroom while you're waiting, e-mail IBM for a number.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on March 28, 2008 at 12:03 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)


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