PTO hiring thousands under new law

Friday - 9/16/2011, 7:43pm EDT

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By Ruben Gomez
Reporter
Federal News Radio

The Patent and Trademark Office is planning to hire between 1,500 and 2,000 new examiners to address a large backlog of patent applications.

The move, which is dependent congressional action, is part of the America Invents Act, which President Barack Obama signed Friday as the most significant overhaul of the patent system since 1952. PTO is waiting for Congress to approve the fiscal 2012 budget to be able to bring in the new employees.

Under the new system, PTO, which is part of the Commerce Department, will give preference to the first person to file a patent instead of a person who claims to be the first to invent.

"Everybody, inventors and patent examiners alike, will be able to pick up a [patent application] and know immediately what's priority and what's not priority," said PTO Director David Kappos during a press briefing with reporters.

The law ensures the patent office, now facing a backlog of 1.2 million pending patents, has the money to expedite the application process. It now takes an average of three years to get a patent approved and more than 700,000 applications have yet to be reviewed.

"Hiring these additional examiners will enable us to accelerate that progress," Kappos said. "I can easily see that backlog going right down to 600,000 this coming (fiscal year) ... and our processing time heading down to 30 months or below that level."

PTO gets its funding entirely from companies and other inventors who pay fees to apply for patents, Kappos said.

"It's very important that we be permitted to keep those fees, to have access to to them, and to use them to do the work that American innovators are paying for," he said.

Also in an effort to help PTO prioritize patent application reviews, the law lets technical experts and other third parties electronically submit documents and comments about pending patent applications.

"It will focus our examiners' attention on the most important patent applications, which will obviously be the ones that get commented on," Kappos said. "It'll enable the technical experts to bring those documents to our attention in a timely fashion and to relate them to the patent applications we're looking at."

Obama hailed the legislation as necessary to spur innovation.

"Somewhere in that stack of applications could be the next technological breakthrough, the next miracle drug," Obama said. "We should be making it easier and faster to turn new ideas into jobs.

The Associated Press contributed to this story

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