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A New Patent Process in the US

Written by Jane Coyle on 01 November 2007

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The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has a growing backlog of applications for new patents. Nearly 800,000 are in the queue. So the office developed new rules to streamline the process. They're scheduled to take effect Thursday, but a lawsuit is threatening to prevent those changes from happening. The point of the rule changes would be to simplify applications that can be thousands of pages long and would also limit the number of times rejected applications can be refiled. At the moment there is no limit.

Margaret Peterlin, the Patent Office's deputy director says one change would cap the number of an invention's features that an applicant can claim as unique. This would effect pharmaceutical companies that have complicated inventions and often apply for patents early in the invention process. John Desmarais is an attorney with GlaxoSmithKline. The company sued to block the changes. He said: "They shouldn't be harming the public by creating disincentives for big pharmaceutical companies to invent and protect their inventions." Desmarais says the changes would lead to cuts in research and development. He says if the Patent Office can't handle the demand, it should hire more examiners. The office already hires 1,200 a year, but keeping examiners in their jobs is tough, given the nature of the work.

Robert Budens is president of the examiners union. He's been a biotech examiner for the last 17 years. : "If we could retain the people we hire, then we could turn that corner on the backlog. Examiners need more time. We need to have the time and the resources to be able to do the job right the first time." Buden's claims are re-enforced by a recent report, which found that for every two patent examiners the agency hired, one left. But Margaret Peterlin says hiring and retention alone won't fix the problem. She says the rules' changes are vital to decreasing the paperwork.

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