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[FYI] (Fwd) PTO- USA Today

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Date sent:      	Tue, 12 Sep 2000 22:20:32 -0500
Send reply to:  	patent-l@ftplaw.wuacc.edu
From:           	vashishi@erols.com
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Subject:        	PTO- USA Today

fyi - Valerie Darbe (vashishi@erols.com)
>   USA Today - September 11, 2000
>   Page 1A
>   Surge in ideas, turnover swamp patent
>   office Some property rights at risk
>   By Del Jones
>   The U.S. Patent Office is getting swamped with a record 500 patent
>   applications a day at a time when examiners are being hired away
>   in droves at double their average $61,000-a-year pay.
>   The patent office could issue as many as 200,000 patents this
>   year, up 61% from three years ago. Internet-related patents rose
>   from 433 in 1997 to 3,512 in 1999 and are on a pace to exceed
>   5,000 this year.
>   The office has been scrambling to add staff, but annual employee
>   turnover is running 15% vs. the 10% norm. It's been 19% in the
>   center that examines computer and Net technology. Because of
>   expansion and attrition, more than half of the 3,100 examiners
>   have been on the job less than two years.
>   Experts close to the situation say the one-two punch of volume and
>   inexperience is exhausting the office, and undeserving patents are
>   slipping through. That's critical to an economy that runs on
>   intellectual property.
>   Companies that get patents for ideas that aren't new can collect
>   licensing fees from others that prefer to pay to use the idea
>   rather than fight in
>   Also, large companies can restrict upstart competition by quickly
>   filing patent infringement lawsuits against entrepreneurs
>   patenting new ideas. Fighting a large company in court can be so
>   costly and time consuming that it scares away the entrepreneur's
>   investors.
>   ''It's becoming almost extortion,'' says Greg Aharonian, a
>   consultant who finds evidence of bad software patents for
>   companies. ''Patent quality in this country is a joke. It's
>   getting worse.''
>   The most publicized contested patent is Amazon.com's one-click
>   that forces on-line purchasers to click twice when ordering from
>   other sites. Thousands of lesser-known patents are being
>   contested, placing a heavy burden on the federal courts.
>   But the head of the patent office says there's no crisis yet.
>   ''We're not overwhelmed,'' says Q. Todd Dickinson, undersecretary
>   of Commerce and director of the patent office. ''We're doing a
>   great job.''
>   Ronald Stern, president of the patent-examiners union, says
>   examiners are working under ''sweatshop'' conditions to meet
>   productivity quotas.
>   ''You're going to see more goof-ups,'' says patent attorney Kevin
>   Pontius, who left the patent office as an examiner in 1993.
>   Dickinson says the quality of work has yet to suffer and offers an
>   annual survey of patent lawyers and companies that shows 67% are
>   happy with the fairness of patent decisions, up from 54% in 1996.
>   Aharonian says the survey shows a false picture. He says impartial
>   academic experts who study the validity of patents would be far
>   more critical.

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