Federal Eye: Workflow Changes at Patent and Trademark Office

In a move designed to improve morale and help reduce a growing backlog, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office proposed changes Tuesday to its way of determining how long a patent examiner has to complete a patent examination and the incentive credits that examiners earn for each stage of the process.

The modifications, which must be approved by agency employees in the coming weeks, would be the first major change to the agency’s “count system” since 1976.

USPTO has grappled with workload and morale issues for years. More than 6,300 patent examiners completed roughly 450,000 patent applications in 2008, a daunting workload that leaves little time for thorough reviews, sympathetic critics have said in the past. Even so, applicants often wait more than three years before their submissions get considered. (Read all about the patent application process here.)

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and USPTO Director David Kappos bluntly discussed low morale and the backlog at Kappos’s swearing-in ceremony in mid-August.

“Put simply, it takes too long for inventions and new ideas to get intellectual property protection,” Locke said then.

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