Got a really awesome idea? Invented a product that you just know venture capitalists will be willing to pour millions of dollars into? Great! Now just sit around and do nothing for three years... That's the way the US Patent & Trademark Office currently works. The office is so far backlogged with submissions that it has become the norm to wait an astounding two years before a "new" submission ever even gets looked at.
Obama says completing an overhaul of the patent system is critical to successfully competing in the global marketplace of the future. Obama likes to use floaty language, such as claiming that getting faster trains in the US would be the equivalent of responding to the historic launch of Sputnik. So his rhetoric may be over-the-top, but nevertheless he says that revolutionizing this outdated system in the US could help us "win the future."
Currently, the process of getting a patent involves submitting an application online, at which point someone at the patent office will still have to manually print out the document in hard copy form, and then scan that document into another computer system. Then, it has to be evaluated from that system, instead of just using the form that the applicant actually sends.
Office staff have to content with thousands of applications every day, so even a minor inefficiency is compounded into oblivion. Meanwhile, the system is meant to handle a time when a patent might have a dozen claims, and be no more than 25 pages. Today, patents are as much as 700 pages long, and can have thousands of claims to sort through.
This is hurting business because no one will fund a project unless it has been granted a patent. Brilliant people are just sitting on their inventions while people in other countries are able to push through ideas faster.
David J. Kapps recently took the title of Director of the Patent and Trademark Office, and is charged with getting this ship back on track. "There is no company I know of that would have permitted its information technology to get into the state we’re in. If it had, the CEO. would have been fired, the board would have been thrown out, and you would have had shareholder lawsuits," said Kappos in a quotation from the New York Times.