10/4. The Government Accountability Office (GAO)
released a report [43 pages in PDF]
titled "U.S. Patent and Trademark Office: Hiring Efforts Are Not Sufficient to Reduce
the Patent Application Backlog".
The report finds that there is a large and growing backlog of patent application at the
U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The USPTO is
hiring more patent examiners, but it is constrained by funding limitations. Also, the
report finds that the USPTO is losing many young examiners, in part because
USPTO production goals lead examiners to work overtime and while on leave.
The report does not address Congressional diversion of USPTO fees to
subsidize other government programs.
The GAO report states that "increases in both the volume and
complexity of patent applications have lengthened the amount of time it takes
the agency to process them. As a result, the inventory of patent applications
that have not yet been reviewed, called the backlog, has been growing for over
15 years -- since fiscal year 2002 alone, the backlog has increased by nearly 73
percent to about 730,000 applications."
The report finds that "the patent application backlog has
continued to increase, and it is unlikely that the agency will be able to reduce
the backlog simply through its hiring efforts."
"From 2002 through 2006, patent examiner attrition has continued to significantly
offset USPTO's hiring progress." It adds that the "USPTO hired 3,672 patent
examiners between 2002 and 2006, and 1,643 patent examiners left the agency during this
Moreover, the report adds that young examiners are the most likely to leave.
The report also discusses possible causes. It states that USPTO management asserts that
examiners leave for personal reasons, while "union officials told us that attrition can
primarily be attributed to the insufficient amount of time provided to patent examiners to
meet their production goals." The report states that its own survey supports the union
It also states that "to meet their production goals, the majority of patent examiners
had to work substantial unpaid overtime in the last 12 months, while many others worked while
on annual leave."
The report states that "funding levels" limit how many examiners
the USPTO can hire.
The report was prepared for Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA),
the ranking Republican on the House Oversight and
Government Reform Committee. Rep. Davis stated in a release that "Everyone needs to
understand that the diversion of fees from USPTO to other government programs
helped create this problem."
He also commented that the USPTO "has been unable to effectively combat its