Spurious Patents

Many people bemoan the state of today’s patent system. Backlogs in examination have grown to amazing dimensions. In 2011 the number of US applications awaiting examination was reported as being just under 700,000. Why does this happen?

Part of the answer seems to be the ease with which one can obtain a patent. Inventors embark on the application process knowing that they will meet with little resistance from examiners. Some examiners are, no doubt, more compliant than others, but, often, the experience is relatively painless.

The backlog has reached Borgesian proportions, and it feeds on itself: The patent examiner has less time to review more applications. Reviews become less rigorous. The easier the application process becomes, the more inventors apply.

– Beth Simone Noveck Formerly U.S. deputy chief technology officer for open government

There is a patent, issued by the USPTO in 2000, for making toast. There can be no doubt that toast was invented long before 2000; I distinctly remember eating it before then. Let’s simply agree that it was invented long ago by some forgotten genius.

We did not wish to be too quick in singling out this particular patent; rash evaluations are not helpful, so our team reviewed it carefully, giving the inventor, the attorney, and the examiner the benefit of doubt. Was there anything new there? Anything that warranted a patent?

Friends, it’s toast, it’s just toast. And so are we, unless we do something to fix this problem.

The ongoing patent reform is a ray of hope for us all in the IP community.