Congress is currently on the verge of passing its most comprehensive patent reform in decades. The America Invents Act would overhaul much of the organization of the US patent system by creating a patent-specific Trial and Appeals board among other reforms. This is the back end of patent reform. Congress is seeking to adjust the principles on which the USPTO bases its practices in order to overhaul the system. While I do think the proper way of solving the problems with the Patent system is from the inside out, I personally think that the America Invents Act falls short of what needs to be done. But the back-end reform is not all that’s going on.
A front-end adjustment is also in the works. Until the cuts made in staving off a government shut-down this year, the USPTO had been expecting a sizeable increase in funding which would be used to help streamline its operations with new offices, increased personnel, and other practical reform efforts. Indeed, one major provision of the America Invents Act was to give the USPTO full autonomy over the fees it brought in, rather than divert some of it elsewhere in the budget. The $2.3 billion that the patent office was expecting, however, was cut to $2.09 billion, funds remain diverted, and many of the front-end reforms have been forced on hold. At once, Congress has sought to enact and limit patent reform. And the consequences of that limitation could be disastrous. Not only are developments like an expedited application process or a midwest satellite office held indefinitely, but hiring is frozen, overtime is eliminated, and employee training is reduced. This budget doesn’t just place an obstacle before progress in patents, it forces us to regress.
To me, this indicates an ignorance on the part of Congress of the problems of patent law. This contradictory approach to the patent system would not occur if Congressmen understood the scope of what needs to be adjusted, on both the front end and the back end.