David Kappos was confirmed by the Senate last week as the new head of the Patent and Trademark Office. He comes to the PTO from IBM, where he managed IBM's patent and trademark portfolios. Since IBM has been for years one of the largest filers of patents, Kapppos' direct experience with the PTO, and with managing a large patent portfolio, appears impressive.
Kappos will need all of his experience to overcome the current mess at the PTO. There are presently about 770,000 pending patent applications on backlog. This backlog is growing significantly. In 2008, 485,312 new patent applications were filed but only 185,224 patents were issued. Anyone who has attempted to bail water out of a sinking boat knows that bailing only one-third of the incoming water is not sufficient to solve the water intrusion problem.
When the PTO is not able to fulfill its mission by timely examining patent applications and timely issuing deserving patents, then the development of U.S. technology is directly harmed. This is so because until a patent issues, there is no patent and no patent protection. Since an inventor has no assurance when or if a patent will issue on a new invention, and since there is no assurance as to how the patent claims will ultimately read, or which claims will be included, it is awful risky for an inventor to seek to commercialize an invention during the overly long patent examination process.
A deserving patent is entitled to be issued timely so that its invention can be commercialized. Only when an inventor is rewarded by an issued patent can the goal of the U.S. Constitution -- to advance art and science -- be fulfilled. Here's hoping that Kappos' water bailing skills are up to the task.