The USPTO released a report that it granted 187,170 patents, including 169,296 utility (inventions), 16,533 design, and 998 plant patents as reported in fiscal year 2004. Since 1790, over seven million U.S. patents have been granted.  See the complete report here.

As reported earlier by MSNBC, however, the patent application backlog will only continue to grow.  While the average pendency is now more than two years, it is predicted to double in five years, unless major changes are made. Obviously, this could have a chilling effect on innovation if venture capitalists feel like the life-cycle of the technology and the uncertainty of getting a patent make the risk of patenting too great. 

Already, the number of pending patent applications has ballooned, especially for complex fields like semiconductors, biotechnology and nanotechnology. There is also a fear that patent quality could go down if examiners don’t take the necessary time to evaluate the technology.  There is a risk that patents will only become of value to the large corporations able to duke it out in court over the validity of a patent’s claims.

As usual, the finger is pointed to the pilfering of patent office fees by Congress to use in the general fund – more than $650 million as of last year.  This, after fees were raised yet again in December. Nice.

Under the current PTO five-year plan, the office will move to a system that uses fully searchable, Web-like documents. Look for more fee penalties for not filing electronically.  If only someone could come up with a good relacement for ABX.

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