Jon Dudas, Commissioner of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, urged Congress to move ahead with legislation to improve the patent system. He told a U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary subcommittee that it should adopt provisions that would prevent questionable patents from being approved and give companies more leeway to challenge patents after they’re issued.

Dudas singled out two improvements he said the patent office supports that are being considered by the House Judiciary subcommittee on intellectual property:

  • One would give third party companies more leeway to challenge a patent that has been approved.
  • The other would allow third parties to go to government examiners while they are still considering whether to grant a patent and point out similar existing technology to argue against granting a patent.

Both proposals “are widely supported throughout the intellectual property community and would directly improve patent quality,” Dudas said. But I’m sure someone will blame patent attorneys for everything.

Now, Matt Buchanan of Promote the Progress reports that a new patent reform bill, the Patents Depend on Quality Act of 2006 (“the PDQ Act”), was circulated yesterday by Representative Berman. Steve Nipper at the Invent Blog has a brief review and a .pdf of the bill.

The bill includes the opportunity for third party submissions during prosecution along with Post-Grant Opposition Procedures for opposing a patent. The opposition file would be open to the public. The bill also includes changes to inter partes reexamination and the permitted grounds for willful infringement damages. The bill includes the following limitations:

SEC. 8. INJUNCTION.

Section 283 of title 35, United States Code, is amended by adding at the end the following: “In determining equity, the court shall consider the fairness of the remedy in light of all the facts and the relevant interest of the parties associated with the invention. Unless an injunction is entered pursuant to a nonappealable judgment of infringement, a court shall stay the injunction pending an appeal upon an affirmative showing that the stay would not result in irreparable harm to the owner of the patent and that the balance of hardships from the stay does not favor the owner of the patent.”

In the Senate, Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, a Republican from Utah, is also preparing a patent reform bill.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office started operating its “hoteling” program that allows patent examiners to telecommute from home four days a week and use a shared office space on the fifth day. About 500 of those employees each year are scheduled to be assigned to the hoteling program. The programs are called hoteling because employees must reserve a work space in the way a hotel guest makes a room reservation. With hoteling, many employees share a work space. The Patent and Trademark Office plans to add to its hoteling program as long as the quality of work is not compromised. Among the 4,300 patent examiners, 78 are hoteling as of this week. The agency is adding another 40 every two weeks.

The Patent and Trademark Office is one of the government’s fastest-growing agencies. It plans to add 1,000 examiners per year to its staff of 7,400 employees for the next four years to help clear up a backlog of patent applications. I’m OK with Examiners working in their bunny slippers if it would mean better examination (and an easing of the restriction craziness).

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