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PTO 21st Century Strategic Plan Proposes Deferred Patent Examination, 4-Tier Fee System





This June marks the 200th anniversary of what is now the U. S. Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO). Although much larger and more technologically advanced than when Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson personally examined applications, it is also hobbled by significant challenges. In Jefferson's day, applications fit on a single page; now applications come in on CD-ROMs containing the equivalent of millions of pages.

As the number and complexities of applications increase, processing time continues to grow. Patent pendency now averages over two years and soon could grow to over three. The application backlog continues to grow: in 2002 some 340,000 new applications will join a backlog of 408,000 older applications. With only 3,400 examiners to handle this massive job, we must make substantial improvements to how our examination system operates.

Europe, Japan and other industrialized nations also face this same crisis. Because many American inventors need patent protection in other countries, delay abroad directly injures the ability of American inventors to protect their intellectual property abroad. Yet fully 50 percent of all U.S. exports depend upon intellectual property protection.

Without timely and quality patents, technology, employment, and economic growth dramatically suffer. The time has come to transform the USPTO from a one-size-fits-all bureaucracy into a quality-focused, responsive, market-driven institution. The Bush Administration will aggressively respond to this challenge by retooling a two-centuries-old agency to meet the needs of America's new Century.

This 21st Century Strategic Plan creates an organization worthy of the unique role intellectual property plays in the American and global economies. It begins with a thorough top-to-bottom review of the agency, focused on shifting all our resources toward quality and timeliness. It incorporates the best ideas of American inventors and creators, and our counterparts in other countries.

This strategic plan lays out what we will do over the next five years to reduce pendency to 18 months, make both patent and trademark processes almost paperless, and create a global framework for enforceable intellectual property rights. Once implemented, its initiatives will enable us to hold fees steady while reducing PTO expenses by an estimated half billion dollars.

American inventors and businesses will become more internationally competitive by obtaining worldwide protection as seamlessly and cost-effectively as possible. We plan to partner with like-minded international intellectual property organizations in areas like e-Government, classification, and sharing search results. We will work, both bilaterally and multilaterally, with our global partners to create a highly coordinated, streamlined framework for protecting U.S. intellectual property around the world.

Our 21st Century Strategic Plan is ambitious but long overdue. It requires changes within the USPTO and among our users, and relies on Congress to pass fee schedule legislation. It depends upon our  streamlining operations and enactment of President Bush's budget request to fund needed changes. It will require revisions to current rules. In short, all stakeholders must treat American intellectual property as our single greatest national resource - and encourage its protection and development.

Developing the strategic plan was an open and participative process. We are grateful for the wisdom and experience of the many USPTO employees who contributed, and for the candor and positive spirit of industry representatives and others who shared their views.

Now it is time to turn promises made into promises kept. I look forward to working with all the participants in the intellectual property system to ensure that the goals presented here become achievements.


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