dashboardOn Sunday September 12, 2010, the United States Patent and Trademark Office launched the beta version of their new Patent Data Visualization Center, appropriately called “Patent Dashboard,” as its statistics are shown using dashboard gauges. The page hosts various dashboard statistics including patent pendency (in months), number of patent examiners, and total backlog. According to Director David Kappos’ Public Blog, the main priority of the Patent Office is to reduce the backlog of unexamined patent applications and reducing the amount of time it takes for a patent to issue. The Patent Dashboard was created to better understand the factors that contribute to examination delays, and to make the USPTO more transparent to the public. Kappos’ states, “This information will help the entire IP community to better understand our processes, and enable applicants to control the timing at which their applications are examined.” While giving the public more inside information, the USPTO will also use Patent Dashboard internally to track their efforts in improving their examination process.

While giving the public greater access to statistics and processes at the USPTO is good, how helpful will Patent Dashboard really be? The numbers will be updated monthly, but will this new system really help the USPTO create a more efficient process?

While the dashboard gauges offer a simple and effective way of communicating with the public, the concern reflected in the numbers does not disappear, and of particular concern are Traditional Total Pendency and Backlog gauges. As of September 12, the total pendency is at 35.4 months, which is almost three years, just to get a patent issued. Even more concerning is the number prominently showed on the Backlog gauge at 728,055. This enormous number represents the amount of “patent applications in the pipeline at a given time which are awaiting a First Office Action by the patent examiner.”

Kappos addresses the backlog issue and recognizes that this backlog “may cost the U.S. economy billions of dollars due to ‘foregone innovation’ — commercial opportunities that fail to get off the ground because of long delays in obtaining necessary patent protection.” While the USPTO has seen a slight decline in the backlog since Kappos became director in August 2009, the progress is slow. In these tight economic times, the patent backlog is a serious issue the USPTO must address.

The Patent Dashboard is arguably a good step in holding the USPTO accountable and in analyzing the data, but it is only that — a step. Now that the USPTO has something to show their statistics to the public, the next step is implementing a method that actually moves those gauges, and moves them down.

Megan LaDriere

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