The first thing you need to know about the U.S. patent system is that it has a backlog of more than 700,000 patents.
The second thing you need to know is that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has been so neglected for so many years–essentially robbed of funds by Congress, which reappropriated portions of the agency’s budget for other purposes–that the organization tasked with protecting America’s technological and scientific assets labors with too few staff and a “20-year old technology infrastructure that does not even remotely enable it to take advantage of modern information technology.”
And the most important thing you need to know about the U.S. patent system is that the America Invents Act just passed by Congress doesn’t fix any of this. Nor does it touch the larger issue of whether or not it’s wise to allow inventors to patent business processes and software and then sue the hell out of each other in a cage match that is essentially a tax on innovation.
The major opportunity in this act, aside from the elimination of software patents, was to free the USPTO from the congressional appropriations process, whereby Congress exercises control over the agency’s budget. The USPTO doesn’t use taxpayer money–it’s funded by application fees–and yet it still has to ask Congress for permission to access those funds, giving that body an opportunity to reappropriate them for any other purpose.
Giving the USPTO self-determination over its own budget would have at least allowed it to tackle that 700,000+ backlog of patents. That provision of the bill, which originally appeared in the Senate version, was blocked by House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY), who appear to have been confused about the source of the USPTO’s funds. (i.e., not taxpayer dollars.)
Surely no one expected Congressional Republicans to take the time to find out what exactly it was they were saying “NO” to?
If the appropriate corporations – in this a range of korporate killer klowns from Walt Disney to Microsoft – tell them to say “NO” – the only question from Republicans is, “How loud, boss?”