Patent Quality Reform Should Include Internal, External Changes
WASHINGTON D.C. - Patent reform should include internal and external changes, concludes Solveig Singleton in a new Progress on Point entitled, "Improving Patent Quality: Inside Out, Outside In, or Upside Down." In the paper, Singleton surveys different approaches to patent reform. She views the FTC's position that reform would best focus on post-grant procedures with skepticism, arguing that reforms internal to the PTO are essential.
To improve patent quality, patent reform should include changes within the PTO and outside it. Suggested internal reforms include an increase in funding available to the PTO. The author, however, argues that an increase in resources will not necessarily lead to a reformed bureaucracy. "Ailing administrations have certainly become better funded in the past, and somehow make no improvements. Without incentives to improve internal operations, the PTO could become yet another budgetary black hole." Post-grant reforms in theory might provide such incentives. But Singleton states that some possible post-grant reforms, such as third-party oppositions, might have only marginal effect on agency accountability. Singleton argues, " The oppositions would provide an escape hatch from especially bad patents, but might not affect patents as a whole. "
Singleton suggests ultimately combining internal and external reforms with changes that would bring market forces to bear on the Patent Office. The author supports current PTO experimentation with the outsourcing, including outsourcing prior art searches. However, she suggests a more radical approach like privatization might be necessary to create incentives for real change. Singleton proposes, "[T]he idea behind privatization would be to improve accountability by bringing market forces to bear. The trick with PTO privatization would be to pull it off without saddling the U.S. economy with a monopoly such as of the U.S. Post Office (or even ICANN). The best option. would be to establish several PTO's in competition with one another."
But Singleton believes that reformers should above all be cautious, concluding that by and large, the U.S. patent system is working. "[T]he hardest problem with patent reform is to avoid throwing the baby out with the bath water... Overall, the U.S. technology sector is thriving."
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