The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has published two new reports on Patent Office Activities along with the results of a major survey of 2,600 patent examiners.
- Patent Office Should Define Quality, Reassess Incentives, and Improve Clarity (GAO-16-490)
- Patent Office Should Strengthen Search Capabilities and Better Monitor Examiners’ Work (GAO-16-479)
- Survey of U.S. Patent Examiners (GAO-16-478SP), an E-supplement to GAO-16-479 and GAO-16-490
Regarding patent quality, the GAO suggested that the USPTO’s standard of patent quality should focus solely on the basics: defining “a quality patent as one that would meet the statutory requirements for novelty and clarity, among others, and would be upheld if challenged in a lawsuit or other proceeding.” However, patent clarity must be an important element of that definition. The GAO writes:
GAO estimates that nearly 90 percent of examiners always or often encountered broadly worded patent applications, and nearly two-thirds of examiners said that this made it difficult to complete a thorough examination. Without making use of additional tools, such as a glossary of key terms, to improve the clarity of patent applications, USPTO is at risk of issuing patents that do not meet statutory requirements.
The reports were requested by Rep. Goodlatte in his role as chair of the House Judiciary Committee. I expect that Rep. Goodlatte will hold hearings with PTO representatives in the fall to focus on ways to move forward.