[FoRK] Mildly positive patent legislation...
jbone at place.org
jbone at place.org
Mon Mar 15 19:36:12 PST 2004
This just flowed past /.
At least if we can't fundamentally fix the system --- we can perhaps
make it work a bit better and ditch the bogus patents.
Legislation advances to speed patents
By David Lammers, EE Times
March 15, 2004 (10:20 a.m. EST)
AUSTIN, Texas — House passage of the Patent and Trademark Fee
Modernization Act, which would prevent Congress from siphoning off
patent application fees to the general fund, gave industry an
opportunity last week to vent its frustrations with the patent process
and weigh in on how the bill might improve it.
The legislation would keep patent office revenue in-house and thus
could expedite the patent-application process, which grows lengthier
and more costly as technology gets more complex, sources said.
The bill, approved March 5 in the U.S. House of Representatives by a
vote of 379-28, will now move to the Senate.
Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, who introduced the bill, has estimated that
about $750 million has been diverted from the patent office — which has
an annual budget of about $1 billion--since 1992.
Cycling such revenue back into the operation would allow the patent
office to hire more, and more-qualified, examiners "in the subjects
needed, including the 'double E' kinds of patents," Boston-based patent
attorney Lee Bromberg said last week. The goal is to smooth and shorten
a process that for semiconductor technologies now takes three to four
years, he said.
Higher salaries, Bromberg added, might stem turnover at the office,
which is staffed largely by examiners at opposite ends of the spectrum:
seasoned employees who like the work and have risen through the ranks,
and young examiners, either fresh out of law school or still working on
their degrees, who stay perhaps five years before moving on to the more
lucrative private sector.
The office might also channel retained fees into strengthening its
computer database of prior art, a key element in any application,
That's the good news. "The bad news is that as the technology gets more
complex, the average pendency probably will continue to lengthen,"
Bromberg said, even if "the nagging issue" of fee diversion is
Nonetheless, the House vote was welcome news at SigmaTel Inc. (Austin),
which a few years ago was so strapped for cash that it held off filing
patent applications to avoid the attendant legal fees. Now it is among
the companies lobbying for legislation, including the fee act, that
would shrink the wait for patent approvals and thus free up resources
at SigmaTel for hiring more chip designers.
SigmaTel has about 55 patent applications pending, CEO Ron Edgerton
said, adding that the company has been frustrated by the long wait for
several key patents that, if granted, could strengthen its
intellectual-property position in its target digital audio, infrared
and MP3 chip markets. "It seems like if we make a minor change or want
to clarify something, it knocks that application back to the beginning
of the line," Edgerton said.
Some products now shipping from SigmaTel incorporate features for which
patents are pending. Approval, Edgerton said, would solidify SigmaTel's
position with customers, making it tougher for competitors to dislodge
it from accounts.
A stronger IP position means higher revenue and "a more secure
forecast" for future sales, which translate into more money--including
engineering salaries--for product R&D activities, Edgerton said.
It's a politically potent argument in these times of outsourcing and
high unemployment among the U.S. high-tech work force.
Smith, who chairs of the House Judiciary Committee's IP panel, said his
bill, H.R. 1561, could result in 140,000 more patents being issued in
the next five years. "That's 140,000 more economic opportunities for
the American people," Smith said.
Juan-antonio Carballo, a communications chip researcher at IBM Corp.'s
Austin Research Laboratory, has earned six patents and has a dozen or
so more in the pipeline. Carballo said IBM has a "very good filtering
process internally," which results in nearly a 100 percent success rate
for applications filed with the patent office.
"What strikes me about the [length of the] process is its
unpredictability," Carballo said. "Sometimes a patent will be approved
in a year or a year and a half. Some others will take four years. Why?
There is no visibility into the variability of the process."
But shorter isn't always better, in the view of Paul Nixon, CEO of
Intrinsity Inc. (Austin). Intrinsity's lobby
is ringed with dozens of granted patents relating to its Fast14
technology, a form of dynamic logic recently licensed to graphics chip
maker ATI Technologies Inc. (Markham, Ontario).
"It can take several years to get a patent, but sometimes that can work
to our favor," Nixon said. "In our early years we were in a hurry to
secure key patents, because that was an important credibility factor
for Intrinsity. But remember that for the 17 years [that a patent is in
force], the clock starts ticking from the date of issue. Sometimes you
want patents to issue when the chip starts to ship."
Intrinsity's FastMath parts are expected to begin shipping in
commercial volumes when its key cellular-basestation customers begin
ramping their system shipments--a year or more away, Nixon said.
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