[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)
URL: http://www.eetimes.com/story/OEG20040315S0013

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, 
Bromberg said.

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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