Nanotechnology patent problems blamed on unionization

Small Times reports on a meeting held in Oregon among a wide variety of nanotechnology-based business participants, at which many commercialization challenges were discussed. One was difficulties encountered with the U.S. Patent office:

Start-ups expressed frustration with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Long waits for patent award decisions make it difficult for them to get venture funding and to secure corporate partners. In response, [Under Secretary for Technology at the US Department of Commerce, Robert] Cresanti noted that the issue was well understood at the highest levels, but that the training and retention of qualified patent examiners was proving to be extremely difficult. Once trained, nano patent examiners are able to secure private industry jobs at three times the salary provided by the USPTO, which is limited in its ability to counter-offer due to strong union forces.

This sounds like an arms race that the patent office cannot win. Not only is it outgunned financially and in terms of flexibility, but it is also charged with the task of declaring an invention to be new and different enough to warrant a 20-year monopoly or not— in a world of rapidly increasing technological complexity, how can they keep up? Maybe I’m confused, but this process looks increasingly unsustainable to me, in terms of understandability and fairness. How can inventors cope unless they are backed up by huge companies with a large legal staff? Countries that derive an above-average fraction of their economic strength from small entrepreneurial companies will be put at an increasing disadvantage as this continues. That’s unfortunate. Maybe it’s time to explore other models.

Perhaps Community Patent Review can help. It’s great to see this idea making such fast progress since it was first described at the Accelerating Change conference in 2005. —Christine

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