Almost all of the publicly discussed plans for patent reform tend to focus on a few minor changes to the system and then dumping a lot more money into hiring more examiners. Unfortunately, such a solution doesn't work when people don't want to be patent examiners. With the continued growth in patent applications due to the fact that companies feel they need to patent everything just in case, and the layer of complexity in many new patents -- the backlog keeps getting bigger and bigger -- and with it, the pressure on existing patent examiners. In fact, Slashdot is pointing to an article that notes patent examiners are fleeing the Patent Office, as they feel that they're being overworked. They're given impossible quotas by managers who don't seem to understand how much work they need to do. While Jon Dudas, the patent office director, seems to brush off the concern by suggesting this is a minor "management" problem that can be sorted out, it actually seems to be indicative of a much bigger issue: patent examiners don't scale. The method for granting patents is out of date and can't handle the patent system we've set up. If we actually follow Dudas' own reform plan, which would grants patents to those who are "first to file" rather than "first to invent," it will actually make the problem even worse, because it will make companies file as many patents as quickly as possible without doing all of the necessary research. So, Dudas' big plan for patent reform is to get more money to hire more patent examiners just as he has a labor problem on his hands -- and at the same time, overload them even more. Isn't it time we started looking at real solutions for patent reform that recognize the fact that the current system obviously can't scale? This certainly suggests that a system of peer reviewed patents that allowed various experts in the field to weigh in on patents could work better. Other ideas include a more "open source" approach -- where patent applications are published much earlier along with an easy way for anyone in the public to object to the patent and provide prior art. These are solutions that distribute the work outwards and aren't relying on the same patent examiner system that obviously cannot handle the load created by our existing approach to patents.
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