from the you-get-a-patent!-you-get-a-patent!-you-get-a-patent! dept
Combine that with some ridiculously bad court rulings, that made things (software, business methods) that people previously considered unpatentable "fair game," along with some insanely large rewards in patent infringement lawsuits, and you had a recipe for disaster. Multiple studies showed that the cost of legal fights over patents greatly outweighed the actual value of those patents. And it was becoming a dangerous snowball: the more bad patents approved, the more bad patent lawsuits, the more bad patents filed, etc. What was interesting was that around 2004, as the debate on this started getting so much attention, the USPTO realized it had a problem and started adjusting things so that incentives were a bit more aligned. And, lo and behold, a lot more patents started getting rejected, and the approval rate went down. Many patent system supporters chided those of us who complained about the incentive structure by saying "see? everything's fine now, since the patent office knows to reject bad patents."
Not so fast.
Last year, the new bosses at the patent office decided that the number one problem was "backlog." No doubt about it, there is a huge backlog and the time it takes to get a patent is very, very long. But rather than realize that the way to decrease the backlog is to reject all bad patents (thus making it less lucrative to file bad patent applications), it appears to have gone back to the old system: implicitly setting up the system so that "when in doubt, approve," is the norm -- just to get through the backlog.
The numbers don't lie, and the always excellent PatentlyO blog has the numbers and the graphs to show that we haven't just increased the rate of patent approvals, we've shot way up, beyond anything seen previously -- making it look like the "correction" from the past few years was just an anomaly. Not only that, but the rate of patent approvals on a monthly basis seems to be increasing, which doesn't bode well for the future either: