from the and-so-it-goes dept
Want to know why there are bad patents? Because there’s no such thing as a true “final rejection” of a patent (i.e., you can always keep refiling and try, try, trying again and again until it’s approved) and because the former head of the Patent Office, David Kappos, saw it as his main challenge to get rid of the giant backlog in getting patents approved. And thus, soon after Kappos took over the USPTO, we noted that patent approval rates started shooting upwards. Over the previous six years or so, the approval rate had been in a gradual decline, with it really starting to drop off around 2004, just as the Supreme Court started hitting back on a bunch of bad patent rulings, and making it clearer that, no, not “everything under the sun” should be patentable. However, Kappos never appeared to view patent quality as important, merely patent quantity and ending the backlog — and thus, the patent office started to take an approve anything mentality.
Some argued that Kappos had magically made the office “more efficient” and that’s why the approval rate started to shoot back up. However, we questioned how you could spend less time reviewing patents without also decreasing the quality of those reviews (and thus the quality of the patents approved). And, indeed, a study released last year made it clear that the approval rate had little to do with improved efficiency, but rather was due to drastically lowered standards.
The same folks who were behind that study have just released some new figures, including 2013, and it shows that the true patent approval rates have continued to go up. Basically, in 2013, the true allowance rate for patent applications was 92% (much higher than the USPTO’s officially reported number of 54%). The discrepancy is because the USPTO’s number counts “rejections” for patents as if the patent was truly rejected, and doesn’t look at how many patents actually make it through the full process. Thus, the fact that patent applicants can keep trying and trying until they get approved is massively hidden by the USPTO’s bogus number. This new number is much more accurate, and shows a pretty clear change in how the USPTO viewed patent approvals once President Obama got into office and installed David Kappos in that position (chart via Vox.com):