Patent Backlog | Patent Office Backlog
What impact on the U.S. economy?  Does the backlog undermine the economic stimulus package?

"Believe it or not, in our patent office -- now, this is embarrassing -- this is an institution responsible for protecting and promoting innovation -- our patent office receives more than 80 percent of patent applications electronically, then manually prints them out, scans them, and enters them into an outdated case management system.  This is one of the reasons why the average processing time for a patent is roughly three years.  Imminently solvable; hasn't been solved yet.”

— President Barack Obama, Forum on Modernizing Government, White House, January 14, 2010

Patent Backlog

1.2 million.  Size of the U.S. Patent Office’s backlog of unexamined applications reported as of the Fall of 2009.  “The [Milwaukee] Journal Sentinel reported last month that the Patent Office has been unable to keep pace with the volume and complexity of the applications it receives. Its backlog of unexamined applications has grown to over 1.2 million - nearly triple the number a decade earlier - and it now takes 3.5 years, on average, to get a patent, far longer than the agency's own 18-month benchmark.  The newspaper's report showed how the agency responded to its growing backlog partly by rejecting patent applications at unprecedented rates and often put inventors at risk of losing their ideas to competitors. That, in turn, made it more difficult to create and fund start-up companies, ultimately undermining the United States' ability to compete in an increasingly global economy.” (John Schmid and Ben Poston of the Journal Sentinel, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, “Patent office overseer quits agency,” September 11, 2009)

770,000.  Number of patent applications awaiting a preliminary examination by USPTO examiners.  “Of the 1.2 million applications pending at the [U.S. Patent and Trademark Office], more than 700,000 have not even been picked up by an examiner for a preliminary examination, [director of the USPTO, David Kappos] said. The backlogs keep inventors, investors and entrepreneurs waiting for years while the technologies go unprotected or become obsolete.”  (John Schmid of the Journal Sentinel, “Backlog of patents still stifling potential jobs, director says,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, May 3, 2010)

770,000.  Size of the Patent Office backlog in mid-2009.  “Even before the financial crisis prompted companies to pare their patent portfolios, which reduced the patent office's revenue, the department was criticized for its large and growing backlog, which [Jay Reich, deputy chief of staff of the Commerce Department] estimated at 770,000 applications.” (Diane Bartz, “U.S. patent office shortfall worsens: official,” Reuters, Tuesday, Jun 23, 2009 6:20pm EDT)

450,000.  Number of patent applications processed annually.  “The 6,285 patent examiners approve or reject about 450,000 applications each year, according to patent office figures. (Diane Bartz, “U.S. patent office shortfall worsens: official,” Reuters, Tuesday, June 23, 2009 6:20pm EDT)

How long does it take for a patent application to be processed?  How has the patent office backlog impacted the time it takes to process a patent application?

400,000.  Number of USPTO cases in backlog.  “But the patents office is swamped. Patent examiners devote on average only 17 hours to checking an inventor's claim to some unique product, process or idea. They are working through a backlog of more than 400,000 patent claims.” (Jim Landers, “Trouble impending in patent process,” The Dallas Morning News, May 1, 2007)

350,000.  Number of USPTO cases in backlog.  “Approximately 350,000 cases are currently on backlog, and the agency expects to receive as many new applications this year.” (Megan Barnett, “Patents pending”, U.S. News & World Report, June 10, 2002)

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187,000. Number of patents issued per year by the USPTO (or 719 patents issued per day assuming a 260 work day year).  “When the [children’s playground side-to-side swing] patent was granted in April, intellectual property experts blasted it and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office [USPTO], saying it showed how overworked the patent office had become. The patent office, which patent attorneys have for years described as underfunded and understaffed, issues more than 187,000 patents a year. The less staff, the less likely patents such as this are challenged.”  Patents per day.  Patents per year.  (Mark Reilly & Jim Martyka, “Inventions reflect innovation, patience, even humor,” Minneapolis / St. Paul Business Journal, August 16, 2002)

Over 100,000 per year. 
Number of inventions patented each year.  “Over 100,000 of these novel ideas [inventions] are patented each year.” (Rich Donaldson, senior vice president and general patent counsel for Texas Instruments, cited in “Great Ideas Turn Into Palatable Investments”, Dallas Business Journal, by Lisa M. Whitley, March 9, 1998)

U.S. Patent Office Backlog (Years Behind Schedule)

6 years.  Number of years USPTO says that it could take to get its backlog under control.  “On a campus of boxy office buildings nine miles outside Washington, D.C., some 6,300 patent examiners hold the nation's economic future in their hands.  The next Google. The next iPhone. The next Viagra.  All could be fueled by inventions awaiting the 20 years of protection afforded by a U.S. patent - if only the patent examiners could catch up.  But they can't. The federal system of granting patents to businesses and entrepreneurs has become overwhelmed by the growing volume and complexity of the applications it receives, creating a massive backlog that by its own reckoning could take at least six years to get under control, the Journal Sentinel has found.” (John Schmid and Ben Poston of the Journal Sentinel, “Patent backlog clogs recovery,” A Journal Sentinel Watchdog Report, Journal Sentinel, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, August 15, 2009)

3 years-plus (more than 36 months).  Patent office backlog for patent applications.  “Intellectual property (IP) remained one of the fastest growing legal disciplines in 2006, spurred by continual innovations in the software and biotech industries. But patent applications are backlogged more than three years, and Congress again delayed legislation designed to break the logjam at the U.S. Patent Trademark Office (PTO).”  (Sean Meyers, American City Business Journals, “Hiring an IP lawyer is more complex than one thinks,” Friday, New Mexico Business Weekly, February 23, 2007)

27 months. 
Average length of wait for U.S. PTO patent decision.  "The number of lawyers who litigate intellectual property has grown by leaps and bounds, and the patent office is swamped with hundreds of thousands of applications annually. The average wait for a patent is 27 months." (Eric Teng, inventor of the Garlic Twist quoted in Thuy-Doan Le, “Entrepreneurial spirit starts to pay off for Sacramento, Calif.-area inventor,” Sacramento Bee, December 12, 2004)

22 months.  Average length of time it takes to get a patent.  “How long does it usually take to get a patent?  At this time it takes an average of 22 months.”  How long does it take to get a patent approved? (Office of Public Affairs, “Kid’s Pages, Kid’s Primer - Frequently Asked Questions,” U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, retrieved Wednesday, June 24, 2009)

Up to 18 months.
  Amount of time it takes for patents to be issued.   “Visit the patent officer in charge of your case. Patents take up to 18 months to be issued, and the U.S. Patent Office rejects about 90% of applications.” What is the fastest or shortest time it takes to get a patent?  (Tomima Edmark, Dallas inventor of the "The TopsyTail, Patent No. 5,036,870.” quoted in Rusty Cawley, “Patent Protection,” Dallas Business Journal, June 12, 1998)