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Patent applications jumped up during recession

David Kappos, director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Tess Vigeland: Facebook is one of the more high-profile inventions of the last couple of years. No doubt they've got all kinds of patents on their business model and technology, which would make them the lucky ones. Right now, applicants for patent protection are waiting an average of three years to get their papers reviewed. Each and every one of them represents an idea that could turn into a business, a business that could create jobs.

So the head of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, David Kappos, is trying to grease the wheels. He joins us now. Welcome.

David Kappos: Thank you very much for having me on, Tess.

Vigeland: So talk to us a little bit about why there is such an enormous back log there at the patent office.

Kappos: Americans are very creative, very inventive. And for the last more than 10 years have filed an incredible and increasing number of patent applications. And unfortunately, our agency here, the United States Patent and Trademark Office, just literally has not been able to keep up. Our backlog is currently about double what it should be. So we've gone to where we've had a backlog as high as over 750,000 applications here.

Vigeland: Sounds like you need somebody to invent a new system for you.

Kappos: Yeah, that's right. What we need and what we're doing is we turned overtime on to let our examiners, who are very productive people, help get on top of our backlog. We have provided new IT equipment to our examiners immediately to enable them to work more effectively. And we've done really simple things, also. Simply turning the air conditioning on here at the USPTO on weekends, so people could come in and work. And we're making good progress in that regard. We're starting to get some signs that it's dropping significantly for the first time since about 2006.

Vigeland: Now, the patent process actually is not that expensive. It's what $500 to $1,000. Have you thought about raising that maybe to raise some money?

Kappos: Yes, the patent process is relatively modestly priced. For a large entity like a business, it costs about $1,000 to file a patent application. Individuals and small businesses cost them about $500. That is intended to incent applicants to enter the system. We want people to come and work with the USPTO, we want to see patent applications, and we don't want to discourage filings. So while we could potentially raise the filing rate, we certainly want to keep it modest enough and reasonable enough that American innovators will feel that our fees are not an impediment to entering the patent system.

Vigeland: Now, you have been talking quite a bit about how this is actually affecting the country's ability to recover from the unemployment problem. Explain for us why that is.

Kappos: Well, that's exactly right. The reason is because patents create jobs. Patents enable innovators to put products and services in the marketplace and to hire people. They create opportunity and they put Americans to work. And so every patent application that's sitting here in our agency is potentially American jobs that aren't being created.

Vigeland: Obviously, there are issues that you are trying to rectify within the patent office itself. But you always hear that one of the good things that come out of tough economic times is that people do come up with new and different ways of doing things out of almost desperation. So are you finding that the last couple of years have been particularly fruitful for you?

Kappos: We are what you might call a fairly recession-proof agency, in the sense that even during the recession, our filing rate dropped only very slightly. Which I think, Tess, is an indicator of the point that you're on. This year, our application filing has gone up a little over 4 percent, which is quite a bounce back. Again, an indication that Americans are double down on their investments and innovation.

Vigeland: David Kappos is director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Thank you so much for your time today.

Kappos: You bet. Thank you very much Tess.

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