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U.S. moves green patents to fast lane

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Kai Ryssdal: It wasn’t all small business in the president’s speech. He also said he wants to spend more on infrastructure to get the economy going. And he wants to invest in green technology. To that end the patent office announced today it’s going to put green patents at the front of the line. A very long line of waiting patent applications. Marketplace’s Nancy Marshall Genzer explains.

Nancy Marshall Genzer: It takes a long time to get a patent approved by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Sometimes more than three years. So inventors perk up when they get a chance to cut in line. The fast-tracking applies only to inventors who’ve already filed their patent applications. They’ll have to apply for special status, explaining how their inventions help the environment. The patent office is bracing for a green wave.

AARON McGushion: It’s sort of like trying to fill a teacup with a fire hose. There’s, I would guess, many tens of thousand of applications.

That’s Aaron McGushion, an inventor who teaches physics at Santa Monica College. The patent office will take only the first 3,000 inventors who apply for green status. McGushion says those slots will go fast. Maybe to companies like GE, with a lot of patent applications on file.

MCGUSHION: So imagine they have 500 applications pending right now. I would imagine that they’d want to put all of them in this program in order to get their patents issued very quickly.

And, in the rush, the meaning of what’s green could be stretched. The applications have to fit into almost 80 categories. But they’re pretty broad.

Arti Rai is an administrator at the patent office.

ARTI RAI: Alternative energy production, and all the mechanisms for alternative energy one could think of, all the mechanisms for energy conservation one could think of.

Rai says patent examiners will sift through those first 3,000 applications. She’s hoping they can shave months, if not years off the patent review process.

In Washington, I’m Nancy Marshall Genzer for Marketplace.

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