Processing Delays Continue for Growing Backlog of Patent Applications

RCED-90-231: Published: Sep 28, 1990. Publicly Released: Oct 2, 1990.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Patent and Trademark Office's (PTO) backlog of unprocessed biotechnology patent applications, focusing on: (1) the extent of the backlog; (2) the impact of PTO actions to accelerate biotechnology patent decisions; and (3) the impact of continuations on reported patent dependency time in 1989.

GAO found that: (1) despite PTO actions to accelerate biotechnology patent decisions, processing delays continued and the backlog of biotechnology patent applications increased; (2) from 1989 to June 1990, PTO unexamined biotechnology patent application inventory increased by about 33 percent, from about 6,200 to about 8,200; (3) over 40 percent of the 8,200 backlog patent applications were over 12 months old; (4) the average waiting time for processing biotechnology patent applications was about 26 months in 1989 compared with other technologies' 19-month processing average; (5) due to filing increases and the shortage of experienced examiners, PTO was no longer projecting that it would reduce its processing of biotechnology patents to the targeted 18-month goal, but did not establish a new target date; and (6) since PTO measured pendency of applications rather than inventions, the actual time to process inventions included in patent applications took longer than PTO reported.

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