The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is responsible for issuing patents that protect new ideas and investments in innovation and creativity. However, the volume and complexity of patent applications to the agency have increased significantly in recent years, lengthening the time needed to process patents and raising concerns about the validity of the patents that are issued. Annual applications have grown from about 185,000 to over 350,000 in the last 10 years and are projected to exceed 450,000 by 2009. Coupled with this growth is a backlog of about 750,000 applications. Further complicating matters, the agency has faced difficulty in attracting and retaining qualified staff to process patent applications. USPTO has long recognized the need to automate its patent processing and, over the past two decades, has been engaged in various automation projects. More recently, in its strategic plan, the agency articulated its approach for accelerating the use of automation and improving workforce quality. In two reports issued in June 2005, GAO discussed progress and problems that the agency faces as it develops its electronic patent process, its actions to attain a highly qualified patent examination workforce, and the progress of the agency's strategic plan initiatives. At Congress's request, this testimony summarizes the results of these GAO reports.
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