Best in Patent Related Investigative Reporting for 2009

Over the last 18 to 24 months it seems that patent news has been increasingly entering the mainstream.  This is likely in no small part due to the growth of patent blogs and online magazines, which make it every more easy for interested news reporters, columnists and others to find high quality, specialized treatment of issues relating to innovation, technology and business.  During the 2008 Presidential election cycle patent and innovation policy came out of the wilderness and even made it into the platforms of both President Obama and Senator McCain, although Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney probably had the most direct patent policy promise when he promised in writing to appoint a patent attorney to be Director of the Patent and Trademark Office.  It came as quite a shock that patents entered the Presidential cycle in such a prominent way, even if the major media didn’t really notice.  Those of us in the industry took notice for sure.  But 2009 was a different year and patent news and policy initiatives became more popular topics in such venues as the Wall Street Journal, USA Today and many other newspapers.  None hit the topics as hard and with as much detail as did the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and reporter John Schmid.

John Schmid, a business reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, started investigating patent news and the negative impact the United States Patent and Trademark Office was having on the US economy starting at least as early as Spring of 2009.  He detailed the problems, how they came into being and efforts to fix the patent system currently under way.  He has talked with many patent attorneys, inventors and government officials, and has followed and reported on news in this niche bringing the larger consequences to the notice of the general public.  Some of his work, which started appearing during the Summer of 2009, is linked below.  If you have not seen Schmid’s work, I recommend you give it a read.  The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has also printed op-ed pieces as well.

For the reporting of John Schmid and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel I give two thumbs up and a tip of the hat.  Thanks for bringing patent and innovation issues to the forefront, and thanks for working to educate the masses with respect to why a thriving patent system is necessary for economic growth in the US!  Keep up the great work in 2010!

Patent backlog clogs recovery (8/15/2009)


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.

Turnover troubles agency (8/16/2009)


The work is hyper-technical and often tedious. The workload is massive. And once a patent examiner gets good at the job, employers in the private sector frequently come calling.

No wonder the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has trouble holding onto employees.

“We lose most of our examiners in the first three years,” said Margaret Focarino, the deputy commissioner for patent operations.

Patent rejections soar as pressure on agency rises (8/16/2009)


Issued in 1995, U.S. Patent No. 5,443,036 is titled “Method of Exercising a Cat.” If you move the light from a laser pointer around on the floor, it says, your cat will chase it.

That’s right — it’s patented.

Yet when medical professor Janet Mertz applied for a patent on a new diagnostic test for breast cancer in 2002, she waited five years for a ruling — and was rejected. The hormone-based test, developed and refined for more than a dozen years at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, was deemed too obvious to merit patent protection.

Patent delays harmful to U.S. economy, commerce secretary says (8/22/2009)


The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the agency safeguarding American innovation, is impeding the nation’s economic recovery with its unprecedented delays and hurdles in issuing patents, said U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke.

Patent office overseer quits agency (9/11/2009)


A top official at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has resigned, almost a full year before the end of his five-year contract, as the beleaguered agency tries to catch up with a massive backlog of patent applications.

John Doll, 61, the commissioner for patents since 2005, will leave the agency on Oct. 2, part of a management shake-up under new agency director David Kappos.

Foley lawyer Barner to help restructure U.S. Patent office (10/5/2009)


Sharon Barner, who chairs Foley’s intellectual property department from the firm’s Chicago office, will become the deputy director of the patent office. Barner steps into the No. 2 role immediately under David Kappos, who previously oversaw IBM’s patent portfolio. The Senate confirmed Kappos in August as the Obama administration’s nominee as the agency’s director.

UW calls proposal to change patent law ‘reckless’ (10/9/2009)


University of Wisconsin-Madison officials are lashing out at new recommendations from an influential federal panel that could dramatically weaken patent protection for the university’s genetic research.

Among other things, the panel recommended essentially exempting genetic tests for cancer and other diseases from patent protection – meaning that anyone could use genetic diagnostic research from UW-Madison or any university without obtaining licenses.

No quick end to backlog in sight (10/24/2009)


Declaring that the performance of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office stifles American innovation and economic growth, the agency’s new director is warning that a $200 million deficit prevents it from tackling its most urgent problems.

David Kappos, a former IBM Corp. executive who took charge of the Patent Office two months ago, has used recent speeches to break with the agency’s previous administration and repudiate as “dysfunctional and backwards” policies that have triggered an unprecedented number of rejections of applications seeking patent protection for new technologies.

Biotech group places dollar value on university-driven research (10/30/2009)


As the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee invests in facilities to drive innovation and economic growth in the region, the leading biotechnology trade group in the U.S. this week put a dollar figure on the value of university-driven research.

The Biotechnology Industry Organization, in what it calls a first-of-its-kind study, said that U.S. economic output grew $187 billion from 1996-2007 through university technology license agreements alone.

It’s David vs. Goliath in patent fights (11/28/2009)


The patent applications drafted by Buzdum and Capstran are among the 1.2 million applications pending at the agency – a backlog that was the subject of a Journal Sentinel investigation published in August. Hamstrung by a series of problems, including Congressional diversions of its funding since the early 1990s, the Patent Office has fallen hopelessly behind at a time when the technologies it protects ought to be reinvigorating the U.S. economy. And its efforts to catch up have only made matters worse, with the agency rejecting applications at one point at an unprecedented 60% rate – including many that were later proven to be worthy of patents.

Congress deals funding blow to Patent Office (12/28/2009)


The $1.1 trillion spending bill that Congress passed this month bankrolls thousands of pet projects: the World Food Prize in Iowa, a farmers market in Kentucky, and a 12-mile bike path in Michigan, among many others.

And to pay for a fraction of its largesse, Congress added one late change to the budget: It slapped a restrictive spending ceiling on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, further cramping an agency that was already incapacitated by more than a decade of congressional raids on its fees.


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Join the Discussion

3 comments so far.

  • [Avatar for Jeff Lindsay]
    Jeff Lindsay
    January 14, 2010 09:54 pm

    Thank you! John Schmid is one of the only reporters in the nationconducting real investigative journalism on this vital topic. He’s a credit to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, but the impact of his service is nationwide. I’m impressed with his energy, his journalistic skills, and his understanding of just how important the patent system is.

  • [Avatar for Gene Quinn]
    Gene Quinn
    December 29, 2009 08:24 pm


    Thanks for bringing this to my attention. I am taking a few days with family and won’t likely get a chance to dive in until next week on this, but I do have a lot of thoughts. In a nutshell, I think it is right to question whether this matters give much activity leading to jobs may take place overseas even if the patented is a US Corp. I think the small businesses, start-ups and research companies in the US create the biggest bang for the economy, but for reasons I don’t fully understand (although I have theories) they seem to have the slowest action at the PTO and longest wait to get a patent. To really spur economic activity in the US that has to change.

    More to come in 2010.


  • [Avatar for step back]
    step back
    December 29, 2009 07:31 pm


    Have you seen the Slate editorial of yesterday?

    What patent applications can tell us about America’s economic prospects.
    By Eliot Spitzer Posted Monday, Dec. 28, 2009, at 4:09 PM ET