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Patents, Post Office and Progress

Two things that were around at the start of the United States was the U.S. Postal Service and the patent system. They have changed significantly since then and are even now in a major state of flux. In general, they have helped the country progress but not all changes have been for the better. The postal system leveled the playing field for busineses large and small and provided a universal communication link.

Unfortunately the postal system has been in decline because of competition and alternative technologies. This started with fax machines but the Internet and email has done more to change the way information is exchanged. The postal system has been adjusted but it is still limited by congress. Otherwise, it might have been more competition for its competition such as Fedex and UPS. Neither has to handle things like First Class mail. Instead, they provide premium services as a premium price and profit. Still, the postal services are still necessary albeit at a lower volume.

That is why the Postal Service is looking to cut staff, eliminate Saturday delivery, among many items under consideration. Part of the Postal Service's problem is that it is a government entity but it does not control its own destiny. That is up to Congress. Postal Service is not holding back progress although its progress is obviously changing.

Even as Congress is discussing the Postal System, it is also addressing the patent system. The America Invents Act was just passed by the Senate in an 89-9 vote (see Patent reform bill approved by Senate at Politico.com). It is the first major overhaul of the patent system law in over fifty years.

If this bill becomes law one of the major changes is that the patent system will switch from the current first-to-invent to a first-to-file system. This would bring the U.S. inline with other countries but not everyone is fond of the first-to-file system. Steve Perlman President & CEO OnLive, Inc. MOVA LLC and Rearden LLC is not enamored with it. His open letter to Dianne Feinstein (PDF) is extensive and detailed. Although the Senate decided to go with the current bill, Perlman's description of the issues is well worth reading.

One of the issues is obviously the first-to-file approach that tends to favor larger companies that can file many patents. Another issue is the backlog of pending patents. Like the Postal Service, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is supported by fees. Unlike the Postal Service, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has a surplus that goes back into the federal budget. It needs to go back into hiring more patent attorneys to eliminate the backlog.

This can lead to patents that are granted well after they useful life. These days it can be measured in years. Unfortunately this is often more of an issue for newer, small companies than larger companies.

So does the patent office or the post office have any affect on your company? Will the change in patent law have any effect on your patent process? Is this progress?

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