Why wait in that poky line with the coach crowd when you can get your patent application to the front of the line by flying first class? Woodrow Pollack writes about this press release from the PTO:
Washington – The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) announced today plans for the agency to begin accepting requests for prioritized examination of patent applications – allowing inventors and businesses to have their patents processed within 12 months. It currently takes nearly three years to process the average patent. The program, called Track One, launches May 4, 2011, and is part of a new Three-Track system, which will provide applicants with greater control over when their applications are examined and promote greater efficiency in the patent examination process.
There’s something very free-markety about that, isn’t there?
Isn’t there something also kind of rotten about it?
Well, waiting it line has this very egalitarian aspect to it. Everyone should wait his turn. But on reflection, as an amateur economist, yes, it does make sense that a patent applicant or the backers of a patent whose invention promises greater economic value will make an investment to have that return begin that much faster by getting on the fast track for a premium.
That assumes a great deal of market efficiency, doesn’t it?
Well, maybe, maybe not. Even if it is only assumes a little bit of market efficiency, isn’t overall welfare improved this way?
That is actually an empirical question, I guess. Assuming the same number of patent examiners, a fast track doesn’t only speed up processing compared to conventional applications — it necessarily, or at least prima facie, would seem to also slow down processing for non-fast track applications.
The pricing question is a bit odd. This model would seem to want to have a bidding aspect to it, or a sliding scale. Instead, it’s one fast-track price — $4,000. (True — there’s also “business class.” Not clear to me whether they get a bigger bag of peanuts or what.)
A little strange. Whereas I imagine the idea has been modeled somewhere before being implemented, I can see all kinds of unintended consequences arising from this — but most interesting will be to see who games the system, troll-style, to make buying your way to the head of the patent line really, really rotten. We’ll see.