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Paying the Patent Piper

Washington Monthly, which, unlike most other Washington-based magazines, has a history of actually paying attention to what happens in the bureaucracy, rakes the Patent and Trademark Office over the coals in its latest issue. The piece, by Zachary Roth, highlights another example of the perils of fee-based government. "The 1991 decision to make the PTO pay for itself," Roth reports, "has created a series of perverse incentives that encourage the office to approve undeserving applications, and has made it easier for applicants to game the system. Because each new application now brings in a $380 fee, the agency has an incentive to approve those patents, sending a signal to the market to apply for more. Additionally, patent-holders pay annual maintenance fees for the first 12 years of a patent's life, meaning that each approved patent brings in a total of over $3,000 to the office." (Thanks to Kausfiles for the link.)