16 Mar Gulbrandsen tackles 'daunting' challenges in Patent Office
Madison, Wis. — As a former attorney and current managing director of the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF), Carl Gulbrandsen certainly has tackled his share of challenges. But the tasks facing the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and its Public Advisory Committee, for which he recently began serving a three-year term, have even him a little intimidated.
“I have to tell you, it’s a very daunting thing,” said Gulbrandsen, who noted that he has only attended one orientation meeting with the committee. “The orientation really opened my eyes to the problems they’ve got. I think we work pretty hard at WARF, but we don’t have anywhere near the challenges they’ve got in the Patent Office.”
For one, the Patent Office has a backlog of some 500,000 applications waiting to be reviewed. That is a massive problem, both from the perspective of workload and the effect the lag time has on organizations such as WARF.
“If you can’t get the IP issued, there’s no point in even filing it, right?” Gulbrandsen said. “If you’ve got several years before an examiner can even pick up an application before they’re going to look at it, that makes it very difficult for WARF, which is a licensing organization, to convince people that there’s value in taking a license. If patents don’t get issued, why should they take a license from us?”
“The strategies they’re using to try to break through are something we’re very interested in, particularly how they would affect the individual patent owner and the small businesses and universities, which is the reason I’m on this committee,” Gulbrandsen said. “I bring a perspective to the table that others don’t have. Most of the other board is from large industry or service sector.”
One strategy that Gulbrandsen, as co-chair of the Electronic Filing Committee, has a particular interest in is speeding up the process by allowing people to file applications over the Internet. “It’s a daunting challenge,” he said. “But it’s something I thing that doesn’t just affect the U.S. Patent Office; it’s a worldwide problem.”
In their role of reviewing the Patent Office’s budget of several billion dollars, the committee and Gulbrandsen have a stake in reversing a recent trend of declining Patent Office budgets.
“One of the key ways [of meeting that challenge] is to prevent diversion of funds away from the Patent Office to other programs in the government, which has been happening for the past few years,” Gulbrandsen said. “There’s a point right now where the administration in Washington has agreed in their budget that the president is putting forward to stop this diversion of funds. If they’re successful on preventing that diversion, that at least allows them to maintain the status quo right now. What we need to do is develop a strategy to start to do better than the status quo, which involves hiring a lot more employees.”
“There is a plan right now over the next year to hire about 1,200 new examiners, which also stresses an organization,” he said. “It’s difficult to do something like that.”
Gulbrandsen isn’t shying away from that, though.
“The personal satisfaction is just being able to contribute, to make a difference,” he said.