I imagine that many of the proposals that move through the patent office are highly contextual and may be simple ideas wrapped up in daunting language. It seems reasonable that it would take far more than a week to even get your arms around some of the problems themselves, let alone the solutions.
Then spend more than a week on it. I didn't use a week as "cap", but rather a starting point. If it takes a month, sure then spend a month. You'll get no arguments from me. Especially since patents regularly take 5+ years to get approved.
A year has 52 weeks (plus one or two days), if 2 of these weeks are vacations, 50 weeks remain. Therefore 1000 / 50 = 20.
The sheer volume makes it clear that the vast majority of patent applications are for trivial stuff. The system is broken, it's that simple.
Or think of it this way, a mobile phone: it could have novel programming, novel chips, novel screen design, hinge, case plastic, button return springs that last longer, easier to use touchscreen, stronger glass, more flexible, brighter, etc., any of these things might give it the market advantage. How many other things do you use each day, each of them could potentially be improved and that improvement be registered in a patent.
The parent spoke of applications for patents anyway. Granted patents in the US are apparently about 40% of this.
> In fact the way patents should work is that the patent officer spends a week trying to solve said problem themselves.
Does that really sound at all scalable (or even reasonable) to you?
So clearly you were saying that a week is too much time to spend on a patent. OK.
But in a week you can't understand the problem, much less a solution. So you seem to be saying that having a system where examiners approve patents they don't understand is preferred. I say that if the examiner can't understand the solution, much less the problem, then the patent is rejected. This will really get people to focus on writing clear patents, rather than the legalese that passes for a patent today.
But lets get to numbers. There are not 500 examiners. There are more than 6,000. So at one week per patent it's now less than two years per patent. That's actually about on par with the time today. That's extremely reaonable. And I'd argue that making patents more expensive, with less protection time, you'd reduce the number of SW patents, and thus probably can turnaround SW patents more quickly.
And to me that is one of the many problems with (software) patents: it relies on an inherently biased, subjective process to determine whether this objective, rigorous piece of thought is worthy of a monopoly.
And also recall with patents you are guaranteed another appeal to a different body if ever sued, the courts, where you can invalidate a patent. And if MS wins the i4i case the burden of proof will be even lower. And note, there is legislation going through congress right now to make it harder to win a suit, and also expands patent reexamination.
My point? The patent examiner is an important first step, but a patent that clearly has no legs should be defeatable -- if not now, in the near future.
The conclusion that you should be reaching is software patents are simply not a viable mechanism, period. In other words, even if you like the idea of patents in theory, in practice they do not work because we will never have enough patent examiners with the necessary expertise much less time to make valid decisions on patent applications.
Not so. I'm not defending the current system, just trying to demonstrate that your suggestion isn't feasible.
> There are not 500 examiners. There are more than 6,000.
Edit: found the data on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Patent_and_Tradem...