Wednesday, July 9, 2008


While several people writing in to you have offered explanations for the poor examination work being done at the PTO, one explanation that I haven't heard is this: many examiners can't speak English. My last two patent examiners have been unable to speak English. And by that, I mean that they literally could not pronounce basic English words and could not handle elementary syntactical rules, such as subject-verb agreement. To offer some examples: I had to explain to one them the meaning of a very basic sentence that she was misreading and to which real legal significance was attached. I thought, "here I am, explaining to a U.S. patent examiner the difference between 'rotate' and 'slide'." Another of them pronounces the "g" in "sign" and pronounces the "i" as though it were short. Thus, "sign" rhymes with "riggin". He pronounces "assigned" so that it rhymes with "a rig need." As far as I can tell, he uses basically no conjuctions (and, or) and no articles (a, the). I cannot even discuss the case with the latter examiner on the phone because it's basically pointless: I cannot understand him. The legal import of a patent lies in the claims, and claims consists of WORDS. Words that happen, in this country, to be ENGLISH words. Why in the world would the gatekeepers of the claims, upon which 100-million dollar questions sometimes turn, be people who have not got a sixth-grader's command of vocabulary, syntax, and pronunciation? I think the patent examiner requirements are completely backwards. The very first threshold requirement should be that an examiner have command of the English language at the level of at least a college graduate with a degree in English. Absent such a command, his or her opinion on what a spec supposedly enables is meaningless. But instead, a technical degree is required. That makes a lot of sense. Einstein himself would have been worthless as a patent examiner in a language he didn't speak. Moreover, what has a technical degree got to do with a business method? There's your answer as to why all the ridiculous biz meth patents issue. Again, the most essential and functional nature of a patent is LINGUISTIC. Language is what the question of infringement turns on. How can a person who can't read tell what "reads on"? As long as people who don't speak English hold the keys to patent claims in English based on specifications in English, the U.S. patent system will be inherently laughable. The same holds equally true for other patent systems that use other languages, so I'm not being ethnocentric here.