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James Rogan, the director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, tried Tuesday to sell his strategic plan to fix problems at the beleaguered agency, stumping for increased patent filing fees and hiring outside agencies to do some of the PTO’s work. “We are in a state of crisis,” Rogan said in a speech to intellectual property lawyers who gathered in Millbrae, Calif. “The sheer number of patents applications is overwhelming the office.” Rogan said the agency has a backlog of 500,000 patent applications, on top of the 150,000 new applications the agency receives every year. And the average pendency, or length of time to process an application, is currently 25 months. Rogan was the keynote speaker at a luncheon meeting of the California State Bar’s Intellectual Property Law Section. Though he sounded somewhat gloomy about the amount of work facing the PTO, his speech was laced with humor about his history as a Republican congressman. Evoking his days on the campaign stump, Rogan took off his suit jacket and spoke from the floor below the podium. Joking about his role as one of the 13 House managers of President Clinton’s impeachment, he said people told him at the time that 75 percent of individuals in his Southern California district would never vote for him again. “I decided to prove the polls wrong. And I did,” Rogan said. “Only 60 percent of them didn’t vote for me.” Rogan lost his seat in November 2000 after waging one of the most expensive House campaigns in history. He spent more than $6.8 million and his opponent, Adam Schiff, spent $4.3 million. A year after his defeat, he was appointed by President Bush as director of the PTO and undersecretary of the Commerce Department. He quickly attempted to tackle the agency’s problems, issuing a “21st Century Strategic Plan” in June 2002. In response to criticism from many IP groups, he revised the plan, cutting back the hefty filing fees that had been proposed and eliminating punitive fees intended for applications with excessive claims. The final plan retains the controversial proposal to outsource the search for prior art to search organizations and foreign offices. That will leave patent examiners with the sole job of examining applications. “A lot of people don’t like it,” Rogan said of the outsourcing system. “They want the search and examination to be kept together. In a perfect world that’s the way I’d do it too.” But, he said, “if we can outsource to Europe and Japan and to private companies that want to hire former patent examiners … and get them to compete and bring the price down, why not?” In an interview Monday, Rogan said outsourcing would enable the agency to hire more examiners and move through the backlog. The strategic plan calls for hiring about 3,000 more examiners in the next five years, almost double the agency’s current total of about 3,400 examiners. Rogan concluded his talk by alluding to the disparate views people had of him as a politician. At one event, he recalled, a guy in Birkenstocks was “shaking his fist and saying ‘you’re a right-wing kook’ while at the same time a lady from the John Birch Society was handing out leaflets saying ‘Jim Rogan is a big-spending liberal.’” “I’m hoping to find the same equilibrium at the PTO,” Rogan said.

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