"Patent examiners completed 332,000 patent applications in 2006, the largest number ever, while achieving the lowest patent allowance error rate -- 3.5% -- in over 20 years. At 54%, the patent allowance rate was also the lowest on record. [See Figure below] Patent allowance rate is the percentage of applications reviewed by examiners that are approved."
"The USPTO received in excess of 440,000 patent applications in 2006, a record number. To help meet the demand, the agency hired a record 1,218 patent examiners, exceeding its goal by more than 200 people. To support this dramatic hiring increase, the USPTO replaced its one-on-one training model with a university approach for new hires. This allowed the agency to deliver comprehensive training to new examiners, while more experienced examiners and supervisors focused on quality examination. The agency will continue to hire over 1,000 patent examiners each year for the next five years. Even so, the volume of applications will continue to outpace the agency's capacity to examine them. USPTO continues to look for ways, beyond hiring, to reduce the backlog, while maintaining examination quality. "
Working at home: "The first 500 patent examiners began working from home four days a week, using a hoteling program to book office space the one day a week they are in the office. The agency expects that an additional 500 examiners will be added to those already working from home each year for at least the next five years."
From the numbers above, we see that the USPTO is receiving more patent applications than they are completing, i.e., the USPTO is completing one application for every 1.32 applications received. From 1997 to 2006, the number of patent applications being filed have increased by 87 percent. In 2006, the backlog of patent applications exceeded 700,000! This backlog increased the USPTO pendency (see figure below) for taking action on the submitted application.
As shown in the Figure above, USPTO first action pendency is now exceeding 22 months. Average first action pendency measures the average time in months from filing until an examiner’s initial determination is made of the patentability of an invention. Indeed, some business method patent applications have taken over ten years before issuance!