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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is rejecting more patent applications but the waiting time for all decisions is too long, and likely to grow, the head of the agency told Reuters on Wednesday.
In a report to be released on Thursday, the patent office says it took nearly 32 months on average to either approve or reject a patent, even though the office was turning down more applications, approving just 51 percent in fiscal 2007 that ended September 30, compared to 72 percent in 2000.
The length of time it takes to get a patent -- also called "pendency" -- remains a problem and will not go away soon, said Jon Dudas, director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, in a telephone interview.
"In the near term, we'll see pendency grow for a few years," he said.
Congress' Government Accountability Office has blamed a patent review backlog, which has ballooned since 2002, on unrealistic production goals that caused patent examiners to leave.
To tackle its backlog, the patent office said it hired 1,215 patent examiners in the 2007 fiscal year. The office currently has between 5,400 and 5,500 examiners, a spokeswoman said.
On Capitol Hill, the U.S. Senate is unlikely to take up before January a patent bill sought by many high tech firms, an aide to the Senate majority leader said on Wednesday.
The bill, which seeks to curb the number of patent lawsuits, would also allow judges to change how damages are calculated in infringement lawsuits. Pharmaceutical companies, private equity firms and others oppose the changes.
"We're confident that once we get it to the Senate floor it'll pass," said Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat.
The measure passed the U.S. House of Representatives in early September and the Senate had initially been expected to vote by mid-October.
Dudas said he expected the patent office to win a legal fight with pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline. The drugmaker has challenged the agency's new rules that put limits on both "claims," or how an applicant defines an invention, and on "continuations," the number of times an applicant can file on behalf of the same innovation.
Glaxo won a federal court injunction on October 31 preventing the rules from going into effect while the lawsuit proceeds, but Dudas said the patent office would prevail in the end.
"We're confident that those rules will be upheld," he said.
Editing by Tim Dobbyn