Patent applications for so-called green technologies will be put on the approval fast track thanks to a new pilot program announced Monday by the U.S. Commerce Department's Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). This could mean patent approvals in a year rather than the standard 40-month wait time, giving inventors of alternative fuels, improved carbon capture methods and electric vehicle batteries, to name a few, quicker access to funding so entrepreneurs can create businesses and get these advancements to market sooner, the USPTO said in a press release.

The first 3,000 green technology applications chosen for evaluation during the yearlong Green Technology Pilot Program (pdf) will skip to the front of the line rather than being evaluated along with the rest of the general applications in the order that they are filed (the standard procedure for the USPTO), and the normal $130 application fee will waived. USPTO said it would consider expanding the program beyond December 8, 2010.

The Obama administration is hoping to spark a flurry of green technology patent applications with the help of $100 million in stimulus funds earmarked for alternative energy research and development. The U.S. Department of Energy will provide this funding to projects aimed at using microorganisms to harness chemical or electrical energy to convert carbon dioxide into liquid fuels. The agency will provide additional funding to efforts designed to improve the capture of carbon dioxide from coal-fired power plants as well as work done to create better electric-vehicle batteries.

However, the USPTO does not plan to hire additional employees for the pilot program, Greenwire reports. This could cause additional problems for a patent review system that has already been widely criticized, including in an April 2 Scientific American article, as "not functioning optimally," with "poor patent quality" at the heart of the matter. Inventors, patent practitioners, the USPTO and the courts each shoulder some responsibility for this chronic condition, the article concludes.

Others see the USPTO's Green Technology Pilot Program specifically as bad news. "One of the biggest problems is that examiners don't have nearly enough time to thoroughly examine a patent to make sure that it's really patentworthy," said on Wednesday. "We'll end up with more patent thickets, and a huge waste of money on legal battles, rather than actual innovation."

Image © Fabio Bustamante