Interesting article in the New York Times this morning reports that Silicon Valley companies in the business of developing solar panels have been beaten to market by the Chinese, and that the Chinese are driving down prices and margins while the U.S. companies are struggling to gain enough efficiencies to enable them to compete. The article quotes the CEO of one of the U.S. companies, Innovalight: “How do you fight against enormous subsidies, low-interest loans, cheap labor and scale and a government strategy to make you No. 1 in solar?” The obvious answer he gives: “Innovation will be the heart of the U.S. strategy, and although it might not create the same scale, we’re exporting well-protected technology to China and creating well-paying jobs here.”
Recent news on the domestic “well-protected technology” front is less encouraging than one would hope, however. The USPTO reports on its Data Visualization Center that the average time a patent remains pending is nearly three years (35.3 months), and there is a backlog of nearly three quarters of a million patents. If no new patents were to be filed, the USPTO estimates that it would take approximately 26 months to issue a first office action for every one. The USPTO aspires to reduce the average time a patent remains pending to 20 months. That would be much better, but is it good enough for the heart of our strategy?