Patents: Reform Pending

Americans are an inventive people, a fact that is both the pride and despair of the U.S. Patent Office, the hard-pressed clearinghouse for some 85,000 new patent applications each year. Last week the office announced that it will hike its fees to applicants (from $60 to $125, plus a new $50 maintenance fee) so that it can better afford to improve and automate its service. And it needs improving.

Before granting a new patent, 1,000 examiners now have to dig laboriously through more than 10 million U.S. and foreign patents that fill...