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The US Patent and Trademark Office said Monday that it's launching a test program that will greatly speed the review of "green" technology patents.

The new fast-track pilot program is expected to shave a full year off the patent review process, which takes an average of 40 months to reach a final decision, according to the USPTO.

(In a related patent prophesy, expect everything from Apple's touchpad-conducting iGlove to IBM's wacky noise generator for teleconferencing to suddenly realize how they can do Mother Nature a major courtesy).

The program is designed to spur more "green" jobs and make the US more competitive in a nature-lovers technology market, the office said. A USPTO spokesman told us that the program's focus will be on applications for patents that contribute to either environmental quality; discovery or development of renewable energy; more efficient use and conservation of energy; or reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

It will initially target the first 3,000 patent applications related to green technologies that are currently on file at the USPTO. Holders must file a petition extolling the green-green virtues of their patent to light a fire under their patent review process. The US office estimates there are about 25,000 pending applications that are eligible for the program.

The USPTO said the initial number of green fast-track patents being accepted represent a minor percentage of overall applications, and it isn't expected to create delays to the rest of the backlog. The office faces a $200m budget shortfall, however, and will not hire any additional reviewers to handle the green patent fast-track program.

The spokesman said that while it's hard to predict if companies that will stretch the intentions of applications to make them sound more nature-friendly, it's prepared for the possibility.

"The people in our patents division are able to make that determination, just like they make determinations of that type all the time," he said.

UPTO is expected to decide whether to expand the green fast-track program some time early next year. ®

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