Via Slashdot, this WTOP Radio Network (Washington, D.C.) report indicates that the USPTO has at a minimum a two year backlog for approval of a new patent. Patent Office Director James E. Rogan went on record to Congress warning that this backlog could rise to over one million requests by 2008.
Kevin W. Grierson comments: "Although the pendency period for patents is now over two years, it's not fair to say, as does the article, that there is a "backlog" of two years. The PTO's goal is to get a patent processed in 18 months. It would be difficult with no backlog at all to get one processed much faster than that. Right now, the time from application to issue, on average, is 27 months. That's too long, but it's not a two-year backlog."