LAW.COM is running a story on a new trend with patent disputes getting shunted to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which may signal the increasing role of that office. If the trend catches on, it could delay outcomes of patent disputes by years. Some interesting excerpts: If a case is stayed pending the outcome of the re-examination process, it could mean as much as a seven-year delay before a patent owner can go back to court to enforce their patent. Congress created inter partes re-examination in 1999 to let third parties assert that a patent had been wrongly issued on an invention that was not truly original. It was touted as a better alternative to the director-ordered ex parte re-examination process. Unlike in ex parte, inter partes filers can participate in the re-examination and, like the patent owner, appeal the outcome.