ested parties to see if we can understand whether these patents should be applied for, whether they should be issued, and if issued, how they should be handled.
Finally, can patents be issued faster? The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's numbers on the average time of application pendency are very strange and not helpful. The Patent Office has always figured out ways to say it is doing things in two years when, in fact, there has not been a useful biotech patent that has taken less than four years, and usually five. If we cannot get meaningful numbers, I don't think the problem can be solved. I think the Patent Office is misleading all of us.
In terms of the conference objectives, I would like to close with these thoughts concerning a few final issues: First, with respect to international perception of the importance of intellectual property rights, the world acknowledges that the United States was the pioneer in biotechnology, and that it was done by risk capital, as well as federal support of R&D, originally. The positive contribution to human welfare is acknowledged worldwide. That does not mean that all the countries in the world want to give strong patent protection for biotechnology, which is a very difficult issue.
Second, with respect to biotechnology patents, in the United States, the road has been rocky but reasonably satisfactory. Worldwide protection will ultimately be critical. It is sad that this did not occur long ago. Because of this lack, we are seeing companies in foreign countries appropriating U.S. technology to get started.
Finally, with respect to conflict resolution, the most precious resource of a budding new industry or budding new technology is time. The solutions have to be time sensitive. Grandiose solutions that involve 60 or 70 countries, and take years and years, will mean that a lot of the companies will fail before the solutions are in place. I think people should be aware of that.
I would remind you of one last thing. This is an industry of small companies. If you look at the profile of public biotechnology companies, only 13 percent have more than 300 employees, and none have more than 2,000 employees. If we look at all biotech companies (publicly and privately held), there are only 3 percent with more than 300 employees. We are dealing with a very, very broad-based, small-company business and my remarks apply as well to my firm, ICOS, which we started within the last year, as well as to the largest biotech companies, which are still relatively small. These are the companies seeking patent protection. Strong protection can hardly ''disadvantage small companies" as some critics suggest.