Patents are increasingly pending. If you've filed a patent application recently, don't count on a speedy turnaround. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which is funded by fees from patent applications, is hurting from the downturn. According to Reuters, some industry specialists predict that applications could drop as much as 10% this year. The Office has halted hiring which, the article says, only makes the clearing of an already hefty backlog of applications more daunting.

Upgrades abound Facing a shortage of customers willing to pony up for premium seats, airlines are making it easier to upgrade tickets, reports the WSJ. Some tantalizing deals: "Last week, UAL Corp.'s United Airlines offered a $236 round-trip first-class fare between Boston and Miami; British Airways PLC and other carriers are offering a $1,800 (before taxes and fees) round-trip business-class fare between New York and London with a 14-day advance purchase requirement. That's 84% below the standard $11,172 fare."

Not-so-"shovel-ready." The Obama administration sold the stimulus package with the idea it would immediately create jobs rebuilding the nation's crumbling infrastructure. But, as the Wall Street Journal reports, the process of spending the money has hit some roadblocks. "Shovel-ready" apparently means four months in most states, even for critical projects like replacing bridges that are literally falling apart, because the bidding process takes time. In fact, Joe Biden's model project will have to wait until June.

File under "Be Greedy When Others Are Fearful." A Banking Boom?American banks lost $26.2 billion last quarter. But although established banks are hurting, it's a great time to start a new bank, according to the Wall Street Journal. It's not as crazy as it sounds. Big banks are suffering from bad balance sheets and serious branding problems. That's created an opportunity for start-up community banks. The Journal writes of one small bank in Springfield, Massachusetts that has been advertising "no baggage and no bad credits" and a "bail in" program. Lest you think that opportunities are limited to banking, remember that a recession is a great time to start a company. Say it to yourself five times if you have to.

An Easy Rider that's easier on the environment. Everyone's waiting for the electric car. But, the LA TImes suggests powerful electric motorbikes could be a hot new market California, not surprisingly, is home to several start-ups aiming to dominate this market.

Bad News for the Bad News Bears. The latest victims of the downturn? Little Leaguers. ABC News says that parents pinched for money are cutting back on Little League memberships. Some leagues are hurting too because small businesses that paid for sponsorships in the past have called it quits. Where's Chico's Bail Bonds when you need them?

Beware the "regulatory boa constrictor."Across the country, entrepreneurs are clamoring to be heard amidst a spate of state and federal economic recovery plans. But in California, a new state law would require legislators to consider the impact of laws on small companies, and force lawmakers to engage the entrepreneurial community while drafting legislation according to the LA Times. "Small businesses from Chico to Indio are telling me the regulatory boa constrictor is strangling them out of business," said John Kabateck, California director of the NFIB.

Where to watch for the recovery. Are we there yet? Probably not, but tech consultant Gene Marks has a few signs to watch for over at Business Week. He says to keep an eye on Expedia's site traffic and the Baltic Dry Index.