Obviously, Congressman Rogers is not being completely straight forward. The funds that exceed the appropriation to the USPTO would be available for use by the USPTO if and only if that is consistent with grants by appropriators. That is a far cry from saying the USPTO would get to keep 100% of the user fees it receives. Of course, this would not be the first time that Congressman Rogers was less than completely accurate regarding PTO funding.
Given that House Republicans seem to fear an adequately funded Patent Office I got to thinking — What could they be afraid of? With that in mind, here are the top 10 things that House Republicans must be afraid of as they seek to oppose an adequately funded Patent Office. Can you hear the black helicopter squad swirling overhead, conspiracy theories in hand?
Despite the fact that Congressmen Ryan and Rogers would like this to be about the Obama Administration, the fact is that Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) is the one who championed the amendment in the Senate that would give the Patent Office the ability to keep the fees it collects. Senator Coburn is known as “Senator No” for his staunch fiscally conservative stance on virtually all issues. So if you are willing to let facts influence your viewpoint there is absolutely no way that Patent Office funding within proposed patent reform can be an issue upon which Republicans can beat up Democrats. It was a leading fiscally conservative Republican in the Senate who brought the USPTO funding issue out of obscurity and to the top of the agenda.
The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is seeking public comment on a proposal to streamline the procedures governing ex parte and inter partes patent reexamination proceedings. The timing of this announcement, which appeared in the Federal Register on April 25, 2011, seems curious to me. With patent reform circulating in the House of Representatives does this signal a belief that on the part of the Patent Office that patent reform is dead? The patent reform passed by the Senate and that being considered by the House has revised post-grant review proceedings, so wouldn’t it be wise to wait to revamp reexamination until after patent reform passes, that is if it seems likely to pass?
Did World Intellectual Property Day sneak up on you again this year? How could you let that happen? At a time when the United States Congress seems hell bent on destroying the patent system by inadequately funding the United States Patent and Trademark Office we really should celebrate something that seems to be functioning, so why not celebrate the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and the innovation policies of nations who are stealing research and development away from the United States? What a tragedy that the World has better innovation policies than the United States.
The last Continuing Resolution (or CR) ran out on April 8, 2011, with a 11th hour agreement, which was ultimately passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama the following week. When the dust had settled the United States Patent and Trademark Office did not fare well at all, with $100 million be diverted from the Patent Office. That lead to the Office today announcing severe austerity measures because they don’t have the funds available to operate as a going concern.
H.R. 1473, the Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, 2011, is the legislation reflecting the compromise on the Continuing Resolution to fund the government for fiscal 2011. The letters point out that the provisions of the bill related to the USPTO appropriate $100 million less than the projected user fee revenues to be collected, essentially diverting that money to other government programs.
Because of sufficient funding not linked to the current fiscal year, the United States Patent and Trademark Office will remain open for business and will continue to operate as usual through the close of business on Monday, April 18, 2011 even in the event of a government shutdown.
Both the House and Senate bills create the opportunity for continual and constant challenges, one right after another. For example, challengers could tie up issued patents in post-grant review, followed by inter partes review and subsequently, or simultaneously, by challenges in one of the Federal District Courts. Thus, the settling of patent rights seems a distant dream if a well funded challenger wants to tie up a patent. The only hope for the patent owner is that with every subsequent challenge it becomes more difficult to challenge. That is what S. 23 sets up by having a “substantial new question of patentability” standard to initiate a post-grant review and then a much heightened “likelihood of success” standard to institute inter partes review.
The Innovation Alliance is disappointed that the America Invents Act as introduced today in the House of Representatives does not include some important safeguards against the potential for abuse of the post-grant review procedures at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). In particular, the bill includes a weak threshold for ‘second window’ inter partes review proceedings, one that will allow virtually all challenges to proceed to a trial-like hearing before an administrative patent judge. We believe a higher threshold is needed to enable the USPTO to manage the increased workload of the new administrative review system fairly and efficiently by screening out meritless or unsubstantiated petitions.
Late in the afternoon on Thursday, March 24, 2011, the purported patent reform bill from the House of Representatives began circulating. The House patent reform bill is largely identical to the Senate version – S. 23. There are some differences, one rather major difference, but the Senate first to file provisions remain intact. The House bill would still grant the Patent Office the right to use all of the funds collected, as did S. 23. The House bill also would grant the United States Patent and Trademark Office fee setting authority, as did S. 23, but then curiously goes on to set the fees that the USPTO charges. It seems unclear why on one hand you would set the fees and in another section of the bill say that the USPTO can vary any fees defined.
Earlier today Chief Judge Paul Michel (ret.) of the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit testified before the Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, Competition and the Internet, a subcommittee of the House Committee on the Judiciary. In a nutshell, Chief Judge Michel explained that “[t]he PTO desperately and immediately needs: several thousand additional examiners, dozens of additional board of appeals members, and major modernization of its IT systems, which are antiquated, inadequate and unreliable.”
The Coburn Amendment would create a specialized fund within the Department of Treasury known as the ‘‘United States Patent and Trademark Office Public Enterprise Fund.” The PTO Director would have access to monies in the Fund for expenses ordinarily and reasonably necessary for running the Office. Perhaps most importantly, the Fund could grow so monies in the Fund could be accessed by the Director without fiscal year limitation. This could allow the Fund to grow in certain years to a critical mass that may be needed for capital expenditures. This is a brilliant idea and one that the industry needs to get behind wholeheartedly.
The log jam in patents issuances is not the only impediment to start-up job creation. Although it is certainly a big one. Tax and regulatory burdens on start ups have reached a critical mass in the last 10 years. A fact recognized by President Obama when he signed an Executive order last Tuesday ordering the removal of burdensome regulatory rules on business. Also a problem are the post 9-11 immigration policies that are driving many of the world’s best and brightest scientists and engineers to other countries. But the biggest job killer beside the patent backlog is the systemic destruction of our high tech manufacturing capacity.
Specifically, we learned that the USPTO projects an average first action pendency of 23 months by the end of fiscal 2011, that participating in the First Action Interview Pilot Program more than doubles the likelihood of getting a first action allowance, that Track 1 rules are imminent with rules for Tracks 2 and 3 to follow and during FY 2010 nearly 6,000 USPTO employees worked from home at least a portion of their work week. We also heard an ominous and declarative statement from Kappos, who told the House Subcommittee on Intellectual Property that the diversion of fees will cause the patent backlog to rise.