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Policy

Sparing The Patent Office

Sequestration: Lawmakers warn that budget cuts would jeopardize opening of new regional patent offices

by Glenn Hess
July 8, 2013 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 91, ISSUE 27

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Credit: PTO
PTO opened its first-ever satellite office last year in Detroit.
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Credit: PTO
PTO opened its first-ever satellite office last year in Detroit.

The U.S. Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) would be exempt from the mandatory federal budget cuts that began taking effect in March under legislation introduced in the House of Representatives on June 28 by three Democratic lawmakers.

Reps. Anna G. Eshoo (Calif.), Michael M. Honda (Calif.), and Zoe Lofgren (Calif.) note that even though PTO is funded solely by patent user fees, the so-called sequestration requires cuts of nearly $150 million from the agency’s $2.9 billion budget for fiscal 2013.

Without a legislative remedy, the lawmakers say, the budget squeeze will put on hold patent office plans to open satellite branches next year in Dallas, Denver, and California’s Silicon Valley. PTO has a backlog of nearly 600,000 patent applications, which include chemically related inventions. The new offices, announced in 2012, are meant to help speed the patenting process for start-ups and inventors, who can face a costly two-year wait for a decision.

Each satellite office is expected to house about 100 patent examiners and a handful of administrative patent judges.

“The services and speed these new offices offer can make the difference for products to go from the drawing board to the marketplace faster, benefiting all of us with the growth and job creation that come with it,” Lofgren says.

The Patents & Trademarks Encourage New Technology Jobs Act (H.R. 2582) would give PTO access to the fee revenue that has already been diverted to the Treasury Department’s general fund and exempt the patent office from future sequestration orders.

The agency declined to comment on either how the budget cuts are affecting its expansion plans or the pending legislation.

Several industry groups and bar associations have joined the call to exempt PTO from sequestration. The proposed bill would “remove the dark cloud that sequestration casts on PTO funding,” says Q. Todd Dickinson, executive director of the American Intellectual Property Law Association, which represents patent lawyers.

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