Although major patent reform remains elusive, Congress gave a much needed boost to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office yesterday when it approved an additional $129 million in fee revenue for patent and trademark activities.
The legislation, which now goes to the president, stems from the rather unusual budget system for the PTO and the annual problems that system creates. The office is fully financed by user fees. Every year it estimates the amount of fees it will collect, and the House Appropriations Committee subsequently appropriates an amount equal to the estimate.
“It's imperfect because their predictions are obviously imperfect,” Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.) told his colleagues on the House floor on Wednesday. “They are talking about revenues that they may or may not receive into the future.”
But it now appears that the agency will collect more fees this year than it had estimated—roughly $129 million more. Under the current budget authority, the PTO would be unable to touch that extra money. And so Congress had to step in.
“We should be clear, however, about what this bill will do and what this bill will not do,” said Mollohan. “If the additional fees are actually collected in the remaining weeks of the fiscal year, the additional $129 million in budget authority provided by this bill will begin to help the agency address the ongoing patent pendency and backlogs.”
He noted there are approximately 1.2 million patent applications now in the system, with more than 750,000 awaiting an initial review by a patent examiner.
The fee legislation states that the $129 million initially will come from unused funds for the 2010 Census.
Over in the Senate yesterday, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) told his colleagues, “The director of the USPTO has done a remarkable job in his short tenure dealing with a massive backload of patent applications and a serious budget shortfall.” But, he added, short-term financial help will not solve long-time structural problems within the agency and the patent system.
“Bipartisan patent reform legislation is ready for Senate action,” he said. “We cannot fix our overburdened and outdated patent system simply through additional appropriations.”
The fee legislation was supported by the Obama administration and a large number of intellectual property organizations, unions and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.