FOIA Request sent to USPTO seeking information on Regulatory Reform Task Force

By Gene Quinn
March 30, 2017

Yesterday I sent a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). My FOIA request seeks the name of the Regulatory Reform Officer named by Director Lee in compliance with Executive Order 13777, as well as the names of those individuals appointed to serve on the Regulatory Reform Task Force, also as contemplated by Executive Order 13777.

Last week the USPTO announced that Director Michelle Lee had “assembled a Working Group on Regulatory Reform” and that “[m]embers of this Working Group will also represent the USPTO on the Department of Commerce’s Regulatory Reform Task Force.”

The announcement by the USPTO did not name the members of the Working Group/Task Force. Furthermore, the announcement stated that Nicolas Oettinger would lead this effort. However, pursuant to Executive Order 13777, is seems relatively clear that Director Lee must name a Regulatory Reform Officer.

I contacted the Office of the Chief Communications Officer and was been told that no information can be provided on whom Director Lee has selected to serve on this Working Group/Task Force. I was also been told no information can be provided on whether Oettinger leading this effort means that he has, in fact, been named the Regulatory Reform Officer pursuant to Executive Order 13777.

I then re-read the announcement, confused by continual USPTO stonewalling. That is when the words from the USPTO announcement jumped out at me and started to make more sense. “Members of this Working Group will also represent the USPTO on the Department of Commerce’s Regulatory Reform Task Force.” Is it possible that the USPTO is not going to name a Regulatory Reform Officer? Is it possible that the USPTO is not going to have a Regulatory Reform Task Force at all? Is it possible that the USPTO will merely participate with the Department of Commerce’s efforts and not engage in their own independent review of regulations?

Once again, as was the case with the story about whether Michelle Lee resigned or whether she was held over as Director, no information from the Office creates a vacuum. Nature abhors a vacuum, and so too does Washington, DC. In the absence of any information, and when legitimate questions are rebuffed, that raises legitimate questions, we are left to parse what political doublespeak is disseminated, and rumors will begin to swirl.

I guess this just means we are in a cycle where getting any real information out of the USPTO will require a FOIA request. So, with that in mind, here is what I substantively requested:

Therefore, I request:

  1. Any document (including written or electronic communications) written by or on behalf of the Director* relating to the selection of the Regulatory Reform Task Force contemplated by Executive Order 13777.
  2. Any document (including written or electronic communications) written by or on behalf of the Director* relating to the selection of the Regulatory Reform Officer contemplated by Executive Order 13777.
  3. Any document (including written or electronic communications) that lists, identifies or otherwise names the members of the Regulatory Reform Task Force contemplated by Executive Order 13777.
  4. Any document (including written or electronic communications) that identifies the name of the Regulatory Reform Officer contemplated by Executive Order 13777.
  5. Any document (including written or electronic communications) written by or on behalf of the Director* that notifies members of the Regulatory Reform Task Force that they have been selected to serve as contemplated by Executive Order 13777.

* The term “Director” is used in this request because Executive Order 13777 specifically directs each agency head to name a Regulatory Reform Officer and the Task Force. The USPTO has also announced that Director Michelle Lee has assembled the Task Force. The term “Director” should be interpreted for purposes of this request to mean anyone acting on her behalf, including anyone who may have been delegated authority to fulfill the Director’s responsibilities under Executive Order 13777.

In the alternative, if the Office does not wish to go through the time and expense of searching for and collecting the documents requested in this FOIA request, I will consider the FOIA request fully satisfied if the Office provides the name of the person selected by the Director to be the Regulatory Reform Officer and the names of those who make up the Regulatory Reform Task Force.

Time will tell whether the USPTO answers the question, provides any documents, or does what they did with respect to Eric Spangenberg’s request, which was to produce 611 pages of useless information that was almost completely blacked out or left intentionally blank because it somehow privileged.

The Author

Gene Quinn

Gene Quinn is a Patent Attorney and Editor and founder of IPWatchdog.com. Gene is also a principal lecturer in the PLI Patent Bar Review Course and an attorney with Widerman Malek. Gene’s specialty is in the area of strategic patent consulting, patent application drafting and patent prosecution. He consults with attorneys facing peculiar procedural issues at the Patent Office, advises investors and executives on patent law changes and pending litigation matters, and works with start-up businesses throughout the United States and around the world, primarily dealing with software and computer related innovations. is admitted to practice law in New Hampshire, is a Registered Patent Attorney and is also admitted to practice before the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. CLICK HERE to send Gene a message.

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Discuss this

There are currently 3 Comments comments.

  1. Anon March 30, 2017 9:15 am

    Incompetence or malfeasance (or both)…

  2. Valuationguy March 30, 2017 9:42 am

    Absent actual names…the assumed answer is that this is another pitiful attempt to try and SHOW action is being taken in response to massive criticism by PTO users (patent owners/inventors)…without taking ANY EFFECTIVE ACTION.

    Just another marketing effort to shore up the bad rep the PTO has developed over the past four years when its cries for help were actually answered….yet it has little to show in improved effectiveness. Yeah….it approves MORE patents…but any claims that are deemed valuable are immediately targeted for destruction by the PTAB by competitors (who thank the inventor for the info and proceed to infringe with impunity) and are in fact destroyed in more than 60% of the cases.

  3. EG March 30, 2017 12:33 pm

    Hey Gene,

    Sigh. The USPTO is becoming the new regulatory Black Hole in DC for finding out anything about what’s in the future for our U.S. patent system. This isn’t how government is supposed to work, but unfortunately, it’s becoming the “new norm.” Our Founding Fathers would cringe at how our federal government in DC currently operates.

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