In a statement issued late Thursday afternoon, the United States Patent and Trademark Office announced that without a solution to the government shutdown the Office will soon run out of money. Despite the government shutdown the USPTO has been functioning as per normal thanks to having access to a specific reserve fund created as part of the America Invents Act (AIA). This reserve fund is comprised of fees collected prior to the beginning of the partial government shutdown, which began on December 22, 2018.
“In the absence of an appropriations bill, we have no authority to access fees collected since [the government shutdown] in accordance with the law,” read a notice posted to the USPTO.gov website late this afternoon. “Based on current estimates and expenditure rates, we expect our reserves to fund patent operations to last until at least the second week in February, and trademark operations to last until at least mid-April 2019.”
The announcement continues: “The agency continues to evaluate options for conserving funds to lengthen the time those operations can continue for as long as possible.”
If the worst happens, and there is no solution to the government shutdown before funding runs out for patent operations, the Office is expected to cut back to essential personnel. That essential personnel would ensure the Electronic Filing System (EFS) remains functional to accept filings in order to award priority filing dates, but no action on filings would be taken by the Office. Whether the Office would continue to publish applications and issue patents as they do each week remains an open question. The USPTO has issued patents once a week, every week, since before the Civil War, with only several publication dates missed for extraordinary circumstances.
While much has been and will continue to be written about the partial government shutdown—who is right, who is wrong, who will win and who will lose whenever the government reopens—the USPTO is fully user fee funded. It is beyond disgraceful that American innovators will be held hostage and waiting when no tax dollars are used to run the USPTO. As a fully user fee funded enterprise, and in a hopelessly fractured political environment, perhaps it is time to finally and once and for all solve the constant and recurring issue of funding America’s innovation agency.
Image Source: Gene Quinn © 2018.