“Senator Tillis is seeking a detailed investigation on the concept and implications of a combined IP office to replace the USPTO and the USCO before proposing legislation.”
North Carolina Republican Senator Thom Tillis has raised the possibility of a combined patent, trademark and copyright office so as to improve the federal government’s approach to all aspects of intellectual property. On January 26, the Senator sent a letter to the Chairman and Counsel for the Administrative Conference of the United States (ACUS) to undertake a study into whether there should be a unified, independent Intellectual Property Office. The Administrative Conference is an independent agency that makes procedural recommendations to the federal government. Tillis’ request is premised upon his view that currently there is a fractured approach to intellectual property in our federal government, with multiple IP functions spread across different agencies, leading to conflicting policy agendas and unnecessary bureaucracy. Tillis is the Ranking Member of the Senate’s Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on Intellectual Property.
Where We Stand and How We Got Here
The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and the United States Copyright Office (USCO) are presently separate agencies of the U.S. government. The USPTO operates under the Department of Commerce, whereas the Copyright Office operates under the Library of Congress. The director of the USPTO is appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. The director of the Copyright Office is appointed by the Librarian of Congress. The USPTO is funded solely by fees charged to patent applicants, patent owners, and others using the services of the agency, with no taxpayer funding. In comparison, the Copyright Office is funded by the budget of the Library of Congress.
The Constitution gives Congress the power which has created the USPTO and the Copyright Office. Historically, the first copyright laws were established in 1790, with the first copyright registration being issued two weeks later. Initially, copyright claims were registered in the U.S. district courts. In 1879, copyright registrations were centralized in the Library of Congress. In 1897, the Copyright Office became a separate department in the Library of Congress. The mission of the Copyright Office is to promote creativity and free expression by administering U.S. laws and providing impartial expert advice on copyright laws and policies.
The United States Patent Office was created with the Patent Act of 1790, with the first patent issuing on July 31 of that year. Initially, the Patent Office was a part of the Department of State, until 1849 when it was transferred to the Department of the Interior. In 1925, the Office was moved to the Department of Commerce. The name changed in 1975 to the Patent and Trademark Office, and again in 2000 to the United States Patent and Trademark Office. The mission of the USPTO is to foster innovation, competitiveness and economic growth, domestically and abroad, by providing high quality and timely examination of patent and trademark applications, guiding domestic and international intellectual property policy, and delivering IP information and education worldwide.
Senator Tillis is seeking a detailed investigation on the concept and implications of a combined IP office to replace the USPTO and the USCO before proposing legislation. His proposal would also join the Office of the Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator and other IP posts currently existing in different government agencies into the combined IP office.
He foresees that the unified IP office would continue to grant patents, register trademarks and copyrights, and work with foreign IP offices and other international intergovernmental organizations.
His requested review would include general topics such as funding and operations, as well as how to streamline the key functions of the two existing agencies, without duplication. For example, he asks whether the new office would be fully fee funded by users, or would be taxpayer supported, or some hybrid model. He emphasized the need for a reserve fund, and no fee diversion to other government agencies, as has been done in the past with USPTO user fees. He also stated that the new IP Office would need to be “buffered from budgetary insecurity and political fluctuations.”
Tillis also seeks guidance on how the unified entity might advise the President, Congress, and the courts on IP issues, how it could educate other governmental agencies and the public regarding IP issues, and how it would represent the United States in international IP matters.
He suggested in his letter that consolidating all the intellectual property expertise into one agency will reflect the elevated role of IP in the modern digital economy. He further commented that there could be a single director, appointed by the president, and different commissioners for the different aspects of intellectual property.
Tillis asked ACUS to explore his concept of a standalone IP office and complete its report in one year, by February 1, 2023. He suggested that the USPTO, USCO, and ACUS jointly consult on all of the issues.
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