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House Committee Accelerates Patent System Improvements

On July 13, 2011, the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriation Committee approved a budget bill that would accelerate some of the improvements to funding of the U.S. patent system that were part of the pending patent reform bill, the America Invents Act.

One provision allows the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) to access fees it collects even beyond its budgeted amount, if the PTO Director submits a request to Congress with a spending plan for the overage, and the respective congressional committees approve it. This will allow the PTO to hire more examiners, reduce the incredible backlog of patent applications awaiting examiner action (695,000 applications as of June 30, 2011), and improve the average time between patent application filing and first substantive PTO action (27.2 months as of that same date). In addition, the approved bill authorizes the PTO to implement its published plan to allow applicants to pay an extra fee for accelerated processing.

The additional fee would cover the cost of the additional examiners needed to meet the accelerated demand without affecting the processing of other, unaccelerated applications. Some commentators observe, however, that the proposal leaves too much control over the funds in the hands of Congress, continuing to give it the opportunity to divert patent and trademark fees to other programs. The funding approach taken in the Senate version of the America Invents Act would avoid this risk, so it is expected that the point will be resolved as the budget bill continues its way through Congress.

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