Every one knows that in this economy, budgets are tight these days.  Well, the USPTO’s budget just got a little tighter.  When Congress passed the Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, 2011 on April 15, 2011, the USPTO’s total spending authority for FY 2011 (ending Sept. 30, 2011) was capped at $900 million.  While this sounds like a lot of money (who am I kidding, it is a lot of money!) this actually represents a $100,000,000 cut in its budget.  That’s a more than 10% cut in the amount of money that it was planning on spending on programs already on the drawing board or in place over the next 5 months (and let’s be real, there probably won’t be a huge increase, if any, in next year’s budget.)

The kicker in all of this is that the USPTO will actually bring in more money than the $900 million it is allowed to spend under the budget.  A lot more money.  In fact, it will actually bring in close to enough money to cover that $100,000,000 shortfall.  But as usual, Congress has decided to ‘divert’ that money to other government programs. 

This is business as usual for Congress.   The USPTO has to live off of the fees that it collects for the services that it provides.  In and of itself, that is a very reasonable and responsible thing to ask.  However, in our weird but true world, the USPTO is not allowed to spend all of the money it takes in.  The money above and beyond what Congress has budgeted for the USPTO goes into the federal government’s general fund and gets allocated to other programs.  (Doesn’t that sound like a tax to all of you?) 

For those of us working in the patent world, this isn’t anything new.  And again, we will all see the Director of the USPTO called before a Congressional Committee to answer for his crimes, i.e., explain to the esteemed members of Congress, why the USPTO is falling behind in its duties, why there’s a 3 year+ backlog in patent examinations, why Patent Office employee morale is so low, why it can’t finish the programs it started, etc.  And we will all see the Director not be able to answer with…Because you geniuses keep taking our money!

What does this mean for the USPTO?  Cuts and cut backs.   From the USPTO Director’s Forum Blog…

“Effective immediately and until further notice:
-Track One of the Three-Track program, which offers expedited patent examination and was scheduled to go into effect on May 4, 2011, is postponed;

-The opening of the planned Nationwide Workforce satellite office in Detroit, as well as consideration of other possible satellite office locations, is postponed;

-Hiring—both for new positions and backfills—is frozen;

-IT projects will be scaled back;

-Funding for Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) outsourcing will be substantially reduced;

-Employee training will be reduced;

-All overtime is suspended.”

What does this mean for those of us who “do business with” the Patent Office?   More DELAYS!   This means it will take longer to get your patent examined in general, and the postponement of the expedited examination process (Track One) that I discussed in my blog post of April 7, 2011.  So, until further notice. please ignore that post, and I will keep you all updated as to when that program is back on-line.