Patent and trademark act clears House

The House of Representatives Wednesday passed the U.S. Patent and Trademark Fee Modernization Act, which gives the Patent and Trademark Office additional funds to recruit, hire and train more examiners and use more technology in its operations.

The act also allows patent fees to be used for PTO operations until expended. The fees will be deposited into a PTO account in the Treasury, and exempt from the appropriations process, according to the bill, H.R. 1561.

"I thank the members of the House for reinforcing their confidence in this nation's intellectual property system by providing the USPTO the funds needed to strengthen this agency's ability to issue quality patents and trademarks in a timely manner," said Jon Dudas, acting undersecretary of commerce for intellectual property.

The bill increases some patent fees and creates some new ones. Without the additional funds, the average wait for a patent would increase to more than four years, and the backlog of unexamined cases would more than double to 1 million patent applications, according to Patent and Trademark Office officials.

More than 450,000 patent applications need to be reviewed by the office, and the time from application to issuance of a patent is about 27 months.

Industry groups praised the bill.

"Small technology businesses will benefit from a Patent and Trademark Office that produces better patents, faster. We urge the Senate to take up this critical legislation as soon as possible," said Jonathan Zuck, president of the Association for Competitive Technology, a Washington-based trade group.

Because patent fees will no longer be diverted to pay for nonpatent-related purposes, the office will be able to hire and train skilled examiners. In addition, the money will pay for technology upgrades to provide up-to-date access to "prior art" databases in Europe, Japan and the United States, association officials said.

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