With last week’s passage of the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act (H.R. 2112), the USPTO finally has its spending authority set through the end of the current fiscal year, September 30, 2012. The bottom line is that the USPTO can spend up to $2.7 billion, assuming it collects that much in “fees and surcharges.”
As of September 26, 2011, applicants can seek fee-based prioritized examination under the USPTO’s Track I program. The September 23, 2011 Federal Register Notice sets forth the details of the program, which is largely identical to that previously set to take effect May 4, 2011, although the basic fee is higher. The USPTO decided not to implement the program in May because funding limitations required it to revise its hiring plans, and it did not believe that it could meet the Track I pendency goals with its current resources. While the USPTO’s funding situation has not improved, Track I is being offered now, in accordance with provisions of the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act.
As Congress continues to debate the federal budget, patent stakeholders are justifiably concerned that Direct Kappos’ efforts to improve the U.S. patent examination process, enhance patent quality, and reduce the backlog of unexamined applications will be thwarted by inadequate funding. Indeed, if Congress continues to divert hundreds of millions of the USPTO’s user fees to the general fund, any vision of an innovation-driven, patent-backed growth in the U.S. economy will quickly fade away.