UNITED STATES PATENT AND TRADEMARK FEE MODERNIZATION ACT OF 2003 -- (House of Representatives - March 03, 2004)
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Mr. SENSENBRENNER. Mr. Chairman, I yield 5 minutes to the gentleman from Texas (Mr. Smith), who is the chairman of the subcommittee.
Mr. SMITH of Texas. Mr. Chairman, first of all, I would like to personally thank the gentleman from Wisconsin (Chairman Sensenbrenner); the gentleman from Illinois (Chairman Manzullo); the gentleman from Florida (Chairman Young); the gentleman from Virginia (Chairman Wolf); and also the gentleman from California (Mr. Berman), ranking member, for their help in pulling this bill together. They helped to iron out the wrinkles. They helped resolve the differences between many parties, and it is much appreciated.
Mr. Chairman, this legislation that I authored modernizes the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. It was inspired by two principles essential to a democracy: the protection of intellectual property rights and the freedom to exchange goods and services.
The Patent and Trademark Office does not receive the attention of other government agencies such as the Department of State and Department of Justice, but it should. The Patent and Trademark Office is crucial to the health of our economy and to the lives of millions of Americans.
The Patent and Trademark Office protects the rights of all American inventors. From the lone individual working in their garage to the small business owner with a breakthrough idea to the large high-tech company that applies for hundreds of patents, all rely on a responsive Patent and Trademark Office. Without a strong PTO, our economy would be devastated, our quality of life would be diminished, and jobs would be lost or never created in the first place.
Mr. Chairman, this bill prevents the diversion of Patent and Trademark Office fees paid by inventors to fund government programs unconnected to the agency. The diversion of fees to the office is unfair, counterproductive, and an obstacle to sustained economic growth. Approximately $750 million has been diverted from the PTO in the last decade alone. Such a large revenue loss has deprived the Patent and Trademark Office of the resources it must have to serve the patent and trademark holders of the United States. At a time when the office is struggling to pay its examiners enough and to keep up with applications, particularly in high-tech areas, Congress should take an interest in protecting our economy by keeping patents and trademark fees within the Patent and Trademark Office.
This bill enables the Patent and Trademark Office to hire 2,900 new patent examiners. Today the average time to process a patent exceeds 2 years. Without the new examiners, agency delays will soon reach 3 or even 4 years. If this fee bill does not become law, it is estimated that 140,000 patents will not be issued over the next 5 years. That is 140,000 missed opportunities for the American people.
If nothing is done, if the status quo continues, it means new products will not make it to the market, jobs will not be created, and the inventors who came up with new ideas and products will not have their intellectual property protected and so will not market their inventions.
This bill helps small businesses and nonprofit institutions. It provides a 50 percent discount on most services to small businesses, universities, and other nonprofit entities. The benefits of an improved and streamlined PTO will help small businesses and universities and encourage new research and innovation.
Mr. Chairman, I would like to again thank the gentleman from Wisconsin (Mr. Sensenbrenner), chairman of the Committee on the Judiciary, for making this issue a priority for our committee and working with the appropriators to resolve our differences on PTO funding.
Since U.S. Patent No. 1 was issued in 1837 for traction wheels, the patent system and the creativity, genius, and talent that defined it have benefited all Americans. From the revolutionary electric light bulb to the latest software technology, patents reflect America and contribute to our economic prosperity.
This bipartisan bill is supported by these organizations: the Information Technology Industry Council, Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, the Intellectual Property Owners, the International Trademark Association, the Association of American Universities, and the Association for Competitive Technology, as well as many others.
Mr. Chairman, this bill is good for innovation, good for the economy, and good for the American people. The PTO has rarely been more important than it is today. It must have the resources it needs to professionally and expeditiously process patent and trademark applications. American jobs, profits, and the future of entrepreneurial capitalism are literally at stake.
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Mr. BERMAN. Mr. Chairman, I thank the gentleman for yielding.
Mr. Chairman, I simply want to express my strong support for this amendment. If I were a betting man, I would have bet a lot of money that the chairman would not have been able to deal with the end of diversion in the fashion that he was able to without at least 25 or 30 appropriators on the House floor. I congratulate both him and the subcommittee chairman for their excellent work, and I urge the manager's amendment be adopted.
Mr. SMITH of Texas. Mr. Chairman, I strongly support this amendment, which is the result of careful negotiations between the Judiciary and Appropriations Committees.
The two goals of the underlying bill are to improve PTO operations and to end fee diversion. This amendment makes sure those goals are achieved.
In order to eliminate the incentive to divert fees from the PTO, the amendment establishes a rebate program that will deposit any fee collections that exceed the amount of money appropriated to the PTO in a "reserve fund." At the end of each year, the PTO Director will determine whether there are sufficient funds to make payments to users who paid applicant fees that year. By ending fee diversion and allowing the PTO to keep the fees its users pay each year, the agency will be able to make many much-needed reforms to increase its efficiency and productivity.
This amendment also contains provisions that will ensure the PTO will operate effectively. It establishes a pilot program to allow private entities to perform the search function associated with obtaining a patent. This will free up patent examiners to focus on other work.
Some have mischaracterized this provision as "outsourcing" that will cut American jobs and send work overseas. In fact, this amendment specifies that participation in the pilot program is restricted to American businesses and American citizens. By allowing patent searches to be performed by commercial entities, this pilot program will simply allow the private sector to take some of the load off of an already overburdened patent evaluation system at the PTO.
Twenty-five to thirty percent of the 355,000 patent applications the PTO receives each year come from small businesses. The Sensenbrenner amendment has many provisions to help small businesses obtain patents.
The PTO is one of the most important agencies in the country. It is the agency behind the innovation and invention that drives our economy. We must give it the funding it needs to implement meaningful reform and improve its operations.
This amendment strengthens the underlying bill and I urge my colleagues to support it.