A June 15 Journal Sentinel editorial mistakenly implies that I am in favor of withholding needed funds from the Patent and Trademark Office ("Hands off patent fees").
The Journal Sentinel has done a terrific job in exposing the structural problems at the office, including its unacceptable backlog for innovators and inventors seeking patents. For our dynamic free enterprise economy to thrive, fixing what's broken at the patent office is a must.
Congress is likely to consider patent office legislation dealing with the patent process and the office's budget. The legislation as proposed is a well-intentioned effort to fix what's broken at the office, but it unfortunately includes provisions that must be corrected.
As chairman of the House Budget Committee, I recently raised specific concerns with a provision that would cede Congress' constitutional authority over patents and the purse by giving the office authority to set its own fees and its own budget. By exempting the office from Congress' annual appropriations process, this provision will weaken the accountability, oversight and transparency of the agency.
If Congress is not providing sufficient funding for the patent office through the annual appropriations process, then Congress should address that problem. It is worth adding that the office's staff has grown by nearly 50% and its budget has nearly doubled over the past decade. If additional resources are justified, then let's have that debate, instead of simply giving an executive agency a blank check over its own budget and exempting it from congressional approval.
Sixty percent of the federal budget already escapes annual approval by Congress, and this autopilot spending is a key driver of our escalating debt burden. It is unwise to put even more government spending on autopilot.
The patent office plays a critical role in promoting incentives for innovation and job creation, which is why it is critical that the necessary reforms of this agency are done right.