Intellectual Property:

Information on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's Past and Future Operations

GAO-02-907: Published: Aug 23, 2002. Publicly Released: Sep 18, 2002.

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John B. Stephenson
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The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has a staff of 6,426 and collected $1.1 billion in patent and trademark fees in fiscal year 2001. As the U.S. economy depends increasingly on new innovations, the need to patent or trademark quickly the intellectual property resulting from such innovations becomes more important. Expressing concerns about USPTO's plans for the future, Congress directed USPTO to develop a 5-year plan. In February 2001, USPTO issued its first 5-year plan, called the USPTO Business Plan. Because the Director of USPTO did not believe that the Business Plan went far enough, in June 2002, USPTO produced another 5-year plan, called the 21st Century Strategic Plan. GAO found that patent activity grew substantially from 1990 through 2001. The numbers of patent applications filed and patents granted nearly doubled; the inventory of patent applications nearly tripled; patent pendency increased from slightly over 18 months to nearly 25 months, and the number of patent examiners increased by about 80 percent. Furthermore, in fiscal year 2001, both fee collections and agency funding requirements exceeded $1 billion for the first time in the agency's history. Although both 5-year plans cover the same period, the assumptions and projected results of the Business Plan are different in several ways from the Strategic Plan. The administration's recent legislative proposal to restructure patent fees to implement the Strategic Plan would result in higher fees for the majority of patent applications--large entities--that receive utility patents and maintain such patents in to the future. Consequently, total fees for these applicants would increase by $4,100 or 51 percent. Also, total fees for most small entities would increase $2,700 or 67 percent over current fees.

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