Senate appropriators question funding for Patent Office overhaul

Senate appropriators have expressed skepticism over requests from the Patent and Trademark Office for more money to overhaul itself. Key senators in the debate, meanwhile, continue to urge members of the Appropriations Committee to craft language that would end the diversion of fees generated by PTO services.

In a committee report on the annual spending measure that funds PTO and other entities, Senate appropriators said the agency needs more funding to execute its five-year overhaul plan.

But the committee added that it still questions whether PTO's "past failure to attain these objectives was the result of inadequate funding" and whether the agency needs to hire "hundreds, if not thousands, of additional personnel" to achieve its objectives.

But Utah Republican Orrin Hatch, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., believe PTO does need the extra money and personnel, so they urged several colleagues in charge of the appropriations process to end the diversion of PTO fees.

In a letter to the appropriators, Hatch and Specter said PTO is in a crisis that will result in patent applications remaining unresolved for more than four years if the office does not receive the appropriate funding on a permanent basis.

"A one-year or other short-term increase [in fees] would not allow the PTO to plan for the spending necessary to implement initiatives in the PTO's 21st-Century Strategic Plan, many of which, to be effective, will require a reliable funding stream," they wrote.

The letter went to: Appropriations Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska; ranking Democrat Robert Byrd of West Virginia; Judd Gregg of New Hampshire the top Republican on the Appropriations subcommittee that oversees PTO; and Ernest (Fritz) Hollings of South Carolina, that subcommittee's ranking Democrat.

Hatch and Specter asked the Appropriations leaders to work with them toward a compromise that would preserve the Appropriations Committee's jurisdiction and goals on PTO but that also would resolve PTO's funding issues long term.

The Intellectual Property Owners Association also reports that Specter, a member of the Appropriations Committee, raised the issue during the committee debate on the bill.

The bill currently would increase PTO's budget by more than $320 million, for a total fiscal 2005 allocation of $1.5 billion. The money would come from an increase in PTO user fees. But the committee report says nothing about diverting patent fees.

Another House-passed bill, H.R. 1561, would increase PTO fees for the long-term and would stop the diversion of the revenue from those fees to other federal agencies. The Senate Judiciary Committee has approved that measure.

Technology industry lobbyists have been working with Senate appropriators to address their concerns with the bill. Judd has not returned calls to his subcommittee office over several weeks to discuss the fee diversions.

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