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IT groups back temporary patent office user fee boost

Supporters say the bill would enable the agency to fund its strategic plan for cutting the backlog of patent applications.

The information technology industry is urging Senate appropriators to support a likely provision in the fiscal 2005 Commerce-Justice-State spending bill that would increase Patent and Trademark Office user fees for one year and prevent any of those fees from being earmarked for other federal programs.

"We feel the movement they've made is incremental, but it's a good step in the right direction," Ralph Hellmann, the Information Technology Industry Council's senior vice president of government relations, said Monday of the PTO appropriations language. Hellmann said Commerce-Justice-State Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Judd Gregg, R-N.H., is expected to include that language as part of the base text of the spending bill.

The Appropriations Committee is scheduled to mark up the Commerce-Justice-State bill Wednesday. Aides to Gregg and the Appropriations Committee did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

A stand-alone bill approved by the House in March calls for a long-term PTO fee increase and a mechanism to ensure that none of those fees would be diverted to other federal agencies. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the House-passed bill in April, but the legislation stalled after Senate appropriators raised concerns about the fee provisions.

Supporters have said the bill would enable PTO to fund fully its strategic plan for improving its efficiency and reducing a backlog of hundreds of thousands of pending patent applications.

Hellmann said Gregg's expected compromise language, which would expire at the end of fiscal 2005, is "not ideal," but would help PTO hire additional staff and take other steps to speed up the patent approval process.

"We want a longer term solution, but we can work down the road about how to institutionalize a longer term agreement," Hellmann said. He added that Senate appropriators "understand what we're trying to get at," but they have to operate in "one-year increments."

But two intellectual property organizations last week urged Senate appropriators not to incorporate a PTO fee increase into the spending bill without providing a long-term mechanism to prevent those fees from being channeled to other agencies.

"Our members are willing to support raising fees to fund reforms at the PTO, but we must urge no fee increase unless the increase is accompanied by a long-term solution to fee diversion," Jeffrey Hawley, president of the Intellectual Property Owners Association, and Rick Nydegger, president of the Intellectual Property Law Association, wrote Thursday in a letter to Gregg, Appropriations Chairman Stevens, ranking member Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., and Commerce-Justice-State Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member Ernest (Fritz) Hollings, D-S.C.

Hawley and Nydegger added that limiting a PTO fee increase to one year would "undercut implementation of PTO's 21st Century Strategic Plan and prevent the office from setting in place the basic reforms needed to enhance quality and reduce pendency."