More money for patent IT

In the fiscal 2005 federal budget, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office officials will have about $300 million to spend on information technology projects, a 45 percent increase.

With the new funding, USPTO employees can move forward on several e-government projects, officials said, including the initial phase of a project that will enable examiners to process patent applications completely online.

Intellectual property lawyers, who lobbied as a group for USPTO to get full funding, said the 2005 budget is a good start. "We are a very strong supporter of the PTO becoming paperless and having an effective electronic filing system," said Michael Kirk, executive director of the American Intellectual Property Law Association.

Since 1983, Kirk said, USPTO officials have made repeated efforts to set up an electronic patent filing process, but with little success. Unlike trademark applications, 70 percent of which are filed electronically, only about 1 percent of patents are filed electronically. "Some of the competitors, particularly the European Patent Office, appear to be further along in this process than the USPTO, he said.

One reason, Kirk said, has been a constant turnover rate in the top IT job at USPTO. The agency's most recent chief information officer, Doug Bourgeois, left the position in September, and USPTO officials have yet to announce a replacement.

"I would not say it's the fault of the person running the IT operation that electronic filing has not occurred sooner," Kirk said. But, he added, "it is very difficult to mount a program and keep it going and sustain it when the funding goes up and down, which it has."

In 2005, USPTO officials will also focus their IT efforts on giving people access to the complete contents of pending and registered trademark files via the Internet.

Both activities -- online trademark retrieval and electronic patent processing -- are major components of the agency's 21st Century Strategic Plan, said Ruth Ann Nyblod, deputy press secretary at USPTO. The $300 million, she said, represents President Bush's full IT budget request for the agency.

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