The United States Congress is currently considering a bill called the Patent Reform Act of 2011. This bill contains a list of long-desired reforms to the US patent system, with the intent of streamlining and improving the way in which inventors and companies protect their intellectual property. The reform bill features changes to how patents are claimed, the way damages are doled out, and the way in which individuals or corporations can challenge patents. However, there is one aspect that has been the subject of some inquiry and controversy: under the new bill, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) would have the ability and authority to set their own fees at will, without prior consultation or lawmaker action.
For years now the PTO has had no authority in the pricing of its services. This has been set in stone by legislation and changed only whenever lawmakers saw fit to do so. The argument made for allowing the PTO its own fee-setting authority is that minute adjustments to fees would optimize revenue streams and, in some cases, make the system for efficient for administrators and citizens. Shortages in personnel could be covered by increasing fees as needed, allowing for quicker service.
Many, however, see this trend as dangerous to efficiency of the Office. For instance, there is less motivation to reduce administrative costs and save money when all the Office has to do is raise their fees. This could potentially allow the Patent and Trademark Office to grow to a monstrously inefficient bureaucracy that sustains itself by consuming more and more fees instead of cutting back on costs.
A logical progression from that issue leads to an issue of higher and higher costs for inventors and companies seeking to protect their intellectual property. The higher the cost of legal protection, the less motivation there is for individuals to do so; it makes the process less accessible to the average citizen or a small business. This will stifle innovation and potentially reduce the economic productivity and ingenuity of our nation’s entrepreneurs.
In summary, there is reason to believe conclusively that allowing the USPTO the authority to set its own fees may result in contradicting the main purpose of the Patent Reform Act of 2011: promoting ingenuity and innovation. Raising the cost of Research and Development while limiting the efficiency of the PTO stands in direct contradiction to these goals. A far better way to determine fees would be for a more regular review of them in Congress; this allows for regular changes if needed without giving the Patent and Trademark Office a blank check to run on.