The USPTO Has Big Plans For Trademark Quality and Timeliness

Ilianna Soto,

USPTO’s 2018-2022 Strategic Plan (the Plan) sets out some ambitious policies for this four year period. These include:

  • Issuing reliable IP rights;
  • Aligning patent and trademark examination capacity with current and projected workloads; 
  • Modernizing information technology (IT);
  • Enhancing the customer experience;
  • Promoting a mission-oriented and quality-focused culture among employees;
  • Protecting IP rights abroad;
  • Monitoring and helping address dynamic IP issues in Congress and in the Courts;
  • Maintaining a sustainable funding model; and 
  • Developing IP policy

The above achievements will be reached through the three strategic goals set by the Plan, namely:

  • Goal I: Optimize Patent Quality and Timeliness 
  • Goal II: Optimize Trademark Quality and Timeliness 
  • Goal III: Provide Domestic and Global Leadership to Improve Intellectual Property Policy, Enforcement, and Protection Worldwide 

These three goals align with the U.S. Department of Commerce’s strategic objective to Strengthen Intellectual Property Protection. 

A Mission Support Goal, to: ‘Deliver Organizational Excellence’ is the fourth component of the Plan.

But does the USPTO have the funds required to meet its objectives?

The USPTO budget

The USPTO is unique in that it is self-funded by the fees it collects from its users. However, the agency must request authorization to spend a certain portion of fees collected. For example:

“For Fiscal Year (FY) 2020, the USPTO requests the authority to spend fee collections of $3,451M. Along with $41M from other income and the use of $47M from the operating reserve balance; these fee collections will fund operating requirements of $3,539M, including 13,456 positions; and a transfer of $2M to the Department of Commerce Office of the Inspector General. With full access to its fee collections to offset its funding requirements, the USPTO’s FY 2019 net appropriation would be $0”. 

Fortunately, under the 2018 budget, USPTO received everything it expected and was not subject to fee diversions.  

But this has not always been the case. In the past, USPTO fees have been diverted to fund other government agencies and programs. This has led to slower approval, difficulties in maintaining standards and challenges in keeping up with the latest technology.

From 2010 to 2014, a total of $409.8 million in user fees has been diverted from USPTO funds. In 2011 the total sum diverted was a whopping $209 million. Ironically, that same year saw the enactment of the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (AIA). The AIA updated patent law to harmonize it with the rest of the world and moved the process from ‘first to invent’ to ‘first to file’.

Looking forward to 2020 and beyond

Although the USPTO seems to be in good financial shape this year, will this continue into the new decade? There have been many warnings of a 2020 global recession, sparked by fears surrounding the China/US trade war, a slowing Chinese economy and Brexit. However, speaking to Bloomberg a few days ago, Phillip Shaw, Chief Economist at Investec, stated that fears of a US recession are “overdone.”  

In October, Bloomberg Economics stated that it predicts the American economy will grow by 2% by 2020. Its reason for optimism were eloquently put as:

“To avoid a recession in the U.S. in 2020, households need to keep spending, peace needs to break out in global trade wars, and investors can’t get spooked - by the U.S. presidential election or anything else. It would also help if policymakers in Europe and China did their part to shore up growth, even though the tools they have to do so are limited. It’s likely that all these things will happen.”

However, President Trump’s trade skirmishes have resulted in an investment and business confidence slump. This has in turn led to a “globally synchronized slowdown,” according to Kristalina Georgieva, the International Monetary Fund’s new managing director. Therefore, it will not be by any great margin that a recession is avoided.

Final words

Because the USPTO charges fees for its services, it must operate like a private entity, constantly improving its response and service deliverables, such as trademark application processing times, as well as taking advantage of technological developments. 

For this to be achieved, it is vital that it can reinvest its fees into accomplishing the goals set out in the Plan. Although it has escaped the guillotine of fee diversion this fiscal year, if slow growth depletes federal coffers over the next year or so, the agency may not be granted such a lucky escape in the near future.

Time is money 

Recent examination of our platform’s USPTO data by our data analysts reveals that the average trademark processing time for USPTO trademark applications in 2018 was 9.9 months - 6 months faster than in 2008. This is an interesting correlation between an increase in budget and timeliness in the same year.

Learn more

Our eBook report: “Top 200 USPTO Representatives in 2018” takes an extensive look at the USPTO’s average trademark application processing times during a ten year period (2008-2018). You also get expert analysis of recent USPTO filing and registration activity, overall success rates and success rates per Nice class.  

Our eBook also includes a definitive list of the top 200 USPTO representatives in 2018 and reveals the results of our recent survey to them, when we discovered the motivation driving the success of this high-achieving cohort! 

Top 200 USPTO Representatives