Did the Government Shutdown Affect the USPTO?
When the government shutdown at the end of December and through most of January took effect, the U.S. Patent Office (USPTO) said that they had a few weeks of reserves left from user fees. They would use these funds to keep the office going. The shutdown lasted more than the few weeks, but the Patent Office continued to operate. Nothing much was said after the government shutdown ended. The question is, did this affect the operations of the USPTO?
It seems like it really did. In the short term, things that tended to be routine in the past, like processing power of attorney documents, take a lot longer. That is frustrating when things have deadlines and the files are not accessible.
In the overall picture, the Patent Office has been in the process of transitioning from an old insecure system that relied on Java. This old system stopped working with Firefox, Chrome, and Edge, since those browsers stopped supporting Java. Instead, the old system only works with Microsoft Explorer - enve though Explorer is an outdated and insecure browser. An alternate, more cumbersome short term patch was also implemented. These issues contine to add to the overhead of working as a Patent Attorney.
The Patent Office was long overdue in converting over to a modern secure 2-part authentication system. The plan was to have this rolled out sometime in November 2018. This got pushed to December 2018. Then it got pushed to January 2019. Then it got pushed to February 2019. The delays go on and on, The new system still has not been fully implemented, and has multiple bugs that create unreliable access. So in the middle of a once in a generation conversion to a modern system, the government shutdown literally caused complete chaos. This is in the wake of the unprecedented week-long failure of the Patent Office servers in 2018. The reason for the core failures still have not been fixed.
Another lingering issue is the delay in processing issued patents. Typically a contractor gets these done and ready to publish on the Tuesday that is about a month away from when we pay an issue fee. So far in 2019, issued patents take much longer. We speculate this is based on the Patent Office’s inability to sign new contractor arrangements while the government was shutdown. So patents that are fully paid for, fully prosecuted, and ready to issue, are delayed by several weeks, if not more. If a case is waiting for the litigation, or an important license agreement, this could be very expensive for the patent owner. So the government shutdown has additional lingering effects that ultimately hurt businesses in the US. Since many US patents are filed by international companies, this is also a potential drag on the global economy.
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