Oh, great. Another government shutdown. The last one lasted 35 days, ending January 25, 2019. Before that, it was February 2018 and, before that, January 2018. We’re about to have the government forcibly closed. Planning on a trip to a national park? Better reconsider. Want to sell your product to the military? Fuhgeddaboudit.
What about the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office? Can I still file a patent application during the shutdown? Will a patent examiner still review my application? Do I still owe maintenance fees for my patents? Should I respond to office actions from the patent examiner?
The answer to all those questions is definitely ‘yes.’
The good news is that the USPTO will get off mostly unscathed from the looming shutdown. Why? Because, the USPTO funds its operations through the fees that it collects and generates ‘operating reserves’ in the ‘Patent and Trademark Fee Reserve Fund’ under 35 U.S.C. 42(c)(2). The USPTO can pay its bills (and the salaries of its 13,000 employees) from those operating reserves, at least for a while. How long? The USPTO says that it can fund its own operations for three months, which is much longer than any shutdown will last.
Although we don’t like to admit it, government shutdowns over budget fights are disappointingly regular occurrences. In the last forty years, we’ve had twelve government shutdowns, mostly short-lived. And that’s not unusual looking back in time.
The bottom line? The USPTO will weather the storm. We will continue to file patent applications. The patent examiners will continue to review those applications, and the USPTO will continue to issue patents. Patent owners will continue to pay maintenance fees and will continue to respond to USPTO office actions.
The other bottom line? If you love chaos, the House of Representatives is for you.
— Robert Yarbrough, Esq.