What a Government shutdown means for the USPTO?

By: Andreas Baltatzis, Esq.  |   January 19, 2018

What is the effect of a government shutdown on the functions of the USPTO? In brief, full operations will continue based on sufficient reserve funds. Following that time, the USPTO will continue processing new patent and trademark applications, but limit most other operations.

The most recent Department of Commerce plan for orderly shutdown (link below) indicates that “the USPTO anticipates that it will have sufficient funds from other than current year appropriations to continue full operations for a brief period after a general lapse in appropriations commences. Therefore, all employees of the USPTO will be excepted for such period following a lapse in appropriations.” In the last government shutdown of October 2013, the USPTO had estimated four (4) weeks of operation based on reserve funds, and continued with full operations while other agencies furloughed employees during the 16-day shutdown.

Should a shutdown continue past the time the USPTO has funds to fully operate, the USPTO will be limited to restricted operations. This has previously been defined as keeping a limited number of staff on hand to accept new patent and trademark applications and maintain IT infrastructure. Prosecution of existing applications would most likely be suspended, coinciding with the furlough of USPTO examiners.

One area of USPTO operations that is typically impacted is the File Repository Warehouse, which houses the paper file histories. This service of the agency is owned and operated by the General Services Administration (GSA) and is closed during the shutdown. Therefore access to paper file histories for some older patent and trademark applications will be unavailable. However electronic files will continue to be accessible.