Should USPTO Have to Rely on Congressional Budget Approval?
By Sara Taveras
In light of a possible government shutdown, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) issued a press release stating that is has enough reserves to continue operating for 6 days. But if you’re like me, you’re probably wondering, “So what happens after the 6 days?”
The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) - unlike most government agencies - is unique in its ability to sustain itself through user fees. However, it still sends revenue to and draws money from the US Treasury. It is unable to spend its own money without Congressional permission, per Article 1 of the Constitution. (Check out Trent Ostler's chronicle of the USPTO’s history of financial self-sufficiency.)
In this way, we could compare the USPTO to the city of Washington, DC. The city operates almost entirely with money that comes directly from its residents. City officials passed a balanced 2011 budget almost a year ago. Yet, DC must get the approval of Congress to spend their money and enact their budget. If the government shuts down, DC would be left without trash collection, the Cherry Blossom Festival (DC’s largest source of tourism revenue) would be cancelled, and many local employees would be furloughed - all because DC’s local dollars are being held up in the battle over federal dollars.
You might have seen the highly publicized rant, in which Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton declared, "It's time that the District of Columbia told the Congress to go straight to hell." While Norton’s reaction may seem extreme, I think the question behind her frustration is valid: If an entity raises money on its own and can sustain itself, doesn't that entity deserve the right to govern itself and make its own financial decisions?
From my point of view, the USPTO is in the same boat as the city of DC. The fact that a government shutdown would also close the USPTO, even though it is financially self-sustaining, raises some serious questions in my mind. Is anyone with me?
Rep. Norton says DC should tell Congress to "go to hell" over the 2011 budget.
April 9, 2011
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