U.S. Patent Office Keeps Up Private Sector Image

Hailed by capitalists as one of the few federal government agencies that operates like a private sector company, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) is taking steps to keep up that image via the Internet.

The PTO recently deployed a new system to accept online orders for reference information on its Web site, using an order entry management system from Unify Corp. (NASDAQ: UNFY).

The new system is the PTO’s first step toward broader use of the Internet to simplify its operations and make information on patents and trademarks more accessible to U.S. citizens, from corporations to individuals.

As reported, the federal government under the Clinton Administration has made a concerted push toward using electronic means to make government purchases as well as make government products available to the public.

Computer Systems Cost Money

In its recent report to Congress and budget request for fiscal year 2000, the PTO asked for $1.15 million (US$) in additional funding to improve its electronic storage and databases. The PTO’s day-to-day operations are funded by a $922 million annual budget derived completely from user fees for registration, research and documents.

The additional “funding supports our year 2000 commitment to enable customers to access patent and trademark data via the Internet,” the agency said. The initiative started in 1998, when the PTO put a searchable text and image database on the Web to provide access to more than a million pending and registered trademark records. This year, the PTO plans to do the same for patents dating back to 1976.

The addition of online ordering for patent and trademark documentation will not supplant standard print versions of those documents, the PTO said. “Recognizing the diverse, sometimes conflicting, needs of patent and trademark information customers, it is important to meet their needs through a diverse and varied product portfolio, including paper, electronic (DVD-ROM), and on-line products,” the agency said.

Electronic Future

But the future is clearly electronic, the PTO added. “As a business, we look to the Internet as a tool which will help contain costs and facilitate new types of commercial transactions,” the agency said. The agency hopes to fully automate its operations by 2003 in an effort to win Congressional permission to operate as a “Performance-Based Organization” similar to private sector businesses. The faster the economy develops, thanks in large part to the booming Internet and e-commerce sector, the more important it becomes for government agencies to keep up with that pace by putting their wares online, the PTO argues.

With Unify’s new processing system, visitors to the PTO’s Web site can register a user ID and password, order documents and pay fees with a credit card. The company plans to improve the site in the future to allow multiple document purchases using a shopping cart.

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