Patent Literally Pending: The Government Shutdown and Intellectual Property
As of 12:01 am ET, Tuesday, October 1, 2013 the federal government has shutdown for the first time since late 1995/early 1996. While the focus has been on more visible government functions that serve the public, like the closure of the Statue of Liberty, Alcatraz, Yosemite and other national parks, my concern lies with the fate of companies trying to protect their intellectual property during this time.
Due to Congress’ failure to reach a compromise regarding federal funding many offices and beloved historical sites funded by the federal government closed their doors to the public, and federal employees couldn’t go to work. This includes the National Mall, the new “panda-cam” at the National Zoo, the “vast majority” of operations at the Center for Disease Control, and the possible cancellation of the popular Army-Navy football game by the Defense Department. Essential governmental functions will of course remain open to serve the public and ensure our nation’s safety. But what about the agencies that may not be considered important by the general public but serve a tremendous need in American society? By this I’m referring to the agencies dedicated to protecting our nation’s intellectual property and communications, namely the Copyright Office, The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and the Patent Trademark Office (PTO).
A quick visit to these agencies’ websites will show that neither has escaped the wrath of the government shutdown. The Copyright Office itself is closed and its website is unavailable directing users here. Instead of the normal website, full of publicly available and free information, visitors are greeted by the following notice “The U.S. Copyright Office is closed, and www.copyright.gov is not available due to the federal government shut down […] The Public Information Office and the Technical Support Desk of the Copyright Office are also closed.” Potential copyright registrants are then directed to file an e-claim for their registration but are warned that such registrations “will not be processed until the Copyright Office reopens.”
The FCC’s website has also gone dark. Users are directed to www.fcc.gov/shutdown-page.html where they are advised that the “FCC is limited to performing duties that are immediately necessary for the safety of life or the protection of property. FCC online systems will not be available until further notice.” What does this mean for Entertainment during this time? All current mergers and transactions requiring FCC approval have been suspended; film permits may not be issued and only up to 38 out of 1,754 employees will remain working to tackle “emergencies.” With copyright registration and entertainment mergers severely curtailed, the government shutdown appears to be having a serious impact on the arts and entertainment field.
But how is the shutdown affecting other aspects of intellectual property? The Patent-Trademark Office is currently making out better than the Copyright Office and FCC, but has not escaped unscathed. The PTO is barely keeping its doors and websites open. Their website states that during the shutdown the office will remain open using prior year reserve fee collections to continue operations “as usual for approximately four weeks.” The site continues to indicate that if the funds are exhausted before the shutdown ends, the PTO would close but a “very small staff” would “continue to work to accept new applications and maintain IT infrastructure.” At least for now, trademark and patent registration will remain open and searchable.
Ultimately, while it is the closure of national parks that will get the most attention, our nation’s intellectual property rights are impacted as well and deserve just as much focus.