Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). (Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/NLJ.)

A bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill Thursday that would protect funding at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, since Congress has diverted more than $1.1 billion from the office’s user fees for other purposes in the past 20 years.

The Patent Fee Integrity Act was filed by Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Tom Coburn, R-Okla., Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who said in a joint press statement that the bill would speed up the patent process and help create jobs. It immediately got support from industry groups such as the Internet Association, which lobbies on behalf of members that include eBay Inc. and Inc., and the Coalition for Patent Fairness, which technology giants like Verizon Communications Inc. and Samsung Group Samsung Electronics Co.

“Instead of letting politicians in Congress raid PTO’s funds to pay for parochial pet projects, lawmakers should ensure that funds raised by patent fees stay at the PTO,” Coburn said in the statement. “Doing so will help shore up the PTO’s finances and alleviate the backlog of hundreds of thousands of potentially job-creating patent applications that are due a review.”

Congress made the PTO a self-funded agency in 1990, but those funds are frequently plundered for other uses, Feinstein said. “When fees paid by inventors are used for general purposes, they amount to a tax on innovation.”

The amount of user fees diverted to non-patent issues increased steadily since it was first raided in 1992, rising to a high of $209 million in 2011, the statement said. During those years, the length of time to secure a patent increased, from 18 months in 1991 to 35 months in 2010.

The bill would place the user fees in a separate fund to prevent them from being raided. The bill also includes provisions to ensure accountability from the PTO, requiring annual operations and spending plans be sent to Congress, as well as an annual independent financial audit, the statement said.