By Dennis Crouch
Although unwilling to confirm that the PTO will be cutting its budget, a Commerce Department spokesperson has told me that: "The [USPTO] is continuing its efforts to develop a sequestration plan—this plan is a work in progress and details are still forthcoming." Reading between the lines, the answer is: yes, the PTO will be cutting its spending and turning-over user-fees to the treasury rather than using that money to examine patents or trademarks.
Update – Following the comments from the Commerce Department, PTO Director Rea distributed a message to employees that the agency is facing "substantial budgetary uncertainty" and is "working to identify potential savings and projects that could be deferred in a way that minimizes the impact to our mission and our employees."
In her email, Director Rea makes clear that the under sequestration, the PTO will be unable to use a "significant" amount of user fees and those fees will instead be returned to the US treasury. In the past, this has been known as "fee diversion."
The action plan is to first cut all non-examination related spending and then determine whether further spending cuts are necessary.
In light of these factors and the substantial budgetary uncertainty the agency now faces, it is essential that we act now to further reduce spending. I have thus asked the management team to come together to identify immediate and significant spending reductions for the remainder of FY 2013 with a focus on minimizing the impact to our mission and our employees. The management team is taking immediate measures to limit all expenditures, including but not restricted to most hiring, travel, training, and IT modernization projects. (Your managers may even be reaching out to you for ideas on cost savings measures.)
One thing to remember in all of this is that the USPTO budget has increased sharply over the past three years. FY2010 budget was two billion dollars while the FY2013 budget was almost three billion dollars. The sequester reduction is rather minuscule compared to the size of this increase.