This was a vote on an amendment by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) that would have allowed fees collected by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) to be transferred to other government agencies. While this amendment (known as a “manager’s amendment”) made mostly technical changes, its language relating to PTO fees was opposed by many Democrats--who argued that it did not guarantee that PTO funds would be used exclusively for reviewing patent applications, rather than being transferred to other government agencies.
Rep. Melvin Watt (D-NC) argued that allowing fees collected by PTO to be transferred to other agencies would starve an already underfunded patent office: “This whole reform process was conceived to address poor-quality patents and to reduce the backlog of patent applications, which now exceeds a 700,000 backlog of patent applications. And the reason it exceeds 700,000 is because the Patent and Trademark Office has not had the money because their fees that they have been charging have been diverted to the general fund. Without a clear path to access its own collection of fees, the PTO cannot properly plan or implement the other changes in the bill and fulfill its primary function of reducing the backlog and examining patent applications.”
Smith responded that members who served on the Appropriations Committee (which is responsible for allocating funds for government agencies and programs) had objected to the requirement that PTO fees be used exclusively for patent office activities because they viewed such a restriction as an encroachment on their authority as appropriators: “Some colleagues have complained during this debate about the treatment of PTO funding in the manager's amendment. The bill that the House Judiciary Committee reported [passed] would allow the PTO to keep all the revenue it raises without having to request funding through the normal appropriations process….Because of concerns raised by the Appropriations Committee members, we worked with them to develop a compromise that eliminates fee diversion while permitting the appropriators to retain oversight through the traditional appropriations process.”
The House agreed to Smith’s amendment by a vote of 283-140. Voting “yea” were 202 Republicans and 81 Democrats. 107 Democrats—including a majority of progressives—and 33 Republicans voted “nay.” As a result, the House agreed to an amendment that would have allowed fees collected by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to be transferred to other government agencies.