How President Trump will affect the patent industry
The 45th president wasted no time putting his personal stamp on the Oval Office, and we aren’t just referring to the gold drapes. His first two weeks were a flurry of executive orders and bold proclamations that make clear he intends to forge ahead with pretty much everything he declared on the campaign trail.
Among those changes are some potentially radical moves to restructure federal departments. Trump has already expressed agreement with a sweeping set of plans formed by the Republican Study Committee, plans that call for major cuts to the Departments of Energy, Justice and Commerce among others.
Of course, the inclusion of the Department of Commerce should automatically perk up the ears of anyone involved in the patent business. Though the Department of Commerce is facing the deepest cuts of any government division other than the Department of Energy, nothing in the present document indicates that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office will be directly impacted by these cuts in any way, at least at this point in time.
So the USPTO looks to continue operating with the same budget as before, but that doesn’t mean that there’s no potential for change whatsoever. The one area where you may see a significant shakeup is in the realm of patent reform.
The Trump administration’s decision to keep director Michelle Lee in her role signals that the focus on the tech industry that the office has adopted over the previous few years is set to continue. There is some contention over how she has implemented new patent processes and invalidation procedures, however, and this is something the administration may make a point of addressing directly. For example, as part of the American Conservative Union, it is presumed that Mike Pence shares that group’s belief that patent law reform will put a damper on the ability of U.S. businesses to innovate. And Jeff Sessions, just recently confirmed as Attorney General, has spoken out against specific aspects of patent reform such as carve-outs for special interest groups.
What ultimately matters most is what the president thinks, however, and Trump can charitably be described as “mercurial” in addressing issues outside of the core stump speech points from his campaign. We can infer a few things from his business track record, however.
First of all, while Trump does not personally hold any patents, he has registered over 200 trademarks over the course of his business life and has been extremely proactive about defending them in court. In fact, he’s even moved to block his daughter’s application to use her name on hotel and spa services that could potentially be confused with his own offerings! While his behavior in this realm has sometimes strayed very close to the “trademark troll” border, it is clear that if there is one thing he understands, it’s the value of protecting one’s brand. Given this, it’s fair to assume that he’ll have a sympathetic ear for businesses looking to establish and defend their intellectual property.
Trump also campaigned heavily on the need to trim budgetary waste as well as making economic growth and job creation his top priority. Though it is not a form of government waste, one would imagine that Trump would view patent troll lawsuits as a general waste of productive resources and a damper on American innovation, particularly from entities that make their living from this and nothing else. Director Lee also publicly commented that one-third of all jobs in the United States are in industries that lean heavily on intellectual property rights.
The Trump Card
Given Trump’s complete radio silence on patent law during his campaign, and the fact that it has not been identified for budget cuts, at present it’s a safe assumption that very little will change in 2017. That may well continue to be the case all the way into 2020. Since the USPTO retains the fees it receives, it’s unlikely to be labeled by the administration as a wasteful entity.