Note to all US patent holders: pay your maintenance fees if you value the privacy of your financial information. A recent investigative report (Patent Office Rules Allow Simple Access to Tax, Financial Data, 108 Tax Notes 1079 (Sept. 5, 2005)) reveals that patent holders who fall behind on fee payments with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO), and then request a waiver of their payment obligations, may be asked to submit private information to validate claims of financial hardship. While the PTO claims that it never asks for or requires sensitive information, such as Social Security or account numbers, delinquent patent holders may unwittingly submit such information, which then could find its way to the publicly-available patent files. No legislative fix is imminent, but privacy advocates are investigating the issue further, and IRS Commissioner Don Alexander has urged members of the Bush cabinet to push for remedial action.
Posted by Merrill Baumann