I recently discovered a report from the U.S. Department of Commerce Office of Inspector General (OIG) Office of Audit and Evaluation, titled USPTO Needs to Improve Management over the Implementation of the Trademark Next Generation System. The report was issued on March 13, 2019. The full report (FINAL REPORT NO. OIG-19-012-A), is presented below following my comments.
A few thoughts and comments:
- I’ve been to multiple meetings featuring officials from the USPTO and/or Trademark Public Advisory Committee (TPAC) since this report and never once heard any reference to it.
- If this report has brought about changes at the USPTO, I believe the public and users are entitled to know what those changes are. (Conversely, if it has not led to any changes, the public is also entitled to know.)
- If this report in any way contributed to the analysis that went into the proposed fee increases for trademark filings at the USPTO, the public is entitled to more details regarding the connection.
- The report is not flattering by any measure. It’s core findings, summarized in the intro: “Overall, we found USPTO did not provide effective oversight of TMNG implementation. Specifically, we found the following:
- I. USPTO investment board members did not exercise adequate oversight to correct or terminate underperforming TMNG investments.
- II. Weaknesses exist in the Capital Planning and Investment Control process.
- III. USPTO provided ineffective project management and oversight for the TMNG examination tool.”
- The report’s cover letter indicates that the USPTO was to “submit to us an action plan that addresses the recommendations in this report within 60 calendar days.” I have not seen or heard of such action plan. I was unable to find one on the USPTO or DOC website.
- The report finds significant spending above original budgeted amounts.
- The report finds significant and repeated delays and cost overruns.
- An overall summary: “In 2011, USPTO initially estimated the TMNG investment to cost approximately $30.3 million, with completion planned for FY 2014. However, July 2017 estimates for TMNG placed the final cost at $260.7 million, with completion planned for 2021—more than eight times the initial estimated cost and 7 years later than originally planned. TMNG’s escalating costs and schedule delays are, in part, the result of inadequate oversight, planning, and a flawed process to correct deficiencies.”
- I realize that the “legacy systems” from decades ago are complex, challenging, and costly to upgrade and ensure redundancy and more. I also realize that at the start of TMNG, no one really realized just how complex and costly that task would be, and that is understandable.
- The remaining systems are now 10 years older than they were when TMNG process began, making them that much more difficult and expensive to replace; therein lies the real challenge — the longer it takes to replace the systems, the more complex and expensive it becomes, so the delays and missteps are extra costly.
- There is much more detail about the projects, delays, costs, and oversight troubles in the report itself; I’ll leave it to someone else more experienced in these areas to better process the report and its significance.
- In trying to better understand the report and follow-up, I came across another report: Inadequate Management of Active Directory Puts USPTO’s Mission at
Significant Cyber Risk (Final Report No. OIG-19-014-A , June 13, 2019). This report notes that “USPTO (1) inadequately managed its Active Directory, and (2) poorly protected its critical IT assets hosting Active Directory. These deficiencies put the USPTO mission at significant cyber risk.”
- The next Commissioner for Trademarks will have large task on hand to get all this back on track, while also dealing with many other issues.