The Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) can be a very powerful tool. It provides unqualified right to access certain public records. Patent attorney Gary Shuster used it to file a FOIA request (Request No. F-17-00099) with the USPTO on January 26, 2017, seeking the following:
1. Any document written by or on behalf of Michelle Lee constituting a resignation from office, a request to withdraw a resignation from office, or a request to refrain from her position.
2. The most current document identifying the Director of the USPTO or, if there is no director, the acting director of the USPTO.
3. Any written instructions received between January 20, 2017 and the date of this request regarding deletion of any data from web sites operated by or on behalf of the USPTO, including USPTO.com.
To spare the USPTO having to compile and produce all documents responsive to this request, Shuster offered: “In the alternative, you may satisfy this request by simply answering the following question: Who is the current director or acting director of the USPTO?”
On February 24, 2017, USPTO FOIA specialist Karon Seldon sent Shuster a letter stating that the agency was extending the time limit, citing FOIA provisions allowing extensions in “unusual circumstances.” This is a FOIA provision which provides an extension may be claimed in usual circumstances where there is a “need for consultation … with another Federal Agency having a substantial interest in the determination of the request.” This is likely to give a bit of breathing room to determine how the Trump administration will affect the decision.
The new deadline for response is March 10, 2017. Although it’s currently a bit of a mystery, we’ll see tomorrow who will be named to the Director role.
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