BrokencircuitboardOn December 22, 2015 the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) reported a “major power outage”, resulting in damaged equipment that shut down the IT systems.

The US Patent and Trademark Office provides full online electronic filing and processing for US patent and trademark applications and for maintenance of issued US patents and trademarks.  As of December 28, Patrick Ross (“Ross”), acting Chief Communications Officer, of the USPTO, reported that examiners are “back to work and customers can once again search, file and/or make payments.”  According to Ross,

Power that comes into the USPTO’s main building feeds two power filtration systems that provide steady, “filtered” power so systems don’t suffer from damaging surges or drops in power supply. A malfunction in the power supply lines feeding these two systems caused significant damage to both systems. This is what we believe caused our systems to go down on Tuesday night.  Because of their size, these large and highly complex power filtration systems cannot be easily replaced. We are working with service providers to obtain a source of uninterrupted conditioned power to the data center as soon as possible.

Based on the emergency situation, the USPTO considers each day from Tuesday, December 22, 2015 through Thursday, December 24, 2015 to be a “Federal holiday within the District of Columbia”.  Therefore, any action or fees due on those days will be considered timely if filed on the following non-holiday day on which the USPTO is open.

At this point it is totally unclear why a power outage could have created such a problem for the organization that is the hub of and the repository for the most advanced technology in the world.  Why would the USPTO not have a totally redundant backup system?  Patrick Ross reported that “there is much work to be done to repair and stabilize [the] power supply and hardware.  This work, being conducted by USPTO employees, contractors, and third party service providers, continues around the clock.  Therefore, in order to keep systems protected and prevent damage, it is possible that some or all systems may need to be taken offline again.”  This suggests that there is indeed no redundant, operational backup system that can be operated in the event the primary system is disabled, for whatever reason.

As problematic as the lack of backup/redundancy is, what is even more troubling is the question of whether vital data has been lost.  Also, is the USPTO sure that it was a power outage, or could the system have been hacked?  If it was hacked, where is the system data that is supposed to be maintained in secrecy now?  So far, there have been no answers to these questions, but time will tell.  Perhaps this will serve as a long overdue wake-up call for the USPTO to implement a full mirrored/redundant system to avoid even worse problems in the future.

Additional posts regarding the outage can be found here: http://www.facebook.com/uspto.gov

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