FOIA and Privacy Act FAQs
The USPTO’s complete regulations related to Freedom of Information Act and Privacy Act requests are available at 37 C.F.R. Part 102.
General - FOIA - Costs
How much does it cost to obtain records under the FOIA?
The USPTO charges reasonable fees for the cost of searching for records, reviewing them for release, and reproducing them. For additional information on specific fees, see 37 C.F.R. § 102.11. The FOIA specifies five different fee categories:
Commercial: Companies or individuals requesting information for a commercial, trade, or profit-seeking purpose, including for use in litigation. Commercial requesters are required to pay fees for search, review, and duplication.
Educational institution: Public or private preschools, elementary, or secondary schools, and institutions of higher education, professional education, or vocational education that operate programs of scholarly research. Educational requesters are only required to pay duplication costs, and are entitled to the first 100 pages without charge.
Noncommercial scientific institution: Noncommercial institutions that conduct scientific research not intended to promote a particular product or industry. Scientific requesters are only required to pay duplication costs, and are entitled to the first 100 pages without charge.
Representative of the news media: Defined as “[a]ny person or entity that gathers information of potential interest to a segment of the public, uses its editorial skills to turn the raw materials into a distinct work, and distributes that work to an audience.” News media include traditional print and broadcast media as well as freelance journalists, book authors, and Internet and other new media when they fit this definition. News media requesters are only required to pay for duplication costs, and are entitled to the first 100 pages without charge.
All other requesters: Requesters who do not fit into any of the above categories are required to pay search and duplication costs, but are entitled to two hours of search time and 100 pages of duplication without charge.
Can FOIA fees be reduced or waived?
Under the FOIA, it is possible to have all fees (including duplication) waived if the material requested: (1) is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of government; and (2) is not primarily in the commercial interest of the requester. If you believe your request fits these criteria, you should make your complete case for a fee waiver in your request letter.
- State clearly that you are seeking a public interest fee waiver under 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(A)(iii).
- Be sure to describe the scholarly, historical, or current public interest in the material requested.
- Identify specific operations or activities of government to which the request relates and why the information will contribute to an understanding of those activities and operations.
- State why the public in general would be interested in the information you are requesting and how the information will contribute significantly to public understanding of government operations or activities.
General - FOIA - Exemptions
What can't I have?
Records may exist that are exempt from disclosure in whole or in part under FOIA if the records contains information that falls into one or more of the nine categories listed below. The USPTO will analyze all potentially exempt information, determine whether to apply an exemption, and notify requesters of the basis for all redactions (i.e., which exemption applies). If the requested record contains both releasable and unreleasable information, the USPTO will separate out the releasable portions (where feasible) and provide them to you.
Exemption 1: Records that are specifically authorized under criteria established by an Executive Order to be kept secret in interest of national defense or foreign policy and are in fact properly classified pursuant to such Executive Order (i.e., properly classified records).
Exemption 2: Records related solely to the internal personnel rules and practices of the USPTO.
Exemption 3: Records specifically exempted from disclosure by statute.
Exemption 4: Trade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained from a person that is privileged or confidential.
Exemption 5: Interagency or intra-agency memoranda or letters that would not be available by law to a private party in litigation with the USPTO, provided that the deliberative process privilege shall not apply to records created more than 25 years before the request date.
Exemption 6: Personnel, medical, and similar files (including financial files) the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.
Exemption 7: Records compiled for law enforcement purposes, but only to the extent that the production of such law enforcement records:
(A) could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings;
(B) would deprive a person of a right to a fair trial or an impartial adjudication;
(C) could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy;
(D) could reasonably be expected to disclose the identity of a confidential source, including a state, local, or foreign agency or authority or any private institution which furnished records on a confidential basis;
(E) would disclose techniques and procedures for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions, or would disclose guidelines for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions if such disclosure could reasonably be expected to risk circumvention of the law; or
(F) could reasonably be expected to endanger the life or physical safety of any individual.
Exemption 8: Records that are contained in or related to examination, operating, or condition reports prepared by, on behalf of, or for use of an agency responsible for the regulation or supervision of financial institutions.
Exemption 9: Geological and geophysical information and data, including maps, concerning wells.
General - FOIA - Making requests
What is available under the FOIA?
Records available under the FOIA include all “agency records” in any format, including electronic records, that were created or obtained by the USPTO.
Can I make a FOIA request? Where should I send it?
Anyone can make a FOIA request, but it must be made in writing. No telephone requests will be accepted. Include contact information that will enable the FOIA Office to reach you for clarification (if needed) and send your response.
Written requests will be accepted via:
USPTO FOIA Office
United States Patent and Trademark Office
P.O. Box 1450
Alexandria, VA 22313-1450
USPTO FOIA Office
United States Patent and Trademark Office
Madison Building East, 10B20
600 Dulany Street
Alexandria, VA 22314
When the USPTO FOIA Office has received a proper request, it will assign the request a tracking number, which you can use to check the status of your request.
How should I draft my FOIA request?
All requests should clearly state that they are a FOIA request (or Privacy Act request, if you are seeking records about yourself). If you do not know the exact title of the records you are seeking, you should provide a detailed description of the records. The more information that you can provide about the records, the more expeditiously we can process your request.
When drafting your request, use the following guidelines to achieve the best results:
Be clear and specific.Your FOIA request must reasonably describe the records you are asking for, which means that the text of your request must allow the USPTO FOIA Office to locate the records with a reasonable amount of effort. Assume the FOIA specialist who will handle your request is not familiar with your topic of interest. If known, identify the custodian (individual(s) or the organization that is likely to possess the records), author of the records, and/or creation date or date range. Context for your request can be critical. This may include reference to related news stories, or other supporting material (though these things are not required). Key words or other search terms are also very helpful. If you are seeking documents related to a particular event, let us know the date of that event. You are always welcome to call the USPTO FOIA Office if you think your request requires additional information. We will contact you if we need clarification.
Make sure your request is reasonable in scope. In order to allow the agency to conduct a reasonable search, and to avoid or reduce fees (where applicable), limit the scope of your request to only the records you are looking for. Agencies are only required to search for records to the extent they are able to reasonably identify potential locations for responsive records. Broad requests that lack any specificity can be unworkable. For example, the USPTO could not conduct a reasonable search for “all agency records related to artificial intelligence,” but if your request were crafted as “all emails discussing artificial intelligence created by John Doe in March 2019,” it is likely that a reasonable search can be conducted.
Only request records or documents. The FOIA is about access to records. It does not require that agencies conduct research, answer questions, create documents that do not otherwise exist, or certify documents.
Specify whether you want the records in paper form or electronically. The USPTO will release records in electronic form (for example, on a CD-ROM or by e-mail) when requested, if it can reasonably do so.
Is my FOIA request confidential? What about my Privacy Act request?
Your FOIA requests are not confidential. Once a FOIA request is received by the USPTO, it becomes a public record. If the request itself contains personally identifying information, other private information, or information that the USPTO is generally obligated to maintain as confidential, we may redact such information. However, if you file a request for records about yourself under the Privacy Act, your identity and any responsive records will be maintained as confidential to the extent required by the Privacy Act.
What do I need to provide to obtain records about myself?
If you are seeking records about yourself under the Privacy Act that would not be generally releasable to the public, you will be asked to provide proof of identity. If you wish to have your responsive records mailed or emailed, please have your request notarized before submitting, or provide a copy of a government-issued identification along with your request. See 37 C.F.R. § 102.24 for more information. If you cannot comply with these requirements, please consult with the USPTO FOIA Office.
General - FOIA - My records
How do I obtain the status of my request?
Shortly after submitting your request, you will receive an acknowledgement letter and a tracking number for your request. Once you have that number, you can check the status of your request here. The USPTO completes the majority of FOIA requests within 20 business days. If your request is going to take longer than 20 days to process due to its complexity, the volume of records to be searched or reviewed, or the need to consult other offices, the FOIA Office will let you know.
What happens if I am dissatisfied with my response?
You will receive a final response letter and responsive, releasable records (if any) via mail or email. If you believe your response is deficient, you have the right to appeal the decision to the Deputy General Counsel, United States Patent and Trademark Office, P.O. Box 1450, Alexandria, VA 22313-1450. An appeal must be received within 90 calendar days from the date of your response letter. The appeal must be in writing and include: a copy of the original request, a copy of the decision letter, and a statement of the reasons why response was in error. The appeal must be clearly marked “Freedom of Information Act Appeal.”
What if I still have questions?
Reach out to FOIARequests@uspto.gov if you have any questions.