U.S. patent office censors access to Internet freedom websites

Posted by Lindsey Pinto on Tue, 09/18/2012 - 17:00

Update: (via KEI, September 19) "At 5 pm the USPTO called and said that the public access wifi network was using a filter, provided by a contractor, to block "political activist" sites. This filter was not used by the network providing Internet access for the USPTO staff. After our meeting, the USPTO reviewed its policies, and has removed the filter. USPTO says the filter was implemented by a contractor, and no one we talked to at USPTO was aware of who was being blocked. In any event, the filter has been removed."

During a visit to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), James Love of Knowledge Economy International (KEI) was surprised to find that he couldn't use the Office's wifi to get to the KEI website. Instead, he got this message:

Your request was denied because this URL contains content that is categorized as: "Political/Activist Groups" which is blocked by USPTO policy. If you believe the categorization is inaccurate, please contact the USPTO Service Desk and request a manual review of the URL.

The USPTO is a big player is intellectual property rights (IPR) policy (IPR is often invoked in defense of proposals that would restrict Internet freedom) in the U.S.—Love was there for a high level meeting on global negotiations on intellectual property and access to medicine, for example—and the USPTO also uses its meeting rooms for its Global Intellectual Property Academy. Perhaps most notably, the USPTO also advises the President of the United States, the Secretary of Commerce, and U.S. Government agencies on intellectual property policy, protection, and enforcement. This makes them a key player in many Internet freedom issues, among which is the TPP's Internet trap. Which is why Love's discovery is such a big problem:

We checked and found that the USPTO blocks access to a number of groups that have followed SOPA and the TPP intellectual property negotiations, particularly those critical of the USPTO positions on intellectual property issues. Among the NGOs that were blocked were aclu.org, cdt.org, citizen.org, eff.org, healthgap.org, keionline.org and publicknowledge.org. Among the sites NOT BLOCKED were the industry lobby groups BSA, MPPA, RIIA, and PhRMA.

This blocking of access to public interest organizations—some of which are part of the StopTheTrap.net Coalition—and welcoming of industry lobbyists is troubling for two reasons. For one, the blocking is symbolic of the closed, opaque way that intellectual property rules are crafted in agreements like the TPP. Secondly and more overtly, it means that those involved in high-level discussions at the USPTO are unable to access the information and opinions on Internet freedom sites. This makes it much more difficult for those sites to bring the public interest perspective to decision-makers; those inside the USPTO have a more difficult time finding critiques of their positions, and are more likely out-of-touch with citizen opinions.


Read more about the USPTO's blocking in James Love's blog post here.

Click here to tell TPP negotiators that when it comes to Internet governance, citizens need transparency, public participation, and democratic accountability.