“Oh, a-hunting we will go!” The U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General (OIG) is looking for a supplier to help it track down infringers of the agency’s patents and other intellectual property. Under a solicitation issued on March 26, 2013, the OIG intends to start with five patents that have the “highest potential for infringement or licensing.” OIG has already examined six USPS patents for this purpose, including those involving:
- managing powered industrial vehicles,
- web-based address corrections,
- image lift and capture, and
- tracking a moveable article.
The Postal Service has identified 181 agency-owned patents that show promise for commercial development or catching infringers. These will be narrowed down by the OIG and the supplier to five. The supplier will then research online data from the US Patent and Trademark Office, assess potential commercial value of the patent, and evaluate the opportunity for potential licensing revenue and recovery of royalties. In other words, become the Postal Service’s patent troll.
Unlike other federal agencies, the Postal Service is not subject to the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) and has a slightly different approach to intellectual property than its federal cousins. For example, the Postal Service occasionally seeks outright ownership of patent rights, not just unlimited rights in them. Companies who contract with the Postal Service should take care to ensure that they do not inadvertently hand over intellectual property rights to the agency. The good news is that the Postal Service’s standard intellectual property contract clauses are not necessarily set in stone. Under the USPS Supplying Principles and Practices manual, which sets out the agency’s unique procurement policies and rules, these clauses are subject to negotiation or alternatives proposed by the supplier.