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USPTO Won't Accept Upside Down Faxes; Demands Resends [UPDATE]

Last Updated Feb 3, 2010 8:57 PM EST

I know, the headline seems like a joke. After all, what do you do if someone inadvertently fed a page upside down into the fax machine? You simply turn the page over or, if you get an electronic version, use the reader software to rotate it. Apparently this is not within the standard operating procedures of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. No, if your fax comes in upside down, they send you a message in return saying that they can't accept it and to re-fax. Here's a copy of the letter that a source, who regularly deals with the USPTO, passed along to me:

I've sharpened it a bit with Photoshop, but in case you still find it hard to read, here's the text:
SubmitterUnited States Patent and Trademark Office Notice of Document Faxed Upside Down

Your request to record a document in the United States Patent and Trademark Office was received via electronic fax on [date and time in 2010 omitted].

The faxed submission was received upside down. We are unable to continue processing these images.

Please resubmit your document.

If you have any questions, you may contact our customer service center at [number omitted].

Office of Public Records
Usually when I see something really peculiar, I try to put myself in the place of the person doing what seems inane and think of reasons why perhaps it makes more sense than it seems. Only, I can't see any possible reason. What, it's faster to send a fax in return and wait for a response? They don't have technology that allows turning the images around? Maybe the patent for that particular nicety of image processing is lost somewhere, probably filed upside down.

If they get the 15 percent increase in fees, will they at least agree to rotate the images? So much for radical improvement. I still can't get over that they appear to have a form letter for this.

[UPDATE: Despite the many questions that people have raised, it turns out that the USPTO does not have a good reason for this silliness. You can see more details at my latest coverage of the story.]
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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.