Examiner hiring and retention at the USPTO
A Senate Appropriations Committee Report proposes $1.771 billion for the USPTO in FY07, down from the President's proposed budget of $1.843 billion. The Report includes harsh language concerning the USPTO's failures in examiner hiring/retention and its need for better management. The Report states,"[T]he Inspector General has received repeated complaints that PTO has allowed or encouraged unfair personnel practices. The IG has identified these problems as one of the top 10 management challenges of the Department of Commerce. Even with increased funding, the problems at PTO are getting worse, evidence that what is needed is better management."
The link provided in the POPA post contains the text:
Hiring, Retention, and Human Resource Practices- An innovation friendly Government depends on an efficient patent system. Since fiscal year 2004, the Committee has provided a 45 percent increase in funding for PTO, including funding to hire thousands of new patent examiners. Yet during the same time period, the backlog of pending patent applications has grown to over 500,000, and it still takes an average of over 2.5 years to process a patent application. Meanwhile, the Inspector General has received repeated complaints that PTO has allowed or encouraged unfair personnel practices. The IG has identified these problems as one of the top 10 management challenges of the Department of Commerce. Even with increased funding, the problems at PTO are getting worse, evidence that what is needed is better management. The Committee notes that in June 2005, the Government Accountability Office [GAO] recommended several steps PTO should take to improve retention of patent examiners. The Committee directs PTO to provide a report to the Senate Committee on Appropriations, by March 2, 2007, on the status of implementation of GAO's recommendations, as well as, additional steps PTO will take to improve hiring, retention, and human resource practices.
Patent Prospector contains the text from the USPTO draft strategic plan:
One of the most vexing problems in the area of assessing patent examination quality has been the wide-held belief that the current quality review measures of the USPTO inspire little confidence as to the accuracy and meaningfulness of the data and the propriety of any established performance targets. Additionally, whereas the primary quality measure of the USPTO, the allowed application error rate, has varied between 4 and 7 percent over more than a twenty year period, the perception of continuously improving quality has not been achieved to date. The USPTO has undertaken numerous efforts to address these issues by expanding the data considered in this process and refining its assessment processes including introducing an in-process review component to the quality data, employing quality review results to guide the development of examiner training programs, looking at customer satisfaction data, using larger samples of data, using data more targeted to the individual examiner level and considering data from both the supervisory and quality assurance review processes. None of these efforts has achieved the desired results of continuously improving examination quality and increased public confidence in the USPTO quality measures.
Determining what should be the appropriate measures of patent quality and what should be the performance targets given the current initial examination process and levels of resource funding provided to support that process is of critical interest to both the USPTO and the patent community. The patent community could assist in developing an objective, to the maximum extent practical, set of review criteria that could be applied across all selected review processes to promote greater consistency and credibility for the measurements of quality. Further, this effort could determine what measures should be used to assess examination quality, how these measures should be reported and what meaningful quality targets should be the goals of an initial system of patent examination. A critical component in the process of determining these measures and targets would be achieving the proper balance between the desire for assured high quality results from and the inherent realities of the resource limitations and ambiguities of the initial examination process.