Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Is there “a culture of fraud” at the US patent office?

Within a post titled House hearing probes alleged telework abuses at U.S. Patent and Trademark Office covering the Congressional hearing on 18 November 2014, there is text:

Connolly asked Focarino about the charge that the incidents represent “a culture of fraud” at the patent office. “No, I don’t think they do represent a culture of fraud,” she said. “The vast majority of the men and women working at the patent office are hardworking examiners.”

There was testimony at a joint hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the House Judiciary Committee, related to charges in the Washington Post about white washing in a report furnished to Commerce Department Inspector General Todd J. Zinser. The issue at the hearing was the scope of improprieties that were mentioned in an earlier report, but then omitted in the final report to Kinser:

In opening remarks at the hearing, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said it is “disturbing” that the management of the patent office “would not allow a thorough investigation” of the allegations. He said that stand called into question statements by patent office officials that the abuses were isolated and not systemic.

Some testimony suggested the scope was limited:

Robert Budens, president of the Patent Office Professional Association, which represents 8,300 patent examiners, testified that the allegations of wrongdoing are isolated cases in the context of the agency’s success last year in reducing a troublesome backlog of patent applications.

A Reuters report got into the issue of "end loading":

Examiners have been accused of "end-loading," or turning in most of their work just before a quarter ends to satisfy what is essentially their work quota. Critics say examiners also practice "mortgaging," or turning in unfinished work to get credit for the quarter.

Issa called those two practices "scams against fee-paying applicants."

The Reuters report suggested that telework, per se, was not the problem:

A handful of patent attorneys who regularly deal with the office said telework was not the issue as much as inadequate supervision both inside the Virginia headquarters of the patent office and outside.

A post by The Hill titled Members talk charges for patent office abuses began more aggressively:

During a joint hearing by the Oversight and Judiciary committees, members used words like "outrage," "fraud" and "scams" to describe reports that some patent examiners lied about the amount of time they worked and accusations that the office attempted to "sanitize" an internal review of the allegations.

Others floated the idea of prosecuting those employees who abused the program.

"Are we pursuing an investigation in any way, shape or form to prosecute these people if the evidence is there?" asked Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.), a former prosecutor.

The post at The Hill linked "end loading" with "vague patent rejections":

The committee honed in two specific abuses. "End-loading" involves employees waiting until the end of a quarter to finish large amounts of work, which can sometimes lead to vague patent rejections.

The other abuse is described as "mortgaging," in which examiners turn in incomplete work to get credit, before completing it later on.

The Hill report included text from Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) which suggests "why" Michelle Lee may not have been present at the hearing:

Last month, Michelle Lee, who was nominated to lead the office, touted the “award-winning" program as a part of retaining talent and saving money, allowing it to double the number of patent examiners in a decade.

She said "no program is perfect" but asserted the telework program has helped to cut down the patent backlog. The patent application backlog remains above 600,000, but that number decreased by about 150,000 since 2009, despite an increased demand.

"Recent revelations make it clear it should not have been touted," Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said, pointing out he is a holder of multiple patents from his work before entering Congress.


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