Thursday, November 17, 2005

The USPTO as a pressure cooker?

According to the POPA newsletter: The USPTO's pressure-cooker environment and heavy-handed management style is forcing out or firing a record number of employees, Ronald Stern testified. "There is no problem hiring examiners," he said. "The problem is keeping them."

The newsletter also stated: While the USPTO speaks of the volume of examiners it's hiring, the patent corps is like a sieve leaking employees almost as fast as they're hired. From fiscal year 2000 through 2004, the agency hired 2,309 patent examiners yet lost 1,527.

Elsewhere in the newsletter: "Many proposed solutions represent radical changes to the patent system and go far beyond what is necessary to improve performance" at the PTO, Ronald Stern, president of the Patent Office Professional Association [POPA], told the Judiciary Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property Subcommittee during an oversight hearing.

Likening the PTO to a "legal sweatshop," Stern said the agency places too much emphasis on disciplinary action and not enough emphasis on employee training and mentoring. He said patent examiners also need at least 20 percent more time to review each patent application.

"Rather than a massive overhaul of he agency or a rewrite of the patent statues, POPA believes that what is necessary is for the [PTO] to go back to the basics of its mission -- examining patent applications and issuing valid patents," Stern said.

I had written in the October 2005 issue of Intellectual Property Today:

In my opinion, the most direct approach is to end fee diversion, give the USPTO sufficient funds to do the job of examination, and then evaluate its performance. Adding on new responsibilities for the USPTO, without resolving the issue of resources for its core function, is questionable policy.

H.R. 2795 appears to be stalled for 2005. There is no corresponding reform bill in the Senate, and Senator Hatch referred to this as a backburner issue for the present time. For all the storm and fury of patent reform for 2005, nothing got done in 2005.

Times were tough at the PTO in the old days. See an
account about the PTO during the burning of Washington, DC and the activities of Dr. Thornton, which saved Blodgett's Hotel and perhaps the situs of Washington as the US capital.


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