Tuesday, October 09, 2007

More on the GAO report on the USPTO

KC Jones of InformationWeek covers the GAO report on hiring practices at the USPTO:

POPA president Robert Budens agrees.

"The USPTO can hire people, it just can't keep them," he said in a prepared statement. "The agency says that it can't hire its way out of the backlog to justify many of its ill-conceived reforms. But it would in fact be able to cut the backlog if it could keep the employees it hires, and the GAO's study shows that the patent office can do that by giving examiners the time and tools they need."

The GAO study noted that from 2002 through 2006, one patent examiner left the Patent and Trademark Office for nearly every two hired.

Next, POPA will push for Congress to pass a law requiring examiners' deadlines to be based a formula that weighs average application fees and examiners' hourly pay.

The blog just n examiner noted:

The Washington Post also commented on the report today.

The most important part of this report to examiners is the answer to question (2). The report makes the following points:

Attrition is a Problem

"Although USPTO hired 3,672 patent examiners from the beginning of fiscal year 2002 through fiscal year 2006, the patent examination workforce increased by only 1,644 because 2,028 patent examiners either left the agency or moved to other positions."

The Loss of Newer Examiners is a Particular Problem

"The attrition of patent examiners who were at the agency for less than 5 years is a significant loss for USPTO for a variety of reasons. First, because these less experienced patent examiners are primarily responsible for making the initial decision on patent applications, which is the triggering event that removes applications from the backlog, attrition of these staff affects USPTO’s ability to reduce the patent application backlog. Second, because patent examiners require 4 to 6 years of on-the-job experience before they become fully proficient in conducting patent application reviews, when these staff leave USPTO the agency loses as much as 5 years of training investment in them. Third, the continuous churning of so many new patent examiners makes the overall workforce less experienced."

Management Thinks Examiners Leave for Personal Reasons

"According to USPTO management, personal reasons are the primary reasons that cause patent examiners to leave the agency. Some of these reasons include the following:
• The nature of the work at USPTO does not fit with the preferred working styles of some patent examiners such as those with engineering degrees who are looking for more “hands-on” experiences.
• Many patent examiners enter the workforce directly out of college and are looking to add USPTO to their résumés and move on to another job elsewhere rather than build a career at the agency, otherwise known as the “millennial problem.”
• Patent examiners may choose to leave the area, as opposed to choosing to leave the agency, because their spouse transfers to a position outside of the Washington, D.C., area; the cost of living is too high; or the competition is too high for entry into the Washington, D.C., area graduate and postgraduate programs for those patent examiners who would like to pursue higher education."


Current Examiners Would Leave the Office Due to the Stress of Production Requirements


Management agreed that reevaluating production standards would be a good idea. Nowhere in either the report or in the press release, do they agree that production standards should be reevaluated in order to help prevent examiner attrition (which would entail allowing examiners more time).

This means that a not-entirely-unlikely scenario would be for the Office to conclude that the efficiency gains from the new initiatives are so great that production standards should be increased.

This is scary stuff. I just hope that POPA has got our backs.


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