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February 27, 2008

Fish Tank

Myth tells us that fish grow to the size of their tank. Reason suggests, related to a USPTO examiner, this myth may prove out.

The current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) , between POPA and PTO management, which dictates examiner rights, allocates a private office at least 150 sq ft to every examiner at a level of GS-13 or above. If a private office cannot be provided to the GS-13 level examiner, then a decrease in the examiner's production requirement is mandated.

In practice, until recently, a best effort was made to extend this privilege to GS-12 level examiners as well. Translation of GS-12: an examiner who enters the work force with a bachelor's degree and earns all promotions in the shortest amount of time possible will become a GS-12 in two and a half years, but for many examiners it takes significantly longer.

For those who have not been inside the fish tank in Alexandria, the complex includes 4 buildings for examiners to swim around in, each with ten floors. Each floor has a large number of "inside offices" without windows, historically reserved for junior level examiners, and a smaller number of "outside offices" with windows, reserved for senior level examiners and SPEs. Therefore, the private offices provided to GS-12 and above examiners, are the highly desired window offices. Imagine sitting in an office examining patent applications for over 8 hours a day without any sunlight, and you will understand the longing that occurs.

A new Collective Bargaining Agreement is in the final stages of negotiation: POPA fighting for additional examiner rights, Management demanding fewer. Is it still a negotiation when one side won't budge and the other hasn't a chance in hell? Management wanting to solidify its front-runner-status has jumped the gun, instituting changes effective immediately. POPA, crying uncle, posted to its website a summary of management's positions, including:

The agency will not agree to provide private offices for employees GS13 and above, as they are currently required to do. In fact, it will not even agree to provide offices as opposed to cubicles or other arrangements.

Several weeks ago, change began. Fresh fish graduating from the training academy entered their new offices, with a view. Valuable window office space was given to the low men on the totem-poll. The GS-12 examiners occupying those offices undoubtedly welcomed their new roomies through grinding teeth and pursed lips.

A current GS-12 examiner laments:

As for the GS-12s and shared office space, it is true. What's even worse though is that they are moving the GS-12 examiners to offices with windows and then instead of moving other GS-12s or even GS-11s in with them, thus maintaining the spirit of seniority, they are moving recruits fresh from the academy in with them. So now, not only do they have to share an office, but they have to share it with an individual that will be bugging them with an incessant barrage of rookie questions thus effectively reducing their productivity potential even more.

The examiner further comments on the next step:

Word is that they are looking to put the GS-13s in shared offices too; this is just a segue to that step.

Examiners often get a bad rap, doubtlessly with reasonable attribution, but can they be expected to rise to the occasion of increasing requirements with so many factors working against them? It is a huge distraction for an upper level examiner, with high production requirements, to have to share an office with a junior level examiner. Doors are put on offices for a reason. In a job where consistent concentration is key, to be asked repeatedly to explain 102(b) is extremely detrimental. In case you were wondering, there are no plans to adjust production requirements in accordance with the old CBA to compensate for this inconvenience.

Plain and simple, the newly built PTO complex is not large enough to accommodate the growth required to decrease application pendency; hence the hoteling program where examiners work from home. Although an amazing option for some, others would prefer their promised private office overlooking the nation's capital. Additionally, management's failure to open up the hoteling program to examiners below the GS-13 level, thereby reclaiming some office space, sets up a situation for GS-13 and above examiners wherein they are forced to choose between working from home and sharing an office with whatever fish the cat dragged in.

It is no wonder that examination quality is where it is. Examiner growth has been stunted.

Posted by Mr. Platinum at February 27, 2008 12:44 PM | The Patent Office


That GS-12 examiner is a whiner. You have an office mate. So do millions of other people and they manage to get their work done. Get over it. If your office mate is loud, ask them to be quiet.

There may be a few annoying newbies, but I'm guessing the statement about a barrage of rookie questions probably isn't based on real experience. I've been out of the academy for 5 months and in total I've probably taken about 5 minutes of my GS-12 office mate's time. As far as I know he's also still doing the same 50 hours overtime per biweek that he was doing before I moved in.

Posted by: 2600examiner at February 27, 2008 6:26 PM

The grass is always greener on the other side. I personally experienced a barrage of rookie questions from "fresh fish" without ever even having a junior level office mate. I can't even imagine how much worse it would be to share an office with a rookie. Well, I can, but I choose not to. Obviously the barrage of rookie questions is not universal, and if you (2600examiner) truly do allow your office mate to get his work done, then I commend you.

Posted by: Jordan Kuhn at February 27, 2008 6:39 PM

I'll tell you what's worse! Many years ago, I had to share an office for about 2.5 years with a born-again "c"! Shit that sucked! I had about 28 sq. feet of that office. Revolt examiners! Don't take any sh1t from them. Leave and tell everyone how bad it is.

Posted by: ex-p exam at February 28, 2008 12:34 PM