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April 4, 2008

If I Were the Dude...

Complaints abound when discussing the patent system and current PTO mismanagement, with top gun Jon "the Dude" Dudas serving as the rear-end to many swift kicks. But being Director of the USPTO during such a volatile period cannot be easy. So let's follow Peterlin's lead, and help a brother out. No MBA required.

Dude for a day? Steps to take:

  1. Ask for employee input - Talk to POPA, and listen. Talk to SPEs, and listen. Survey employees with regard to job satisfaction, pay, benefits, etc. Then, consider this input while making all other decisions.

  2. Decrease examiner turnover - To accomplish this, examiners must be instilled with a sense of meaning and pride. This must start at the academy and be evident during every day of work thereafter. Examination must be more enjoyable. A possibility for this is the concept of group examination. Patent examination is currently a lonely activity, and becomes quite tedious. What if examination of an application was performed by a group of examiners, with a nice mix of knowledge and experience? Claim construction could be discussed, search terms developed, and prior art collectively digested in order to make a wise and thought-out decision on patentability, all while participating in an active and fun atmosphere.

    Eliminate production requirements, but offer large incentives, in the form of bonuses or extra vacation time, for a combination of speed and quality. Of course, this will require an improved quality initiative where rejection quality is scrutinized to the same extent as allowance quality. Examiner pride will naturally increase by performing a quality examination of every application put in front of them.

    Additionally, for those who do not want to live in the DC area, a national telework program must be offered, with no in-office requirement. Examiners should be afforded the same luxury already available to many patent prosecutors.

  3. Improve examination quality - Reestablish the idea of the quality patent and quality examination. Embed the idea of quality from day one. This will lead to an improvement in sense of meaning amongst examiners. Also, examination quality will inherently increase with a decrease in examiner attrition, due to an increase in average examiner experience.

    Implement group examination.

    Extend the quality initiative to include review of all rejections. Each art unit should have a quality review specialist specific to that art unit, who has worked for many years within the art unit and seen the progression of technology. His sole purpose should be to review the quality of all office actions leaving the art unit. Currently, quality reviewers review mostly allowances, and take care of several art units.

  4. Mend relationship with the Patent Bar - Scrap all current rule-making endeavors. Stop playing God, and try to follow the law for a change. Ask for, and listen to, input. Much bad blood would be mopped up by improved examination quality.

What would you do if you were the Dude?

Posted by Mr. Platinum at April 4, 2008 2:02 PM | The Patent Office


Rather than completely abolish production, just index the GS-12 expectancy (the number used to calculate an examiner's production requirement) to account for increases in the amount and complexity of the prior art pool on a yearly basis. Remember, most examiners are still held to the original (1976?) production standards. Why The Dude abides by these comically archaic production quotas is beyond me.

Group examining is an interesting concept, one that might be of most use dealing with burdensome cases (e.g. jumbo spec, large number of claims, attorney/client who usually appeals), whereas "normal" applications would still be handled by a solitary primary examiner.

Of course, the GAO has been echoing the "give examiners more time(!)" refrain for years...if only The Dude would listen.

Oh well...sometimes you eat the bar, sometimes, well, he eats you.

Posted by: Walter at April 4, 2008 5:41 PM

Agree with almost all, but the national telework idea has a bad side you might not have considered....

Where do you go for a face to face examiner interview if not the PTO?

These are very productive, for nothing beats sitting down with another human being and figuring out why you aren't making progress.

For clients represented by DC-area firms, this is relatively inexpensive for those important cases that have stalled.

Posted by: Anon E. Mouse at April 7, 2008 4:07 AM

Mouse, telecommuting would actually even things out a bit for those of us who don't work in the DC area - you could set up an interview at some publicly accessible place that still affords some privacy (I'm thinking a library with group study rooms...or at the rate the Knicks are going, Madison Square Garden during one of their games).

Posted by: Federally Circuitous at April 7, 2008 7:13 AM

I'd add Step 5: ". . . go find a cash machine."

Posted by: Babel Boy at April 7, 2008 8:07 AM

Eliminating the one hour requirement is a good start, but it only marginally enhances the ability to attract a national workforce. A satellite office on the west coast would allow enhance the quality of the hiring pool.

Posted by: 2600examiner at April 7, 2008 9:29 AM

I like the idea of group examining for difficult cases. Provides a lot more interface between different experiece levels than what currently exists!

By allowing the primaries to work whenever and wherever they want, new examiners do not have the opportunity to have "mentors". Can you name a single other technical field that forces new hires to completely fend for themselves with no support?

I'm just a piddly ol' patent searcher, but ten years ago we used to talk to the examiners for their expertise. Now we leave voice mails for 23 year olds that don't know what a field of search is... oh well.

Posted by: John Q. Searcher at April 7, 2008 4:54 PM

"Now we leave voice mails for 23 year olds that don't know what a field of search is... oh well."

I've only ever gotten called by a searcher once. I was right out of the academy (and 24 years old) and was totally confused by the experience. I just gave a few search classes (not subclasses) and told him to use google to find relevant patents and then work off that. Apparently I wasn't too helpful because he was working off the telephone directory and minutes later he called my officemate asking the same questions.

Posted by: 2600examiner at April 8, 2008 12:41 PM

The examiners that have been hired in the last 4 years or so have no idea how to search. None. "Just google it" is the standard approach. Ugh.

Posted by: JD at April 9, 2008 5:19 AM