In an article published on April 23, 2017, Gene Quinn wrote about President Trump’s workforce reduction plan and his proposal for what it should mean for the United States Patent and Trademark Office. I agree with many of those proposals for reducing the size of the USPTO in accordance with the mandate set forth by President Trump, but believe that concentrating on a reduction in the number of patent examiners is not the only or necessarily the best approach. Based upon personal experience, I propose the following points for consideration:
• Review of upper and middle level management to determine who assigns junior, senior, primary and supervisory patent examiners to specific art units and reassignment of office personnel. There are examiners with PH.D’s in compound chemistry who have been assigned art units that examine agricultural compositions, even when examiner requested placement in a chemical compound area. Supervisory patent examiners with advanced degrees in biological sciences assigned to head art units that dealt with subject matter that included chemical compound and compositions for which they lacked understanding. Clearly these understandings do little to capitalize on examiner’s expertise.
1. Related to this is the decision of at least one senior examiner who retired earlier than planned, because cases in his area of expertise and for which he collected a treasure trove of prior art were being assigned to examiners in other art units, while he received applications indirectly related to work he had done for years. In the past, examiners were assigned to and retained in specific subject areas so that they developed an expertise in that field.
• Allocation of production “count” requirements to different art units. In the past examiners working in the biotechnology arts were allocated 20+ hours per application from initial examination to final status determination, i.e., allowance or final rejection, while examiners in chemical compound arts were expected to do the same in a 12 hour period, and examiners in areas of computer sciences were allocated numbers of hours in excess of both of these. Promised review and revision of these hours per case have been consistently tabled and have not occurred for decades;
• Software programs. These often are rolled out to examiners prior to having their”bugs” eliminated, while previously-used software is inactivated. The examiners are forced to use the new but deficient software, for which training is woefully inadequate.4
• Counts, counts, counts. This is the mantra of all examiners among whom it is common knowledge that, for all the talk of examination quality, it truly is only numbers that matter. Production is the “bottom line” for retention of any examiner. Patent Academy training sessions and first year of on-the-job training serve to cull from the ranks examiners anyone who spends too much time searching for the best relevant art in favor of any art that can be cited against an application.
Has anyone considered removing trademark examiners, who also constitute part of the USPTO?
And especially, where and when has there been a review of senior and mid-level management positions (other than for changes in political administrations) that command higher salaries compared to examining positions, and justify their existence by creating new ways of Office operations that eventually meet their demise for lack of success? Where does accountability lie for failed processes or programs instituted at the USPTO? Indeed, middle- and upper-level management is excellent at not attaching names of persons responsible for creating, promulgating and/or changing new programs, many of which fail along the way, including approaches to examiner case docketing and docket management. Now management has determined it is necessary to re-institute sign-in and sign-out policies, something that was gratefully abolished by Q. Todd Dickinson when he was Director of the USPTO Like most knowledgeable adults, Director Dickinson understood that treating patent examiners like the professional adults they are would bring out the best in them.