Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
United States Businesses Government Patents

Every Day Is Goof-Off-At-Work Day At the US Patent and Trademark Office 327

Posted by samzenpus
from the I'll-do-it-later dept.
McGruber writes An internal investigation by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office found that some of its 8,300 patent examiners repeatedly lied about the hours they were putting in and many were receiving bonuses for work they did not do. While half of the USPTO's Patent Examiners work from home full time, oversight of the telework program — and of examiners based at the Alexandria headquarters — was "completely ineffective," investigators concluded. The internal investigation also unearthed another widespread problem. More than 70 percent of the 80 managers interviewed told investigators that a "significant" number of examiners did not work for long periods, then rushed to get their reviews done at the end of each quarter. Supervisors told the review team that the practice "negatively affects" the quality of the work. "Our quality standards are low," one supervisor told the investigators. "We are looking for work that meets minimal requirements." Patent examiners review applications and grant patents on inventions that are new and unique. They are experts in their fields, often with master's and doctoral degrees. They earn at the top of federal pay scale, with the highest taking home $148,000 a year.
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Every Day Is Goof-Off-At-Work Day At the US Patent and Trademark Office

Comments Filter:
  • by AlecDalek (3781731) on Monday August 11, 2014 @12:52PM (#47648441)
    Patent US 9063520 A: The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
    A method and system for under-performing approval of patents.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 11, 2014 @01:24PM (#47648795)

      Patent US 9063520 B: The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
      A method and system for under-performing approval of patents on the internet.

      • by qbast (1265706)
        Patent US 9063520 C: The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
        A method and system for under-performing approval of patents using a computer.

        How about cross-licensing deal? Or we could just go straight to full patent war.
  • by aitikin (909209) on Monday August 11, 2014 @12:52PM (#47648455)
    Seriously? You're posting this here without telling me how I can get this job? From the sounds of it, I could do it in the background while at my real job.
    • You need to pay some one off to get that job

      • by pla (258480) on Monday August 11, 2014 @01:07PM (#47648605) Journal
        You need to pay some one off to get that job

        Nah, I foresee a large number of vacant positions in the very near future - Particularly as we get closer to November 4th.

        Of course, any applicants will probably need to actually work for a month or two until everyone forgets about this and moves on to the next government outrage...
        • by HornWumpus (783565) on Monday August 11, 2014 @01:11PM (#47648647)

          Keep watching, you will learn a lot.

          I foresee nobody losing their job, except the snitches. Government work.

          • At best, there will be a handful of sacrificial firings with sternly worded statements about how they will not be tolerating this behavior in the future. Then, business as usual will resume.

    • From the sounds of it, that's what they are all doing and are now getting in trouble for. Good luck with that.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by HornWumpus (783565)

      I guarantee you they are using a performance metric of some sort.

      When work stops being about work, it starts being about something else. I'm going to guess that there is a government union involved that is indirectly in charge of performance reviews. So you get rated by how many dollars you gave to 'preferred political party' (D), how much time you waste on government union activities and how well you parrot the talking points.

      Like the sib post said, you need to pay someone off to get the job, then con

      • I think you should try to apply for the job before pulling political assumption into the topic. Yes, they may be very inefficient, but I at least know some people who tried to get the job and got it plus those who have already been in the job. Not that I say they are very efficient, but the issue is not this simple with emphasis on government...

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      https://www.usajobs.gov/Search?keyword=uspto&Location=&AutoCompleteSelected=&search=Search [usajobs.gov]

      Nine openings, seven list at over 100K/year. Good luck!

      • by cruff (171569)

        Nine openings, seven list at over 100K/year. Good luck!

        And nary a one is for the job category in question: Patent Examiner.

        • by geekoid (135745)

          Not just patent examiners: Patent Examiners the telework.
          So a small group of a small group.

    • by ArhcAngel (247594)

      Seriously? You're posting this here without telling me how I can get this job? From the sounds of it, I could do it in the background while at my real job.

      But it might seriously cut into your /. reading!

    • by ShanghaiBill (739463) on Monday August 11, 2014 @01:18PM (#47648727)

      From the sounds of it, I could do it in the background while at my real job.

      It has happened before. Albert Einstein developed the theory of relativity while goofing off at the Swiss Patent Office.

      http://xkcd.com/1067/ [xkcd.com]

    • by synapse7 (1075571)

      Yeah, I was thinking I could probably find enough time to fill out an additional timesheet at my current job.

    • You can't qualify as a work from home examiner until you've put in 3 years in DC.

    • by McGruber (1417641)

      Seriously? You're posting this here without telling me how I can get this job?

      Sorry about that - you apply for federal jobs at USA Jobs Website [usajobs.gov]

      There are not any patent examiner openings posted right now, but here are some current IT openings at the Patent Office:

      IT Acquisitions Specialist - DE [usajobs.gov]

      IT Specialist (APPSW) - Software Developer - DE [usajobs.gov]

      Systems Development Lead - IT Specialist (SYSANALYSIS/APPSW) - DE [usajobs.gov]

  • by gnasher719 (869701) on Monday August 11, 2014 @12:53PM (#47648457)
    ... that one of them will find the successor of General Relativity in his goof-off time :-)
  • by Greg Heller (3031971) on Monday August 11, 2014 @12:59PM (#47648523)
    Congress will investigate this of course and I wonder if thePTO will have the balls to say they can't find their emails.
  • by emagery (914122) on Monday August 11, 2014 @01:00PM (#47648529)
    I know someone who works there, and they complain quite a bit not just about some of the other workers but also a lot of the folk semi-external to the office on whom they have to rely. Not exactly useful information, I know, but it makes me wonder.
  • by spacepimp (664856) on Monday August 11, 2014 @01:00PM (#47648533) Homepage

    I can only hope that these experts rushing to get their reviews done quickly at the end of the quarter can be replaced by pattern matching AI. Their results if rushed have huge implication in the million s and billions for certain industries. Also, is there any tracking of who has which patents to review? Is the person filing the patent ever allowed to have communication with the reviewer? I would imagine there is plenty of room for bribery or pay off to let a certain patent review through.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 11, 2014 @01:54PM (#47649175)

      I work at the PTO, and we do have pattern matching programs to help find prior art, they are mostly worthless because interpreting claims to match prior art is an abstract process. If you don't believe me read some patent claims and try to figure out what the 'broadest reasonable interpretation' of those claims would cover, its a nightmare. Applicants are certainly 'allowed to have communication' with us as the examination process involves a lot of back and forth with examiners trying to convince applicants to narrow their claims and applicants asking us to explain our interpretation of their claims and the prior art. As far as bribery goes I have never heard of or experienced any kind of bribery, what we typically experience is more of a brow beating from applicants who disagree with us.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      A pattern matching job for how they are currently doing their work? this would be trivial.
      One for how they are Supposed to be doing their work? that would be hard

      Anyways, this is just telework people.

  • And like most notoriously poor patents granted; they will not reveal details of their goof-up; or how it works. Nobody else can copy their style of work since they have design patents on those things as well.

  • by halivar (535827) <bfelger@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Monday August 11, 2014 @01:07PM (#47648613) Homepage

    of why small-government types are not completely out of their fucking gourd.

    • by fahrbot-bot (874524) on Monday August 11, 2014 @01:26PM (#47648821)

      of why small-government types are not completely out of their fucking gourd.

      Size and quality are not, necessarily, related. They assume that small government would be staffed with highly qualified and highly motivated people, yet forget there only about 550 people in the US Congress (Senate+House) and they haven't gotten anything done in years.

    • by dywolf (2673597)

      Oh they are. They very much are completely out of their gourd.

      Much like hte existence of winter does not disprove global warming, the existence of lazy people does not disprove government.

    • No... it's a shining example of why the 'work form home tele-work' idea isn't always a good idea. Lets take on step back and look at what you said .... Do you really think that private enterprise is a better place for a role in which all ideas/invetions are vetted for novelty? This is a regulatory agency, so to speak. Private business could only make things worse by being private. It doesn't make sense to even have a patent office and its purposes (a government-driven protection to ideas) governed by

  • Not quite accurate (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 11, 2014 @01:13PM (#47648675)

    I used to work at the patent office, and I can tell you the article doesn't quite understand the way the office works. Examiners are required to get a very specific amount of cases done for the hours they work or they are fired. They seriously total up the hours worked and require X number of cases done based on it. At worst what is happening is that people are slacking off at the beginning of a quarter and then working extra at the end to make up for it. But it's not like they never do any work. If someone doesn't make their counts, as they call it, they are pretty quickly in trouble.

    So the worst here is that some examiners might be doing a bad job at the end of a quarter because they slacked off at the beginning of it. Even still, there's a lot of other reasons why someone might get less counts at the beginning of a quarter. They might be working on their harder cases early, for example, because they're not up against a deadline. Or they might be hanging on to cases they've worked on just to think them over -- since they aren't really due yet. So it's hard to say what's really going on here. There are definitely some bad examiners but there's no way people are never working or they wouldn't get their counts and they'd be fired.

  • by kilodelta (843627) on Monday August 11, 2014 @01:16PM (#47648697) Homepage
    I was recruited by a friend for a patent examiner position. Glad I declined because instead I get to spend my time surfing slashdot instead.
  • by sinij (911942) on Monday August 11, 2014 @01:19PM (#47648739) Journal
    How is that different in private sector? Article implies that this problem is only widespread in the government sector, when in my experiences this is global problem rooted in 'human condition'.
    • by camg188 (932324)
      Usually in the private sector, such widespread unprofessionalism would put a company out of business or at least affect the bottom line.
    • by dave562 (969951)

      The difference is that the private sector has competition. If Company A is billing a certain amount of hours to get a job done, and Company B is billing less to get the same job done, then Company A will eventually start losing work to Company B. Similarly if Company A is turning out half assed work, or doing the professional equivalent of finishing their homework right before class, they will lose business to other organizations who deliver better results.

      The company I work for is facing the first challe

      • by PPH (736903)

        Nope. Company A has a lock on key patents integral to the product. You can either pay them for shit work or hire Company B. Who will have to pay exorbitant licensing fees to Company A.

  • Obvious (Score:4, Funny)

    by Charliemopps (1157495) on Monday August 11, 2014 @01:24PM (#47648801)

    I would have thought this Obvious given that Einstein developed the theory of Relativity, revolutionizing nearly every field of science, all while working there.

    Let's see... light is always propagated in empty space with a definite velocity...
    er...
    Icons with round corners? Approved... ...which is independent of the state of motion of the emitting body...
    One click purchase? Whatever... approved...
    That is, light in vacuum propagates with the speed c...

  • examiners repeatedly lied about the hours they were putting in and many were receiving bonuses for work they did not do

    If workers in private industry do that, we call that fraud. Hours of claimed work should be validated and approved by an uninterested third party such as a supervisor.

    The supervisor should keep their own private notes and reject the submission of hours, if it is in disagreement with their notes.

  • They are experts in their fields, often with master's and doctoral degrees. They earn at the top of federal pay scale, with the highest taking home $148,000 a year.

    I hadn't even considered applying for a patent office job before, but now they are definitely on my radar...

  • by physicsphairy (720718) on Monday August 11, 2014 @01:44PM (#47649045) Homepage

    They are experts in their fields, often with master's and doctoral degrees

    As a product of academia I am professionally trained to get things done on the cusp of deadlines. I'm not joking. Both on the student and instructor side there is simply a great deal of latitude. There's no time management enforced in any form except for "deadlines," so that's when you learn to get things done.

    As lovely of a thought as it is that entering the workforce will automatically instill a newfound sense of responsiblity and dedication to all a graduates (and I'm sure it does for at least a few weeks or so), I for one am not surprised that working unsupervised at home at a government job with quarterly deadlines results in people observing the same habits they have for the past 6-10 years.

    Admittedly, I wouldn't want to rush a result such that it is inadequately reviewed either, and I don't know if patent clerks have projects which would actually take an entire quarter to investigate, but the first thing I would do is have them sync all of their edits/notes/research in a way to make them reviewable. It's amazing how a little bit of transparency encourages people to make regular progress.

  • by Joe Gillian (3683399) on Monday August 11, 2014 @01:48PM (#47649101)

    If I've been goofing off at work for years, but do not work as a patent examiner, can I put down on my resume that I worked as a patent examiner if the work (or lack thereof) is virtually the same?

  • by Tablizer (95088) on Monday August 11, 2014 @02:00PM (#47649241) Homepage Journal

    a "significant" number of examiners did not work for long periods, then rushed to get their reviews done at the end of each quarter.

    Where does this deadline cycle NOT happen?

    Managers and/or auditors could spend more time monitoring employees, but then you have to pay the monitors and hire more managers, and also monitor the monitors to make sure they are monitoring correctly, creating a recursive bloat in inspection time.

    Further, the monitors and monitor of monitors would have to be experts to know if employees are really spending quality time. If you just count time staring at the screen, typing, or reading research, you can't know if it's relevant to the task unless you are an expert in that specialty also. Industry-specific auditors are going to be pretty expensive.

    Plus, recruiting is harder and/or more expensive if potential specialty employees find out their ass is always under Big Brother's watch.

    Brick-laying is relatively easy to monitor. Intellectual tasks, not so much.

    Sometimes it's just cheaper to accept some slack than add bureaucracy layers to prevent all slack.

    (It's similar to weeding out welfare cheats: Republicans want to heavily monitor welfare recipients, but the cost of monitoring and related lawsuits could be more than the welfare cheating, making taxes even higher, which Republicans can't stand...or at least act like they can't stand.)

    Managers should be able to give bonus pay and/or penalties for productivity. However, in practice this often results in favoritism as managers judge based on friendship or kissing up rather than raw merit. Humans are just that way, in general.

    In short, no easy fix.

  • by LordLimecat (1103839) on Monday August 11, 2014 @02:16PM (#47649387)

    Im just waiting to see how many people hop onto the "Goofing off at work? HOW HORRIBLE" bandwagon during work hours.

    Wait, crap.

  • by Prien715 (251944) <agnosticpope@gmai l . com> on Monday August 11, 2014 @02:22PM (#47649429) Journal

    They earn at the top of federal pay scale, with the highest taking home $148,000 a year.

    That's not even the salary of a manager at Google (and don't even talk about benefits -- free food is amazing) -- and this is the highest of salaries. For a lawyer (law school is will run you over $100K by itself [admissionsdean.com]). Can you imagine why they may not have the best and brightest? With the new patent office opening in San Jose [uspto.gov], why would anyone actually want to work for the USPO who has any amount of talent?

    • by Hodr (219920)

      Just wanted to mention that the article lists $148k as the highest level. Given that the highest paid employees at the USPTO are federal lawyers and judges that seems pretty low.

You will be successful in your work.

Working...