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

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 11, 2014 @01:09PM (#47648627)

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

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

  • by Overzeetop (214511) on Monday August 11, 2014 @01:32PM (#47648895) Journal

    There aren't 8300 people working on each patent application. The USPTO received 609,052 patent applications last year. There are (roughly) 200 working days in a calendar year (accounting for sick leave, vacation, an minimal training/in-service time). Each patent receives (on average) less than 3 man-days total for your diligence in determining the patent background, current state of the art, etc.

  • 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 edawstwin (242027) on Monday August 11, 2014 @02:02PM (#47649259)

    Oh random government-worker hater modded up. Must be a Monday on slashdot.

    It's insightful because no private sector workers ever goofed off, or spent the "work from home" days, grazing from the fridge, playing halo. And no public sector worker ever ever rushed through a piece of late work and did a half assed job.

    Ever.

    As phorm pointed out, when a worker in the private sector goofs off, that can have detrimental effects on a company's bottom line, and the company can take appropriate action. If a public sector worker goofs off, time is lost, but there is no bottom line for a government agency to be affected. Sure, they all have budgets, but there are not many negative consequences for having bad employees. They'll usually get a few more bucks in next year's budget regardless of performance. And the travesty here is that we're paying them to do a bad job. Public sector employees should take their jobs even more seriously than private sector employees because every tax-payer is ultimately affected by their performance.

    I have no personal experience working for any government agency, but I did have a friend who got a job with the federal government after having worked in the private sector for many years. After about a month, his direct superior told him to take it easier because he was too efficient. If he stayed at the current level, many other workers would look bad in comparison, and the manager didn't want to have to explain that to his bosses. The manager absolutely could not get away with something like that at a competent profitable private company.

  • by Zontar_Thing_From_Ve (949321) on Monday August 11, 2014 @02:11PM (#47649325)

    Wishful thinking. Federal employees are practically unfirable [usatoday.com]. For one, they are — bizarrely — unionized (to protect them from their employer — us), but that's only part of the reason, for corporations with unionized workforce still do fire bad workers, even if it is harder for them to do so than it ought to be.

    This is just simply not correct. I know. I worked for Uncle Sam for a while. While it is difficult to fire federal workers, it's not impossible. Firing for cause can happen, although the more time a person has working there, the harder it becomes. And spare me the "they're in unions" argument. Unions do exist for federal employees, but at least where I worked in the Department of Defense, unions are a waste of money for most people. By federal law federal employees cannot strike (see Ronald Reagan vs. the air traffic controllers) so the union can't really do a lot in terms of collective bargaining. The only benefit I knew of that the union offered where I worked was that they had a supplemental insurance plan you could get through them that would pick up the consumer responsible charges of medical insurance and if you had a very expensive need, like major surgery, with such insurance you could get out of it paying nothing. I know of a case where a unionized worker was going to be fired for just cause. I don't remember what the guy did, but it was really bad and there was no doubt that he was guilty. The union called for hearings and drug their feet where it took a year to fire him but in the end the guy was fired. So other than giving you supplemental insurance or delaying a firing, that's about all a union could do where I worked. The majority of our workforce was not part of any union.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 11, 2014 @02:28PM (#47649493)

    Examiners have a special pay scale (http://careers.uspto.gov/Pages/Misc/SalaryRates.aspx) which has both grades (05, 07, 09 ...) and steps (1-10). As an examiner with a Ph.D. you would start at GS 09-1. Every 18 months with good performance reviews and you move up 1 step i.e. GS 09-2. Every grade has an associated 'production' requirement which is basically the number of hours you are given to complete a case. As you move up you are given fewer hours per case. I think you can move up in step, at least to GS 12 every year so long as you meet the production requirements for promotion. To get to GS 13 and GS 14 you have to undergo a special review period which lasts 14 weeks and if i recall you have to be gs 12 and 13 respectively for 18 months before you can begin that review program. Each time you move up in Grade you are placed in the step with the next highest salary. For example, a GS 09-4 would be promoted to GS 11-1. GS 14 is generally the top end for patent examiners but if you have 15 years experience you can be eligible to move to GS 15 after yet another special review and with even further increased production requirements. It typically takes between 5-8 years to make it to GS 14, depending on what grade you start out at.

  • by Formorian (1111751) on Monday August 11, 2014 @02:32PM (#47649537)

    Um how is 609,052/8300 = 7? My math shows 73.379759...., so 73.4ish.

    Did you add an extra 0 and make it 83,000?

    And therefore 73.4 * 3 = 220.2

    So yeah.

  • Shenanigans (Score:5, Informative)

    by Theaetetus (590071) <theaetetus.slash ... m ['ail' in gap]> on Monday August 11, 2014 @03:33PM (#47650015) Homepage Journal

    As a reviewer for USPTO, I can tell you... I just diarrhea though my queue, spending less than 10 seconds on a typical application... 2: Applications that are a refile of a previously rejected one.

    No Examiner calls themselves a "reviewer"; it takes more than 10 seconds even to approve an application; and no Examiner would refer to continuations or RCEs as "refiles".

    Suspicious post from anonymous poster that just happens to confirm every anti-patent bias is suspicious.

  • by thesupraman (179040) on Monday August 11, 2014 @06:00PM (#47651095)

    This.

    Unless of course you are Apple, IBM, Microsoft, or one of the other 'special' applicants who have their own rubber stamp (sorry I mean priority clearing house) for their patents.

    Eventually we gave up applying for US patents because, especially as a foreign company, the prior art that gets presented is just an insult.

    Really, we had them tag teaming two sets of prior art back forward, NEVER ONCE replying to our queries as to why it was applicable, just switching to the
    other, and waiting until the end of their allowable response time to do this each time, until the window for acceptance just ran out.
    Maximised their fees though, they were sure to do that..

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 11, 2014 @07:01PM (#47651513)

    Just FYI, the USPTO, along with the USPS, are fee funded, not tax payer funded, so it is actually companies and small businesses that are paying to have their applications prosecuted. So you aren't actually paying these government employees to do anything.

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