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

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 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 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 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 @01:09PM (#47648625)

    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 continue paying to keep it. Like being a cop in Mexico.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 11, 2014 @01:26PM (#47648813)

    As a reviewer for USPTO, I can tell you that it's far worse than this article portrays.
    Typically, I don't do an ounce of work until my deadline is coming up. Then I just diarrhea though my queue, spending less than 10 seconds on a typical application. If you want an analogy, think of it as filing 90% of your work email based on subject alone. I do give more attention to certain applications (the 10% of email you actually read, using the same analogy). These typically fall into one of three categories:

    1: Applications that look interesting/entertaining to me.
    2: Applications that are a refile of a previously rejected one.
    3: Applications that hit the top of my queue when I'm bored of rubber stamping a bunch. Reading the damned things and doing my job actually becomes a break from the monotony of approve approve approve reject approve approve reject.

    From what I've seen, this pattern of work is typical. A major compounding factor is the fact that if you reject an application, it's likely to come back and be noticed, but if you approve an application, no one notices. So when you're blitzing through shit you typically want to approve shit unless it's absurd. And if it's ridiculously absurd, you'll want to approve it - we used to hold a competition to see who could approve the most ridiculous patent each deadline. I've stopped doing it since 2 of the people I worked with left, but I know this practice goes on with other groups of reviewers.

    Management knows this shit goes on but is powerless to stop it because it means someone would have to actually review the patents, and the managers sure as shit aren't going to even look at them unless it's from a high profile company. All they care about is the numbers. Total number reviewed is king, but they do look at the % approved, too. There are no targets or quotas for % approved, but if you're actually doing your job you'll get shit from your manager because your % approved is going to be significantly lower than average. So you learn to approve shit that's obviously retarded. The "reasoning" behind this is that we're reviewing the validity of the application itself first, the overlap with existing patents second, and novelty/originality last. Anything questionable with regards to novelty/originality is better left to the courts.

    The last thing I'll mention is how badly patents are written. Go ahead and look some terrible patents up. Those vague descriptions and those wonky diagrams with little to no coherent explanation are intentional. They're not written that way to be broad, as most people say. If it ever comes to a point of contention, the lawyers will fight that part out anyway. They're written that way in order to be approved quickly. Reviewers do not have to understand a patent application to approve it. If you approve a patent for a triangle and somehow catch shit for it, you can just claim you misunderstood the diagrams. And I can guarantee you, in a patent for a triangle there will be a lot of ridiculous, incomprehensible diagrams.

  • 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 Prien715 ( 251944 ) <> 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 []). Can you imagine why they may not have the best and brightest? With the new patent office opening in San Jose [], why would anyone actually want to work for the USPO who has any amount of talent?

  • by Trailer Trash ( 60756 ) on Monday August 11, 2014 @02:55PM (#47649683) Homepage

    why would you want to opt out of social security?

    Because the returns are abysmal compared to the stock market.

    you plan to die young, or work til your 90?

    Or, you're not stupid with money.

    this is the same nonsense dreck you "shrink the gov til you can drown it in a bathtub" types always put up.
    you need a course in basic civics concerning government (i suggest starting at

    Ah, yes, let's ask government-worshiping leftists what they think.

    and oh, btw, if you dont pay your mortgage, the bank gets the guys with guns to come kick you out.

    You make a voluntary contract with the bank and if you renege on your side they have the right to use the courts to enforce the contract. Works both ways: []

    A big part of the purpose of government in a civilized society is to enforce contracts. You'd think reading "governmentisgood" would help you understand that.

  • by mjwx ( 966435 ) on Monday August 11, 2014 @11:45PM (#47652625)

    Oh, I'd imagine that private workers goof off too. The thing is, when they do it jeopardizes whatever project they're involved with, with monetary loss to the company.

    You've never worked before have you.

    Some people have turned slacking off into a full time job. As long as the company is making money, they dont get noticed. The worst slackers I've worked with were in the private sector (and not unionised, union people know they have a job to do). They're normally in middle management/admin positions that dont get monitored for performance. Think about all the people who call pointless meetings, extend meetings with pointless conversation/questions and when you come to them needing something, they've got a huge tale of woe explaining how they're too busy to help (yet can take a 2 hour lunch).

    As long as the P&L statement looks good, these people never get noticed... If the P&L statement starts to look bad, they're normally not the first ones fired either.

God doesn't play dice. -- Albert Einstein