Friday, June 24, 2005

GAO ISSUES REPORT ON USPTO WORKFORCE: The Governemtn Accountability Office ("GAO" - the investigative arm of Congress charged with examining matters relating to the receipt and payment of public funds) issued a report on USPTO personnel issues, and specifically reviewed (1) overall progress in implementing initiatives in its strategic plan; (2) efforts to attract and retain a qualified patent workforce; and (3) remaining challenges, if any, in attracting and retaining a qualified patent workforce.

The GAO found that the USPTO faces three long-standing challenges that could also undermine its efforts to retain a qualified workforce:

  • the lack of an effective strategy to communicate and collaborate with examiners;
  • outdated assumptions in the production quotas it uses to reward examiners; and
  • the lack of required ongoing technical training for examiners.
According to patent examiners, the lack of communication and a collaborative work environment has resulted in low morale and an atmosphere of distrust that is exacerbated by the contentious relationship between management and union officials. Also, managers and examiners have differing opinions on the need to update the monetary award system that is based on assumptions that were established in 1976. As a result, examiners have to contend with a highly stressful work environment and work voluntary overtime to meet their assigned quotas.

Similarly, managers and examiners disagree on the need for required ongoing technical training. Examiners said they need this training to keep current in their technical fields, while managers believe that reviewing patent applications is the best way for examiners to remain current.

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