USPTO Wants YOU for the Patent Examing Corp

By Gene Quinn
February 4, 2010

The United States Patent and Trademark Office wants YOU, at least if you are  an intellectual property professional willing to apply for a rewarding and challenging position as a US patent examiner.  Yes, the USPTO is once again hiring patent examiners, at least in a targeted way (whatever that means) as part of an initiative to help reduce the application backlog.  As of now the #1 news story on USPTO.gov is the launching of a targeted effort to recruit patent examiners.  The job description says there are “many vacancies,” the starting salaries range from $69,899.00 to $90,866.00 per year and applications will be accepted through March 2, 2010.

Below is a screen shot of the rotating #1 news story complete with Uncle Sam, wearing what appear to be stereotypical nerdy glasses above the caption “I want YOU for the patent examining corp.”

For those interested in applying you can find more about the job opening from USAJobs.gov, or simply click on the image above.

If you go and read the job description perhaps you will get a chuckle like I did.  It starts out under Job Summary explaining:

Work for the largest Intellectual Property Rights Firm in the United States – United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Discover an exciting career with the USPTO as a Patent Examiner! A career as a Patent Examiner is filled with endless possibilities, where you can be a part of something that makes a difference for the country and the world. It is a career that allows you to continue to contribute to a strong global economy and to cultivate an entrepreneurial spirit for the 21st century.

I do certainly believe that the job of a Patent Examiner is a noble one, an excellent career choice for some or a way to start a path toward a career as a patent attorney, depending on your preference.  There is no doubting that Patent Examiners are under respected, and I suspect under paid as well, but they are vital to the entire process.  Sure, any patent attorney or patent agent will have stories of examiners that seemed unreasonable, but trust me, examiners have the same type of stories about many of our brethren.  The truth is that Patent Examiners are vital to the patent system and I believe they perform admirably given the time limitations that exist.

Having said all this, the above job description seems like it is trying too hard, almost in a Starship Troopers kind of way.  If any of you have seen the movie Starship Troppers, which I hate to admit I really liked, scene after scene has these campy advertisements that seem almost obnoxiously insulting, at least from the viewers perspective.  As if the viewer of the advertisement isn’t smart enough to know the advertisement is overly enthusiastic and just a tad bit ridiculous.  Well, that was the same feeling I got when I read the start of the job description, almost as if there was going to be a “but wait, there’s more” about to dance across the screen.

With over 6,000 Patent Examiners there is no doubt that the United States Patent and Trademark Office is the largest intellectual property “department” or entity in the country, but how many would characterize it as the “largest Intellectual Property Rights Firm in the United States”?  Is the USPTO a firm now?  No.  They are a governmental agency that has been much maligned over the past 5 years or so and in desperate need of a make-over.  Perhaps this is the make-over, I don’t know.  Personally, I think the make-over started by President Obama by putting someone into the Director’s Chair that understands the system was enough of a make-over.  Like so many in the patent community I remain optimistic and like what I am seeing, at least so far.

Anyway, as the job description goes on it seems to get more infomercial-ish.  “Discover an exciting career with the USPTO as a Patent Examiner!”  Who talks like that?  I mean seriously!  If you exclude the folks who do voice overs for TV or radio commercials who do you know that talks like that?  Perhaps they are trying to make the job of a Patent Examiner sound sexy and alluring.  For crying out loud, patent attorneys, patent agents and those qualified to be Patent Examiners are nerds, at least on some level.  And I do say that lovely and as a proud nerd myself.

If you want to make a career as a Patent Examiner sound sexy then promote it as something cool, at least cool in the way that super-smart, scientifically oriented individuals think.  Talk about the free video games in the lounge, cheap yet edible food in the cafeteria and an inside glimpse at cutting edge technologies before anyone else knows about them.  Now that is cool, at least for geeks like me.  And, by the way, if there are no free video games in the lounge then put them there, and if there is no lounge then create one.  If the food is not edible make it better, and if it isn’t cheap then subsidize it.  Engineers, scientists and law students are frugal and have simple requirements.  The PTO Fitness Center is a nice perk, as is nearby child care at Innovation Station Child Development Center, the Health Units on campus and the Transportation Subsidy.  The USPTO needs to sell itself better to attract and keep the best talent, which benefits the entire system.

In any event, the job description goes on to explain the duties, starting off by saying:

As a Patent Examiner with no preliminary instructions, you will perform patent examining functions and formulate or recommend appropriate action with respect to checking applications for compliance with formal requirements and technological accuracy, treating disclosure statements and claims of priority; analyzing disclosure and claims for compliance with 35 USC 112; planning a field of search; conducting search; formulating rejections under 35 USC 102 and 103 with supporting rationale, or determining how claim(s) distinguish over the prior art; determining whether amendment introduces new matter; determining whether restriction is proper; and determining whether claimed invention is operable/useful as disclosed.

Oh my goodness!  So they are not going to provide any preliminary instructions and then unleash these folks on the patent bar?  Well, don’t worry.  I don’t think that is what they mean, although it probably could have been written in a more coherent manner.  After saying what is above the duties description goes on to say:

After preliminary instruction, you will perform patent examining functions and formulate or recommend appropriate action with respect to evaluating/applying case law as necessary; evaluating sufficiency of affidavits/declarations; determining whether appropriate line of patentable distinction is maintained between application and/or patents; evaluating sufficiency of reissue oath/declaration; and evaluating appropriateness of grounds of reexamination.

That’s better.  But note to the Patent Office, you shouldn’t shock the patent bar so severely!

OK.  I have had my fun with the job announcement, but allow me to say that it is good to see the USPTO back in a hiring mode, and even more encouraging to see that the FY 2011 and FY 2012 budgets have funds to hire 1,000 examiners per year.  The overall FY 2011 budget has me worried, and I know we cannot sustain this kind of deficit and adding to the national debt, so the conservative in me really cringes.  Having said that, investment in the USPTO makes all the sense in the world.

The Author

Gene Quinn

Gene Quinn is a Patent Attorney and Editor and founder of IPWatchdog.com. Gene is also a principal lecturer in the PLI Patent Bar Review Course and an attorney with Widerman Malek. Gene’s specialty is in the area of strategic patent consulting, patent application drafting and patent prosecution. He consults with attorneys facing peculiar procedural issues at the Patent Office, advises investors and executives on patent law changes and pending litigation matters, and works with start-up businesses throughout the United States and around the world, primarily dealing with software and computer related innovations. is admitted to practice law in New Hampshire, is a Registered Patent Attorney and is also admitted to practice before the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. CLICK HERE to send Gene a message.

Warning & Disclaimer: The pages, articles and comments on IPWatchdog.com do not constitute legal advice, nor do they create any attorney-client relationship. The articles published express the personal opinion and views of the author and should not be attributed to the author’s employer, clients or the sponsors of IPWatchdog.com. Read more.

Discuss this

There are currently 12 Comments comments.

  1. Rich Kulesus February 6, 2010 12:38 am

    Gene, don’t apologize for liking Starship Troopers! It makes Heinlein’s ghost lament his post-life status 🙂

  2. Gena777 February 7, 2010 11:44 pm

    I like Starship Troopers, too! But I also agree that its tone doesn’t work too well when transposed to patent law.

  3. InTheKnow February 8, 2010 7:54 pm

    @ “Whatever that means” –> it means the PTO is targeting former employees only. (i.e. those that have already been trained)

  4. Gene Quinn February 9, 2010 12:11 pm

    InTheKnow-

    I suspect you are correct. That would fit better with what the USPTO announced at the end of December 2009. See:

    http://www.ipwatchdog.com/2009/12/24/uspto-to-rehire-former-patent-examiners-to-attack-backlog/id=8050/

    I didn’t see any mention in the job posting that it was only for those with USPTO experience.

    Thanks.

    -Gene

  5. Peter Pappas February 9, 2010 2:21 pm

    I chuckled at your post about the rather enthusiastic examiner recruitment job description on our web site, and I wanted to comment about the initiative itself. This recruitment effort is “targeted” in the sense that we are focusing on recruiting former examiners, patent agents and other IP professionals who would require relatively minimal training and be able to hit the ground running relatively quickly. Our current FY10 budget allows us to hire only up to 250 through the end of this fiscal year even though our attrition rate is 30-40 examiners per month, so “many vacancies” means up to 250. To the extent the posting is “overly enthusiastic,” it is because recruiting and hiring as many experienced IP professionals as our budget allows is essential to achieving our goals of reducing pendency and improving quality. But your point is well taken and, by the way, I too liked Starship Troopers.

    Peter Pappas
    Chief Communications Officer
    USPTO

  6. Gene Quinn February 9, 2010 2:32 pm

    Thanks Peter. It seems like Starship Troopers is more popular than I thought. I don’t feel so embarrassed about enjoying the movie!

    I think it is a great idea to bring in IP professionals who would require minimal training. Anything that can be done to attack the backlog is a positive. It looks like in FY 11 and FY12 there will be more money in the budget, which is great.

    Sorry to poke fun, I just couldn’t resist. It is good to see so many at the USPTO enthusiastic. It seems there is a very different climate than in the recent past and I hope that continue.

    -Gene

  7. FormerPrimaryExaminer February 10, 2010 11:20 pm

    Peter – in relation to targeting former Examiners, has there been any thought as to reducing the 1 hour/week at the office requirement for Examiners on the hotelling program? I’m guessing there are many former Examiners not in the DC area who would be interested in returning to the PTO but for this requirement (which would essentially require a flight back to DC every other weekend).

  8. Kim February 14, 2010 1:56 am

    Peter – Out of 250 spots, how many offers have been made so far? If this “targeted” effort doesn’t seem to fill up the vacancies as expected then will PTO consider applicants without any experience in IP field?

  9. Peter Pappas February 17, 2010 8:53 am

    FormerPrimaryExaminer–Thanks for the great question. As a leader in telework, the USPTO is continuously thinking about how we can make the program work even better to help the Agency achieve its mission. We are actively looking at ways to expand the program, so please stay tuned.

    Peter Pappas