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U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is Hiring Patent Examiners


Written by Gene Quinn
Patent Attorney & Founder of IPWatchdog, Inc.
Principal Lecturer, PLI Patent Bar Review Course
Posted: October 21, 2011 @ 2:42 pm

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Earlier today the United States Patent and Trademark Office tweeted the following: “Follow Einstein’s and Jefferson’s footsteps…become a #Patent Examiner. Apply to the USPTO by Nov. 1.” Yes, the USPTO is hiring more examiners, which is very good news.

The fiscal year 2011 results are now in and the backlog of untouched patent applications as of the end of FY 2011 was 669,625, so there is plenty of work to be done and hiring more patent examiners has to be a part of the solution.  But did you know that Albert Einstein was a patent examiner?  How about Thomas Jefferson?  Jefferson is largely regarded as the first U.S. patent examiner.  Thomas Jefferson (then Secretary of State), along with Secretary of War Henry Knox, and Attorney General Edmund Randolph, made up the first patent examination panel for the United States of America.  Einstein, on the other hand, worked for the Swiss Patent Office.  It was while working for the Patent Office that Einstein came up with his theory of relativity.

Those who will take up the challenge of becoming a patent examiner will not only follow in the footsteps of Jefferson and Einstein, but there will be two-thirds of a million patent applications just waiting for examiner eyes, giving those who are patent examiners remarkable job security.

While 669,625 pending, untouched patent applications does represent a 10% reduction in the backlog since David Kappos became Director of the USPTO in  August 2009, the number is still unacceptably high.  Kappos and his team are doing a good job with the limited resources Congress allows the Office, and there is no doubt that a 10% reduction is impressive.  A 10% reduction is particularly impressive when you factor in that there has been a 5% annual average increase of patent applications filed.  See Patent Application Backlog.

“I am pleased with the progress we have made in reducing the agency’s enormous backlog of unexamined applications and in shortening wait times,” said Kappos upon the announcement of the FY 2011 year end results.  “We have really begun to make headway, and this is an important step forward in reinventing the patent system so that it can meet the needs of innovators in a timely manner, helping bring innovations to the marketplace faster and creating jobs for the American people.” With more examiners Kappos’ job will get at least somewhat easier.

The road to recovery for the U.S. patent system will be a long one though.  Applications only continue to rise and the average length to receive a First Office Action on the Merits continues to grow.  Indeed, the length of time to a First Office Action was 28 months at the end of FY 2011, compared with 25.7 months at the end of FY 2010.  This was undoubtedly due to the fact that the Kappos Administration spent much of the year working to clear out the oldest pending applications, which brought down the total traditional pendency including RCEs to 40.9 months at the end of FY 2011, compared with 42.6 months at the end of FY 2010.

So what does this mean?  It means that the job of a patent examiner is dramatically needed and there is plenty of work to be done.  The positions that the USPTO are hiring for are permanent positions, which come with an attractive salary and government benefits.  Given the tremendous demand for U.S. patents and the existing backlog a job as a patent examiner working for the United States Patent and Trademark Office is about as secure a position as their is.  The fact that the training and experience you receive as a patent examiner can be translated into the private sector, should you decide to ultimately leave the USPTO, is just icing on the cake.  Indeed, I have recommend to law school graduates struggling to find work that they consider becoming a patent examiner for at least a few years.  For those interested in pursuing a career as a patent professional a few years spent as a patent examiner is better than any judicial clerkship, and it pays better too.

In order to become a patent examine applicants must be U.S. citizens or U.S. Nationals and also must have at least a bachelor’s degree in physical science, life science, engineering discipline or computer science.  Depending upon which technology areas the USPTO is seeking to fill there are likely to be additional criteria for each particular opening.

Currently the USPTO is advertising the following open positions:

Each position has a starting salary in the range of $51,988.00 to $78,881.00 per year and the deadline to apply is Tuesday, November 01, 2011.

Now if Congress will only adequately fund the Patent and Trademark Office so they can hire even more examiners and update the antiquated computer systems.  Baby steps though.  After all, Congress has so many more important things to be doing, such as making it a felony to sell fake maple syrup.  The integrity of maple syrup has to be priority number one for sure.  I can understand why Senator Leahy (D-VT) would want to spend precious legislative energy to appropriately punish maple syrup counterfeiters.  That is quite clearly far more important and pressing a need than fighting for a permanent end to fee diversion!

Perhaps after those maple syrup criminals are dealt with matters of national importance, such as a coherent national innovation strategy that incorporates adequate funding for the Patent Office can be taken up.  If Kappos and his team can reduce the backlog by 10% in the face of 5% annual increases in patent filings can you imagine what could be accomplished with an end to fee diversion and the ability to hire waves and waves of new patent examiners?

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Posted in: Gene Quinn, IP News, IPWatchdog.com Articles, Patents, US Economy, USPTO

About the Author

is a Patent Attorney and the founder of the popular blog IPWatchdog.com, which has for three of the last four years (i.e., 2010, 2012 and 2103) been recognized as the top intellectual property blog by the American Bar Association. He is also a principal lecturer in the PLI Patent Bar Review Course. As an electrical engineer with a computer engineering focus his specialty is electronic and computer devices, Internet applications, software and business methods.

 

4 comments
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  1. Gene,

    I believe that Dr. Einstein worked as an Examiner at the Swiss Patent Office.

    Regards,

    Tom S.

  2. TW-

    Right you are! Mea culpa. I will make the change. Thanks!

    -Gene

  3. I too, was a patent examiner – but alas, cannot claim to be in the same league as Mr. Einstein or President Jefferson. However, it is a great way to learn patent law! It can be a great career on its own, or open doors for a future job outside the PTO. I can speak from experience on that one!

  4. This is good news. Kappos seems to have done a great job with the patent office so far. Now, with the USPTO’s fee increase, as well as the rumored openings of satellite offices in Detroit and elsewhere, let’s hope that patent office productivity will continue to climb, and the backlog will keep decreasing.
    http://www.generalpatent.com/blog/