Monday, October 8, 2007

Hire, Train, Repeat . . . Again

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently published a study where the title says it all: “Hiring Efforts Are Not Sufficient to Reduce the Patent Application Backlog.” The full report is here. First, the report found that over the past 5 years, the PTO has based its hiring upon its funding rather than on the backlog and expected workload. Second, 70% of attrition was from examiners who have less than 5 years of experience. Finally, the report notes that 67% of examiners identified production goals as the primary reason that they consider leaving.

The most illuminating paragraph of the report is on page 12:

“Even with its increased hiring estimates of 1,200 patent examiners each year for the next 5 years, USPTO’s patent application backlog will continue to grow, and is expected to increase to over 1.3 million at the end of fiscal year 2011. According to USPTO estimates, even if the agency were able to hire 2,000 patent examiners per year in fiscal year 2007 and each of the next 5 years, the backlog would continue to increase by about 260,000 applications to 953,643 at the end of fiscal year 2011. The agency has acknowledged that it cannot hire its way out of the backlog despite its recent increases in hiring, and is not focused on slowing the growth of the backlog instead of reducing it.”

So, the best we can expect by 2011 is a backlog of 953,643 applications. I don’t believe that the PTO can even do that well. How does the PTO slow the growth of the backlog? New continuation rules, limitation on claim numbers, making the applicant do the examiner’s job etc. Basically, the PTO is going to limit the growth of the backlog by limiting the value of the patents that work through the system.

PTO Hiring

During the last 5 years the PTO has based its hiring levels on funding levels and the capacity to train and supervise new examiners. The GAO report looks at this practice negatively and insinuates that the PTO should set hiring levels based upon the backlog and expected workload. So, the GAO would like the PTO to ignore its funding in setting hiring goals? Then, the PTO should exceed the capacity of its training and supervisory (note the 12:1 ratio of examiners to SPE’s on page 10) functions in the effort to deal with the burgeoning application flow. Apparently, the PTO should just hire 5,000 new examiners a year and somehow the backlog will be addressed. This makes no sense. The flow of applications is the problem.

One interesting note here: on page 14, the GAO states that it takes 4-6 years of on-the-job experience to become proficient as an examiner and 70% of those who leave have 5 years of experience or less…not surprising, but you do the math.

PTO Attrition

It can not be a shock to anyone that PTO examiners have a high attrition rate. Recent engineering grads doing a few years at the PTO before going on to law school and high-paying patent jobs. Not so, says the GAO. In its survey of PTO examiners, the GAO found that 67% of examiners believe that production goals are the primary reason they would consider leaving the PTO. So, examiners want more time to do their jobs – then they will stay put. The PTO should believe them. How do they get more time? Reduce the number of patent applications coming through the system.

It was interesting to me that 89% of examiners believe that their work is important. That is, in my opinion, an indicator that they like their jobs and would be willing to stay. Fewer cases per examiner would be the key, and more money in DC couldn’t hurt.

1 comment:

Examiner #6k said...

here's the thing tim, I'm a 1.5 yr examiner now. I like the job ok, searching sucks but that's why it's work right? The thing that I hate the most is that on the few occasions that I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that something is obvious to have done then before this KSR thing had to blow down every idiot old time patent person I couldn't hardly use that little knowledge I have. Then, once I know that I have their bs obvious claims then I get to spend a couple of hours telling them about it instead of just pointing to the ref and saying it's obvious, anticipated, etc. Add to this that attorney's are drafting specs 2-3x longer than they used to, citing nitch knowledge more, and filing 4x the claims needed. And finally, top this off with having to live in DC with all it's bs city stuff (housing lol etc). Production suffers because of this. Morale suffers because of this. People leave for jobs that either aren't as stressed, aren't as bs, or pay better (lawyer lol). And that's my plan too. Maybe you'll see an app from me shortly.