USPTO Joint Labor-Management Task Force Proposes Changes to Patent Examiner Performance Standards

Changes will mark the first updates to standards in nearly 25 years

Washington – Management at the United States Patent and Trademark Office has been working with representatives of the patent examiners union, the Patent Office Professional Association (POPA), to better align the performance standards for patent examiners with the USPTO’s goals for increasing quality in patent examination and reducing the backlog of pending patent applications, Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO David Kappos announced today. If adopted, the joint task force’s changes would be the first major revision to the patent examiners’ performance appraisal plan (PAP) since 1986.

"The changes identified by the joint task force will better align examiner goals with those of the agency, better define expectations and measures for success, and encourage mentoring and training – all while ensuring transparency and clarity," Kappos said. "Along with recent changes to the examiner count system and the revised PAP for supervisory patent examiners, I believe this is an important step forward that will help create a foundation for future USPTO success."

"Where other efforts to revise the examiner PAP over the past quarter century have failed, this effort has been successful because management was willing to include POPA in the process," said POPA President Robert Budens. "This spirit of cooperation has helped to create a new PAP that we feel is beneficial to the examiner while also setting the agency on a more direct path to shorten pendency while maintaining high quality examination."

Some of the proposed changes to the Performance Appraisal Plan (PAP) include:

• Establishing a “Stakeholder Interaction” element that emphasizes routine use of interviews to facilitate compact prosecution and timely responsiveness to requests for personal interviews;

• Revising the performance standards to include a single quality element for all examiners—increasing the focus on examination quality and improve the transparency of how quality is measured; and

• Revamping the workflow element to provide examiners more opportunities to use their professional discretion to manage their own workflow.

POPA’s leadership is now sending the revised performance standards to its members for a vote, which is expected to be held in July. If approved, the new performance standards could be implemented as soon as the 2011 fiscal year.

More specifics on the proposed changes will be available in the coming weeks.

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