Management Challenges and What's Ahead
The distance between innovation and the marketplace is shrinking. Said another way, innovation is moving more quickly from creation to manufacture and distribution. IP is a necessary instrument for innovators and businesses to capture value as ideas move to the marketplace. In performing its mission—quality examination and disposition of patents and trademarks—the USPTO faces significant challenges.
The America Invents Act (AIA) will promote innovation and job creation by improving patent quality, clarifying patent rights, reducing the application backlog, and offering effective alternatives to costly patent litigation. Implementation of the Act’s provisions presents numerous challenges and the USPTO looks forward to actively engaging stakeholders to ensure that implementation is accomplished in a proper and timely manner.
Build and Focus on Improvements
The Patent and Trademark organizations will build on their accomplishments and work toward meeting the objectives of the USPTO 2010-2015 Strategic Plan while working with customers to ensure that the objectives remain aligned with their needs.
Team members from the OCIO hold an online chat about USPTO IT systems in Alexandria, Virginia, February 8, 2011.
The Patent organization’s continuing challenges are to reduce patent pendency and the backlog of patent applications, optimize examination capacity, improve the quality of patent processing, provide applicants with greater control over examination timing, and increase efficiency as a result of collaboration in areas including automation, global patent classification and work sharing. As the Patent organization forges ahead in meeting these challenges by continuing to recruit, develop, train, and retain a highly skilled diverse workforce, it will yield high efficiency gains to achieve its goals.
The Trademark organization’s biggest challenge is to maintain its quality and pendency achievements, given the uncertainty of trademark filings, future revenues, and costs. The Trademark organization strives to support a high quality operation and maintain consistent first-action pendency of 2.5 to 3.5 months, even in the face of monthly fluctuations in filings, the unpredictability of projecting new filings in the current economy, and the need to secure congressional approval for certain aspects of funding and fee changes.
The Trademark organization must strike a proper balance between forecasting filing levels, existing inventories, and managing an appropriately sized staff to ensure sufficient resources are available to maintain pendency goals on a consistent basis. Efficiency gains have been realized through process improvement and cost reduction, along with greater use of IT.
Although first and final quality compliance rates are very high and consistently exceed 96 percent, the Trademark organization continues efforts to improve quality in a cost-effective manner. To sustain these high performance levels, the Trademark organization is emphasizing comprehensive excellence in office actions, which expands upon the existing first and final action standards for correct decision-making. While a comprehensive and excellent office action certainly reflects correct decision-making, it also includes excellent evidentiary support and is very well-written. The success of this initiative depends on novel and focused training, best practice benchmarking and sharing, new quality incentives, sustained communication, and close collaboration with key stakeholders.
Manage and Execute to Goals
The USPTO’s promotion, protection, and enforcement of IPR have never been more important to our nation’s economic prosperity. The USPTO must harness the expertise and skills within the Agency and leverage new technology to achieve its goals. The actions we have taken to create a unified system to deliver timely, high-quality patents and trademarks must be carefully managed. The Agency continues to face the external pressures of increasing application volume and rapid technology changes. We will meet these challenges by continuing to update our antiquated IT infrastructure as well as hiring, retaining, and training examiners and improving our operations to be more effective and efficient. As we improve our Agency, we must continue to focus on building relationships with our workforce, applicants, owners of patents and trademarks, Congress, and the public.
Continue to Move to an Electronic Workplace
The Patent and Trademark organizations have made significant progress to eliminate paper documents and manual transactions from their processes. Electronic communications are improving and encouraging more applicants to do business electronically by using Web-based systems. The Patent and Trademark organizations now rely heavily on data submitted or captured electronically to support examination, publish documents, and issue registrations. Because of the high degree of reliance on electronic operations, both organizations are dependent on the management and support of internal IT systems and services to manage their operations and provide services to the public.
The Patent and Trademark organizations, along with the support of the OCIO, are working to address the challenge of completing an electronic docket and file management system for each organization. These systems will link all operations and processing that support core examination and post-issuance activities. A fully electronic workflow will allow both organizations to better manage the fluctuations in filings and be more efficient, as well as timely, in processing and responding to filings.
Another major challenge is to integrate and modernize legacy systems, especially those now used for Patent operations. The legacy systems were developed over the past 30+ years, and most have their own user interface, do not allow for easy movement of data to other systems, and were built on now obsolete technology. The goal of our Next Generation IT systems is to provide a common user interface and full data integration using modern IT tools, replacing the current antiquated and decaying infrastructure. This increased reliance on electronic systems presents other challenges to the USPTO in the event of an unplanned outage or disruption in processing. To address this need, the USPTO has embarked on an aggressive, phased business continuity/disaster recovery program. The USPTO has established a remote data bunker which contains on-line backups of mission critical data.
Strengthen Global IPR Systems
The USPTO faces numerous challenges in seeking to strengthen global IP systems, including a lack of political will in some countries to make the changes needed to improve their IP systems. In many countries, IP protection and enforcement compete with other national priorities for attention, and some governments lack coordination in the development and implementation of IP policy. Thus, despite sustained efforts, only limited progress is possible in some countries. Progress on substantive IP issues in multilateral institutions may also be blocked by a relatively small group of countries that oppose strengthening of global IP systems. Funding insecurity caused by the global recession is also a major challenge for many IP institutions around the world. The USPTO also continues to face funding uncertainty for many programs that support its policy mission, including the GIPA programs and the IP Attaché Program.
The USPTO will continue to promote the strengthening of IP systems through its policy advocacy and leadership, and training and education efforts. In close cooperation with other agencies of the USG, the USPTO will continue to promote the adequate and effective protection and enforcement of IPR overseas. The USPTO will continue its efforts to streamline and improve global systems for the registration and grant of IP rights. To expand the USPTO’s work sharing initiatives, the USPTO will continue to promote the use of search and examination results among IP offices around the world.
USPTO Funding Model
The current financial model constrains the USPTO’s ability to foster the innovation that is a crucial driver of job creation, economic recovery, and prosperity. Today, the funding model does not ensure that the USPTO always has the resources necessary – year after year – to implement multi-year plans for critical work such as reducing the patent application backlog and improving IT tools. The USPTO is challenged to establish a sustainable funding model that provides the requirements-based authority to spend all fees collected on operations and work received, spans multiple years, and is adaptable to fluctuations inherent in estimates. Another important aspect of a sustainable funding model is the authority to set and adjust fees by regulation, so that we can properly establish and align fees in a timely, fair, and consistent manner without the inherent time impediments of the legislative process. For almost all of FY 2011, the USPTO did not have the ability to proactively adjust over 80 percent of its fee collections in response to changes in demand for services, processing costs, or other factors. However, this fee-setting authority is contained in the AIA.
Over the next year, the USPTO will be engaging the public advisory committees, stakeholders, and the public in reformulating the fee structure to provide sufficient financial resources to facilitate the effective administration of the United States IP system.
Recruit and Hire, Develop and Retain the Right Skills and Talent
Attendees of an event at the USPTO’s GIPA listen to the speaker through language translation headphones.
The USPTO’s mission requires a highly-skilled, well-educated, and diverse workforce. The Agency faces the ongoing need to recruit, hire, develop, and retain sufficient numbers of qualified professionals in a highly competitive environment.
In order to retain our highly-skilled employees, the USPTO strives to be recognized as an employer of choice. Our retention strategies must continually be updated to reflect industry best practices. Attrition data will be tracked and survey results monitored in an effort to discern the effectiveness of our retention initiatives and to identify developing trends. The challenge is to recruit, hire, develop, and retain a highly-skilled, well-educated, and diverse workforce from a specialized and competitive technological and professional IP environment.
Communication and Human Capital Management
Recognizing the importance of building an active and engaged communication culture, the USPTO continues to identify new and innovative ways to communicate and collaborate with employees and stakeholders. These communication avenues are a vital component of the Agency’s strategic goal of transparency, accountability, and interactivity. They allow the Agency to share human capital programs and information, solicit employee feedback and recommendations, and gather information on current human capital activities, as well as new ones of interest.
Because of the aforementioned competitiveness of the IP labor pool, the recruitment and retention of highly-qualified employees are critical to the Agency’s ability to meet mission-critical requirements. As such, the Agency continues to focus its efforts on improvements and worklife enhancements which increase employee satisfaction at the USPTO. The results of the annual EVS are used extensively to direct these efforts and resources. The 2011-2015 Strategic Human Capital Plan (SHCP), which is aligned with the USPTO 2010-2015 Strategic Plan, provides guidance, structure, and specific human capital goals and objectives to address Agency needs.
Create IT Enterprise Architecture that Supports Mission-Critical Business and Programmatic Requirements
Chief Administrative Officer Patricia Richter and Under Secretary David Kappos support the USPTO’s Creativity Challenge, which asked employees for ways they would improve Agency processes.
The USPTO holds regular online chats to answer customer questions and help with USPTO systems and processes.
In FY 2012, the USPTO will continue to take steps to improve its ability to be more responsive, better manage, and deliver quality products at enhanced service levels. This will be accomplished by reducing the complexity of systems, establishing and enforcing more standards, and practicing continual process improvement.
In the current constrained fiscal environment, the challenge facing the OCIO will be in continuing efforts to:
- Work on strengthening our IT Infrastructure and moving to a “cloud” computing environment;
- Expand IT infrastructure to include faster network connections to/from USPTO campus, a UL, Voice over Internet Protocol telephones, and additional collaboration tools in support of a nationwide workforce;
- Plan, implement, and maintain IT systems that support and improve business processes in the Patent and Trademark organizations;
- Continue development of a PE2E System and a Trademark Next Generation System;
- Work to develop and fully implement an IT Human Capital Strategic Plan, in alignment with the USPTO 2010-2015 Strategic Plan;
- Assist OMB in designing and developing a federal job series for specialized IT acquisition professionals. USPTO’s 2011-2015 SHCP will set the foundation to hire, develop, and retain a highly competent IT Workforce now and in the future;
- Improve the security, availability, and quality of IT systems and services while reducing their complexity and cost; support business area needs to accommodate the hiring and equipping of new employees; provide internal on-line tools (regarding consistency and quality of searching and examination); provide electronic file management and workflow; develop interactive on-line electronic filing capabilities and upgrade e-tools to the public; help move the USPTO to full electronic records and eliminate the need to collect and store paper records; and continue to improve overall data quality;
- Work with the OCFO to plan, implement and support Fee Processing Next Generation (FPNG) system that integrates with the IT systems for the Patent and Trademark organizations; and
- Continue to add datasets to the USG’s www.data.gov and www.google.com Website, providing the public with no-cost access to bulk text and image data collections of current and retrospective patent and trademark data.