Director's Forum: A Blog from USPTO's Leadership
Thursday Jan 22, 2015

IT Innovation at USPTO in 2015

Guest blog by Chief Information Officer John Owens

The start of a new year is a perfect time to reflect on our current successes, and challenge ourselves to continually improve our information technology (IT) systems. As the Chief Information Officer, I am focused on driving innovation at the USPTO while protecting our nation’s cutting edge ideas.

The Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) works hard every day to make sure both our existing systems and our new “next generation” systems enable examiners to accomplish their important work. We are building excellent tools for the public while we drive to fine-tune our own processes for greater efficiency. Supported by more robust, updated IT systems and tools, USPTO examiners will be able to leverage these tools, and new data, to issue the best quality patents. When we improve systems and services for our examiners, the public benefits as well.

Some of our goals for 2015 include:

• Drive service innovation – improve desktop services and support, and provide additional self-help capabilities to customers;
• Strengthen the organization – Improve collaboration, drive up satisfaction, and deliver impactful training;
• Continually improve processes – drive efficiency in the organization and eliminate single points of failure;
• Deliver next generation platforms – deliver totally new patent and trademark examination systems

We will accomplish these goals by developing innovation from within our organization, learning from the private sector, using open source data, engaging with our customers, and hiring outstanding staff.

Developing the innovation within

The key to unlocking innovation lies in our most important asset, our people. I look for the innovators within our ranks, the doers and smart risk-takers whose determination, energy, and grit drive the organization forward. These people soak up change, are nimble with new technology and ideas, and love learning, especially if it helps them do their jobs better. As one of my employees said to me, “Part of my job satisfaction here is based on what I am learning.” People like this are everywhere in our agency. All we need to do is give them the tools to innovate. 

DevOps: learning from the private sector

Within our office, we have eagerly embraced a new technology movement called “DevOps,” which has taken hold in the private sector at such companies as Nordstrom, Disney, Etsy, Netflix and others. This software development method emphasizes collaboration and enhances efficiency, and when teams use key DevOps principles, they can release new software much faster and with higher quality. Given the ambitious projects ahead, learning from DevOps will help our performance now and in years to come. We held a successful and sold out DevOps in Government event January 14th at the USPTO in Alexandria, Va. with the team from Etsy, and we plan to engage with the private sector on additional events in the future.

Embracing open source and open data

The OCIO new user experience division recently debuted a working version of the USPTO design pattern library on Github. Founded by a creator of the Linux operating system, GitHub is a popular tech industry portal for publishing and sharing open source code projects. Several government agencies use GitHub to engage developers and the public to use open source and open data, and these efforts are one of the focal areas for our Chief Technology Officer David Chiles. This library allows any USPTO project team to use the same design principles and patterns when designing applications. Through GitHub, the USPTO can share its user experience designs and principles with other federal agencies, and through such sharing, future library updates could come from sources outside of the USPTO. 

Engaging with customers

We meet continually with internal and external customers, and know that honest conversation improves how we serve one another. Our next generation products and services are co-designed with our customers, with a goal of developing tools for a global, mobile user base. An important part of this modernization process is “agile” development, an IT development method which emphasizes user involvement and ongoing feedback. I wrote about it in a blog last June. As a result of using agile methods and engaging with customers, we are creating products that reflect users’ primary needs.

Innovative hiring

To innovate this year, we need top notch staff to join us to build next generation examination systems for the USPTO. To reach our ambitious hiring goal of bringing in nearly 200 new employees, we are talking to candidates nationwide. So, whether you live in Detroit, Silicon Valley, or here in the Washington, D.C. area, you can contribute to powerful IT work. View our open opportunities on USAJobs. It’s a great opportunity to help build civic systems that matter, last, and will drive the nation’s economic prosperity. We also will invest heavily in staff training this year to keep up with the pace of technological change. To meet the velocity of customer demands on IT, our workforce must have the very latest skills for 21st century innovation and superior performance.

I look forward to sharing more updates with you in the future as we continue to use the latest technology to support the USPTO and the public.

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