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Monday Oct 15, 2018

Talking tech with USPTO’s Acting Deputy Chief Information Officer Debbie Stephens

By Adrienne Cox, Marketing and Communications, Office of the Chief Information Officer

Photo portrait of USPTO's Deputy CIO Debbie Stephens

To be a technology executive these days is both challenging and exhilarating. More and more, chief information officers (CIOs) and chief technology officers(CTOs) are shaping the technology agenda, driving new IT investments, and fine-tuning teams. With vast amounts of data and new digital tools, CIOs and CTOs are helping guide transformational change in the digital age.

It is no secret that diversity is essential for innovation. While progress continues on this front, a gender gap remains in the tech industry. Through initiatives and partnerships like All in Stem and Camp Invention, the USPTO encourages girls and young women to pursue STEM careers.

I caught up with the USPTO’s Acting Deputy CIO Debbie Stephens to talk about what inspires her and some new items on the IT agenda.

[Adrienne Cox] Over the course of your career, what were some key elements to your success?

[Debbie Stephens] I am a continual learner. I not only learn a great deal from my mentees (both those older and younger), but I know that when you lift others up, help them go further, and make them a part of something bigger than themselves, we all benefit.

[AC] What are some projects underway at the USPTO that have you most excited?

[DS] Artificial Intelligence (AI) will increasingly be a strategic asset for our enterprise and part of our innovation playbook. We kicked off an AI initiative with a Request for Information (RFI) seeking public input on how AI could help fuel efficiencies in patent search. AI is the primary focus, but we are also interested in seeing how other advanced technologies like quantum computing, machine learning, and natural language processing can help.

We also have a tremendous ecommerce effort underway. EFS-Web or Private PAIR users now have a new, more secure, and simpler log-in for their USPTO.gov accounts. A migration tool is now available to link accounts and give customers a new way to gain access to multiple USPTO systems with one sign-in process. The new log-in method, replacing the digital certificate, not only saves time, but also prepares users for the transition to our next generation tool for electronic patent application filing and retrieval, Patent Center, coming in 2020.  

[AC] The USPTO regularly has job openings for IT professionals. What are you looking for in potential candidates—what are the skills most in demand now for our teams?

[DS] We need the core skills listed in any job opening, of course. But more than that, curiosity and tenacity are critical for us to innovate.

[AC] What has been your favorite moment in your time at the USPTO?

[DS] One of the most exciting moments for me was reaching the Patent 10 Million milestone. All organizational silos disappeared as the Office of the Chief Information Officer, Procurement, Patents, Office of the Chief Communications Officer, Office of General Law, and Office of Patent Information Management—six different groups—collaborated in a never-before effort to ensure the success of this historic program for the USPTO.

[AC] What are you passionate about—besides technology for business value?

[DS] Leadership. I am a perennial student of leadership, and am currently reading Simon Sinek on the power of why. Next up is John Maxwell’s latest book on leadership, focused on how to unlock one’s potential as a leader.

Transformation in an organization needs ideas and energy from everyone. Leaders can set the agenda, but we don’t always have all the answers. So often, our colleagues are the source of insights, helping us see new dimensions in any issue. When you’re building systems as complicated as the ones we are, people need each other! 

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